I’ve done the entire London Tube system before I tackled those in Beijing and Shanghai, and I’ve been in both cities in China longer than what some might call “healthy”. (For Beijing, that’s 14 years in one go; for Shanghai, these included two visits in just one month in July 2009.)
So when my wife thought it was high time to “guide Brits coming into China for the trains”, I thought that it was also high time to introduce Britons to the way the rails work in China. Apart from a full-fledged post on Tracking China, I also took the time to compare the Beijing and Shanghai equivalents of London’s Central, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, and Victoria lines — or what could be the closest equivalents.
And this is when I ask all Londoners, Beijingers, and Shanghai folks to chime in. Is what I am posting below absolute rubbish — or can you somehow relate to these?… ▶
16:43:13 on 05 September 2015. As the District line train rolled into Richmond station, that was it for me — I had just travelled the entire length of all publicly advertised lines on the London Underground. Quite coincidentally, I had also finished all of the lines on the DLR and Tramlink networks.
The only bit of the rail networks I’ve still to do are all Overground routes, as well as all stations on National Rail. I’ll probably get these done before my upgrade to Beijing as early as mid-2016. The Overground does, however, leave me in awe — at just how it managed to pass through the oldest tunnel in London (for sure) — the Rotherhithe tunnel. ▶
Consider it Mac OS X Public Beta for London’s rail & tube network. Within a couple of years, TfL Rail will give way to the mighty monster we’ve all been dying for (felt the most when Oxford Circus is no different than Xizhimen in Beijing, or People’s Square in Shanghai, underground trains-wise) — Crossrail.
I have always had this manic compulsion, of sorts, of trying new trains the moment they roll out. Sometimes, I get interviewed; more often than not, though, it’s just a secretive little trip to test the new system. Now in the case of TfL Rail services from Liverpool Street to Brentwood and Shenfield, I actually cheated by taking an Abellio Greater Anglia train some time back straight to Shenfield (where the Oyster card reader happily feasted itself on my pay-as-you-go credit; I was dim-witted to cram in with other commuters — not the most pleasant ride, obviously; plus you pay more during rush hour!). So this time, I actually took a train out to Brentwood, and in the process, snapped picture of almost all stations enroute. ▶
I’ve seen this in signs on anything train-themed, both in Asia and now in the UK as well. The Swiss Federal Railways’s ICN trainset, Switzerland’s own high-speed set of locomotive wheels, is a favourite for anyone train-related the world over — and why am I not surprised? It’s a work of art.
However, there are still bits and bobs of the ICN that not everyone has come to adore. The food is perfect, but what annoys me a bit is the huge noise you hear in the compartments just by the dining room. Power gets cut at times, and the noise is loud enough to make you un-productive. ▶
Beginning today (16 January 2014) until the end of the Spring Festival Peak Travel Season, you’ll see me providing bilingual railway information throughout this peak travel period, especially on Weibo. The railways are pledging safe, convenient and pleasant services this year — and as a traveller to many different countries, I like this. This is a good move from China Railways — they’re treating their customers the right way.
A lot of people are on the move, so to make people travel the easiest, I’m promoting the bilingual posts. The entire railway system (national, joint-venture, local and private railways) as well as all of China’s transport systems, news organisations, and just about anyone is free to retweet the posts, and I allow this for the simple goal that people get home easier after getting info from them. I know rail and metro people are busy this time of the year. I hear you — it’s time I got into this to help you. Oh, and because I’m an English teacher, I take full responsibility for my translations.
I’m doing this on my own initiative — and in case you were wondering who I am, I’m a Lecturer (equivalent to Assistant Professor in the United States) at the Communication (Media) University of China (I’m also a “foreign expert” there). I’m also the author of Everyday Rail English, a column for making the rail system in China speak English. I’m doing this to help; I get no money out of this. And to many extents, because I’m helping everyone, I’d like to keep it that way. ▶
Call it the 287 kilometres of HSR that mattered. That actually built bridges.
The month of December is when China’s HSR network will break that crucial 10,000 km barrier, and the new Tianjin-Qinhuangdao High Speed Railway started this breakneck “HSR Month”. A few other new lines, including Xi’an-Baoji, Xiamen-Shenzhen, and a new link from Hengyang East to Nanning, will make China’s HSR trains go just about all over the place.
The new Tianjin-Qinhuangdao HSR that opened today seems to be a mere minnow — it is just over 250 km in length. Yet these crucial miles connect two of China’s most important north-south HSR lines: Beijing-Harbin and Beijing-Shanghai. They are merely preparing the new line today: look for the real train service zoo in late December, when Harbin-Shanghai services will be offered. ▶
Did the official, national China Railways Weibo account just start tweeting things in English?
If everything was in Chinese back then, it made sense. But then we had Deng’s reforms. Then we had the Olympics. The World Expo. The Asian Games. Two Universiades. You got people from all creeds, all religions, all countries and territories, in essence pouring into the country and onto our trains. (I’m typing this in a café with Italians next to me!) It kind of made sense to be bilingual. Bilingual signage popped up everywhere — at Beijing South, on trains, everywhere.
For a moment, most of us believed our railways turned bilingual overnight.
That’s the case for much of the written signage. But if you’ve done a lot of travelling in China by train, you’ll see probably more than a few gaping gaps between — say, the train and the platform. You’ll see gaps in different expressions being used for the very same things. Whilst you might use an Exit at Beijing South, the signs point you to a Way Out in other stations. Then there’s how we name stations. Or name new things, like personal tickets and their replaceable equivalents. Or how we should get the English right, as a whole. I’ve also heard stories from rail crew — basic things like grabbing stuff at the dining car would leave crew at a loss — simply because of the language barrier. ▶
I was invited to be part of a special, public beta train service from Nanchang to Fuzhou, on the new Xiangtang-Putian Railway. The new railway line creates a direct passenger-cum-freight link between the Jiangxi capital of Nanchang and the Fujian capital of Fuzhou. This was key to this part of southeastern China — which, despite it being not far from the coast, was unbelievably mountainous.
For much of Jiangxi, the view was that of flatland — although the train did go through quite a number of tunnels. Once we were near the border with neighbouring Fujian, though, the terrain became visibly more rugged and mountainous, and the tunnels increased in number and in length. To take even a “passing by” shot on my iPhone’s GPS-enabled camera (with a “proper” geotag) became a struggle on its own!
As the train neared the coast, the terrain got noticeably flatter until we could see waterbodies in sight — I think that was the coast! Just after 12:30, we rolled into Fuzhou Railway Station. A friend I have there, who worked at the station, was quite surprised to see me again — having just met not too long ago! ▶
I’ve done 100,000+ km in China, and man do my bums hurt.
But unfortunately, they’re getting all the station names wrong. Some even are off-colour.
Poor Hangzhou needs a better name than one that implies — the more private parts of your body. Thankfully, beginning August 2013, I’m joining the official national railways web site, People’s Railway Daily Online, at peoplerail.com. Every day, I’ll be telling rail folks in and around the country how to write English right. ▶
The “standard” expression for “un-Chinglish” would, of course, be English, but I had to point out the “un-Chinglish” bit. One has to, when one sees what the station’s been through. A few years back, Platform 1 was given a Chinglish name, as I saw in my February 2013 trip to the Zhangjiakou South Railway Station.
In March 2013, I started redoing their sign after I linked up via Weibo to one of the people in charge of stations around Greater Zhangjiakou. I redid all of their signage onboard Train G71 whilst it sped from Beijing West to Changsha South.
These guys sure were happy: they were spared the design fees (and got Swiss design instead). After a bit of a hard time coaxing the station bosses to get the sign up and ready, in late May — that’s just recently — they got the signs updated.
Hopefully I’ll be along for the whole ride as China makes a giant leap towards proper English! ▶