No other “clean” expression in the English language today is enough to describe the utter amazement and my sense of being completely overwhelmed at how Beijing is doing its transport links to the new Daxing International Airport (which is what everyone’s calling it, in spite of the new airport not yet having an official name)…
It looks like nothing is sacred to planners who want to make this the world’s most important airport, ever. We’re looking at pics… which in essence shows, to the far end, a new High Speed Rail line being built (Beijing – Xiongan) as well as a motorway with a new airport express Beijing Subway line being sandwiched in the middle layer. You really can’t make this stuff up. ▶
This time a year ago, I left on Train G1 to Nanjing South and Hefei South. A year later, I’m in front of a microphone — not on a train — though at times both have happened at the same time…
The people at Radio Beijing timed the live show to happen exactly a year after the documentary started. We’re far from done… But it has shown me China beyond any dimension imaginable.
Pretty much wherever I’ve set up my camera and microphone — wired or wireless — I’ve been an item of curiosity. I’ve been identified by a member of the public once — at Wuxi Railway Station — but otherwise they’re rather low-key. There’s a reason I keep it like that — to uncover the station as-is, without anything extra (without any extras, in fact). ▶
Usually it’s supposed to be “remixed” properly as Beijing + Tianjin + Hebei or the rather awkward-sounding Jingjinji. Except for this time, Hebei did take centre stage.
You will have remembered I had some pretty solid “Hebei roots and connections”. Oh for sure, I was born in the Chinese capital, which is Beijing, not Hebei. Yet apart from highway and railway mileage, my wife also has her roots in the province, and I presented the Beautiful Hebei contest three months after winning our 2022 Winter Olympics bid. The UK Hebei Association also recommended me as a co-host to a spring festival gala for the Chinese community in Portsmouth just a few months into 2016. To them, I was a serious doer. So it was no wonder they decided I belonged to something much bigger.
I am aware of how these organisations for returned overseas Chinese work, and they were aware of my Swiss nationality in addition to Chinese roots. (I became a member and thus the sole member from Switzerland.) The perfect pill for understanding? A previous policy in Chinese-language media with regards to my special ties to China and Switzerland: political loyalty to Bern, concern and care by heritage to Beijing.
Which leads me into my afternoon talk. It was as much as a talk of “what’s next?” as a “summary of frustrations” (to the benefit of North China, in actual fact). I went over many things in the round-table event…▶
The 2017 Beijing Foreign Language Festival was held in some of the weirdest weather ever. You’ll note that the huge billboard to my back was probably dented and pierced by some out-of-control toddler. That’s right, as we had to ensure nobody got hurt by equally maddening and out-of-control gusts — real, big-time heavy winds!
As a result we only had so many of us super-intrepid people braving the wind, but in full force they did come. For once, I was set free onstage by myself to talk about trains. Interestingly enough, we had the Beijing Subway do their bilingual shtick first before I went onstage and took people on an imagined bilingual trip from Chaoyang Park out via the tube network to Beijing South, then onward to Shanghai.
With High Speed Rail being the way to get around now, we’re swearing by the trains more these days than at it… ▶
Pingguoyuan terminus on Line 1 is still here as of this writing, but not for long. It’s going away to get redone into a three-line hub, where it’ll co-host Lines 6 and the Mentougou Maglev. That’s going to be good when it happens in future, but for now it’ll mean we’ll have services cut back a stop, to Gucheng. Pingguoyuan will go dark as it’s being remodelled and, hopefully, expanded big time from the 1970s invention it is right now.
So it’s one more ride for the moment to Pingguoyuan, the only station on Line 1 not on Chang’an Avenue. As a result, it tilts probably 50°-60° to the northwest, making its mark felt clearly on the Subway map.
Being built in the 1970s, it was built at a time when Peking feared invasion from Moscow or DC more than the millions in the city that’d be one day taking this platform by surprise, so everything’s very spartan and not as big as you’d think. ▶
On 01 August 2008, China did what no other country on Planet Earth did — operate trains at 350 km/h (217 mph). On 23 July 2011, the horrendous Wenzhou crash happened, killing 40. The then-head of the mainland Chinese railway authorities, Sheng Guangzu, had little recourse but to ask the prime minister to lower speeds to 300 km/h (186 mph).
Sheng retired in late 2016. However, it was under his administration that work started in earnest on an “all-Chinese” trainset, the CR Revival Express (a train which was also made inherently safer and better at higher speeds).
That very same screamer sped out of Beijing South in the morning hours of 21 September 2017, with yours truly onboard Train G1. Top speed reached 350 km/h (217 mph). Once again, China had the world’s fastest train. ▶
It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve stepped back into that live studio at Radio Beijing (as in the English-language services)… The show was Touch Beijing, a live show mostly in English, but with a fair bit of spoken Mandarin Chinese as well. I came in around 25 minutes past the hour (17:25 or so), for my 20-ish minutes of fame (or so). The rail documentary I was doing, Next Station: China, took, of course, centre stage.
Up to this point, I had “sped up” going to stations — I literally just returned yesterday from Shidu Railway Station, Station 51 right by the mountains in southwestern Beijing. The past 50 journeys have seen me around much of Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, He’nan, and Shandong, but also as far south as Hu’nan! Were there a few of my favourites already? Absolutely. Old Regular Rail stations made up for the bulk of unexpected discoveries. ▶
Let me be honest with you all: I find an equal amount of grave, dismal, even abysmal faults in China, as I find it to be one of the best countries in the world. It’s natural: I was born here, and until I was 18, I used to be a Chinese citizen. I still live here — with all of my family.
I am hardly alone in this, as I’ve learnt. Most people — expats included! — have this conflicting love and hate of China and of Beijing. But I am not willing to be sold out to either extremes. I’m a poor Swiss citizen if we’re to be seen as “the best of” viewpoint neutrality. So what I do instead is to reinterpret neutrality as a “smorgasbord of views”.
I’ll continue to have a love-hate relationship with the city — and the Middle Kingdom as a whole — as it’s a real, living, breathing experience — and because we all care about this place. Dearly. ▶
In London, for as much as work as I did finding Swissness at Sainsbury’s, M & S, and Waitrose (I deliberately shun Tesco as much as I can, and I never do Aldi, Lidl, or the like), I found only limited Swissness when it came to dairy products. I was a regular Onken yoghurt consumer, but as it had German roots, I wanted to look for something “more authentically Swiss”. And the only Swiss yoghurt you got were at Whole Foods, from a local dairy in Bischofszell (or thereabouts), Canton of St Gallen. You could easily forget what Waitrose passed off as its Number 1 choice for chocolate — I as a Swiss feel quite insulted that we weren’t picked (but the choice was made pre-Brexit, so they could always reconsider!).
For Beijing, by no means are they cheap (apart from the occasional sale), but if it’s something that won’t kill you, I’m going for it at all costs. ▶