This morning I’m in a part of town I used to live in — back in the early 1990s, we stayed for a fair while at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel (we also did have a home back then, but we left it for the rest of the family). I sat in the Atrium for a fair bit of rather late morning tea. In this city where just about everything changed, it was nice to find a more Aldgate part of the Jing. The 1980s / 1990s-esque lifts were still there (even the way the number “4” was displayed on the identification plates), and the mini-pavilion in the Atrium was still there. What changed was merely the music they were playing — at times it sounded a little from what I heard from the crew at SWISS International Air Lines.
The Aldgate bit means a fair bit to me: I took the Metropoiltan line to Aldgate, snapped myself a pic in late 2014, and was wowed by the likes of the Gherkin. Sadly, I’d see almost no development in that part of London next year, so the views changed far less than in Beijing. The Atrium at the Great Wall Sheraton stayed much the same — in fact, much of the whole hotel stayed the same. Even the lifts looked their late 1980s / early 1990s self, with the number 4 on lift number plates by the entrance still in that very special typeface.
In a city that has shifted beyond sixth gear in no time, it’s… well… somewhat comforting to find a part of town that hasn’t changed. ▶
Photo credit: Liang Bo
That’s me doing Rail English again for China. Just a few days back, I was appointed Railway English Consultant for Ji’nanxi (Ji’nan West) and its subordinate stations, which include stations from Taian to Zaozhuang. Some time earlier, I also did much the same at Xuzhoudong (Xuzhou East) station, which basically meant that if you’re travelling between these stations, you should see serious improvements in Rail English.
As of late there’s one other very welcoming development: the Beijing-Shanghai HSR has been showered by the central government in China, giving it top honours in a national science and technology progress awards ceremony.
It is no secret this is now one of China’s busiest HSR routes. Trains G1 through to G22, which generally run the 1,318 km (824 mi) stretch in less than 5 hours’ time, are amongst the most popular trains in the nation, both amongst locals and expats, as well as visitors from abroad. With the line as popular and as award-winning as it is, the next big goal my end would be to make it China’s first 100% bilingual line. ▶
You might have noticed that the city of Beijing has an -ing in the name. It’s no odd coincidence: whilst on a drive around town lately, I have witnessed the emergence of whole towns as cities from a part of Beijing far out — Tanzhesi around 20 miles out southwest from the centre of town has in essence been redone as a New Town of sorts, with a huge load of high-rise buildings. Mentougou, around 15 miles out from central Beijing, has in the meanwhile silently become a brand-new city.
If someone put a microphone to me whilst I was driving around, the tape would be probably end up wiped clean, since it was laden with expletives and, in fact, little else. That’s how it turned out: utter disbelief my end as I was driving around town. You could not in any other way portray how shocked and stunned I was. ▶
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?… ▶
I used to be a subway person in Beijing (in all three senses of the word: the US subway as in a train system; the UK subway as in underground passageways; and Subway as in the sandwich joint). Beijing’s main reason for getting me this addicted to its underground city metro system was that it was expanding all the time — and to ride one you did not need to break the bank.
At CNY 2.— for unlimited mileage (as long as you stayed inside the city), it was one of the cheapest systems in the world. No longer, though: a majority approved changes that would see starting fares a la Shanghai (CNY 3.— instead of CNY 2.—). The rates being proposed are not cheap!
- Starting fare: CNY 3.—, good for 6 km
- Mileage between 6 km and 12 km: CNY 4.—
- Extra CNY 1.— per 10 km for distances from 12 km to 32 km
- Extra CNY 1.— per 20 km for distances from 32 km onwards
This is all way too complex, and no rider will have an idea how much money he or she will have at the end of the trip.
What Beijing needs is a carbon copy of London’s fare zones.
London’s fare zones are complex, and in at least two of these zones, “special fares apply” (especially if you head up to Watford on the Overground or National Rail trains). But Beijing’s can be much easier to ascertain: just use the rings! ▶
I joined fellow Radio Beijing co-host Alison Zhou onstage at the Tuanjiehu community’s English event, when we were given the stage not only to promote the newly-created Handbook of Everyday English for Beijing residents. The event was held in the morning hours of 31 May 2014 at the Tuanjiehu local community activities centre.
When you come to think of it, it was a big deal at the end of the day. Both city authorities in charge for international affairs and Radio Beijing, as well as leading English experts in town, took the time to come together and to create a book for the rest of us, telling people how English should best be spoken and used.
Kids, seniors and local residents all joined us in the free two-hour session to get people more and more excited about learning English. Many said they loved listening to our spoken English as they could really learn from this. The event finished at 11:30 with a commitment to take such events to more places around the city. ▶
I served as a judge in the recent Beijing Vocational Teachers Final of the 5th Shanghai Foreign Languages Education Press Foreign Languages Teaching Contest, which took place on 24 & 25 May 2014. The two-day event saw 19 contestants in the first day of contest (semi-finals) and 7 in the finals on the second day.
The goals were simple:
- For the semi-finals: Give each contestant 20 minutes to teach a mock class
- For the finals: Allow 10 minutes for each contestant to describe a lesson plan; finish it off with a 5-minute Q&A session.
Like many contests, this one was a “mixed bag”. Some contestants did minimal interaction (although none did the feared “Boring Lecturer Position”); others were very interactive. Contestant 2 from the first day was my early favourite. He did everything I would do when teaching:
- Allow group activities and permit plenty of interaction
- Be encouraging; sprinkle your lessons with a healthy dose of humour
- Use technology right: in large classrooms, pass at least one other microphone to students and allow them to speak in the same volume as you are (if the teacher uses the mic, get students to do the same)
- Warn students of potential pitfalls
Competition was very fierce, though. In the end, Contestant 4 (who was Contestant 3 on Day 1) won my vote by mentioning role-play as part of her lesson proposal. She also shrank all lessons to 45 minutes (other contestants wanted 90 minutes). Her presentation was extremely persuasive: you could tell she was in it for the long run, and it was all helped by the right mix of body language and eye contact. ▶
Being a seasoned host, there was one thing I was missing from last year’s event: the live stage where you could actually record and broadcast, live, a show. But having done that last, year, I was always ready for something totally new. Or, if you must be so Monty Python-inclined, something that is just simply completely different…
The highlight of the festival for me this time was nearly 20 minutes of the main stage to myself, which I considered an extremely bad idea (because I had been through more than enough 90-minute lectures with the lecturer simply going yadda yadda yadda). The only way to stop people from leaving the main stage is if you glued them. (Ideally, without resorting to superglue.) Boom — the potentially 20-minute long academic sermon was quickly switched to an event where I didn’t have the mic, but kids did. We were having so much fun that crew had to remind us we had only a few minutes left. I instantly continued zipping through, but every kid was given time to read their bit out loud. I guided them patience — much like a teacher since 2000. At the very end, there was markedly audible applause as I left. It was great, because this was clearly a win-win situation.
Like many events I have loved before, my mantra re: the whole event remains: I loved every moment of it, and if I could do it again, I’m up for it. ▶
On Saturday, 17 May 2014, and again on Sunday, 18 May 2014, Beijing will hold its annual Foreign Languages Fair (World Languages Fair). I’ll play a very active role this time ’round.
Readers, both old and new, of the book, as well as subscribers via the WeChat / AM774 web site channel, are welcome to join me onstage or offstage. I intend to make this an open forum so that people go away with lots of learning to make their next overseas trip smoother, or to make their next encounter with expats in China less difficult.
So to make this conversation two-way and to make the learning “stick”, there will be take-home handouts (expected to be plenty in number). ▶
There are two camps in China when it comes to foreign languages: left-leaning campers are known for being nationalistic and prefer that foreigners learn Chinese instead of making locals learn English for expats. The other camp is more realistic, and realises China stands to benefit a lot by allowing foreign tongues on their soil.
That’s the stance I love.
I’m headed to London later this year. I like the bit of London that is Chinatown not because it’s a bit of home (in fact, I stay away from the Chinatowns overseas as it’s what I tried to get myself out of in the first place), but because street signs are bilingual: Chinese and English.
When Beijing’s Koreatown, Wangjing, wanted trilingual signs (Chinese, English, Korean), I thought this was a great idea. When Beijing Airport sported quadlingual signs, I thought it was neat as well. But what I saw at Red Snail Temple (Hongluo Si) was something that was beyond my expectations: signs in six languages. These were Chinese, English, Korean, Japanese, Thai and Russian. ▶