The Beijing Subway is an epic element of “daily life” (as they say here in Beijing) my end. Whilst I don’t ride it day in day out, I do ride on it religiously enough that I’ve been to most stations (though not all, unlike London at the moment), and I’ve seen a few Chinglish fails.
So City Hall got me the chance to speak to 90 of the Beijing Subway’s “Ops-3” (Third Operations) company. These guys manage Lines 2, 8, 10, and 13, which included the city’s two loop lines, and the arc line as well. We also went over the basic, included ten phrases used in ten situations — gateline English, at the platforms, to deal with interchange routes, and many others.
But we saved the best for last. I treated Subway crew to nearly a hundred phrases or so used at major interchanges and stations across town, in mock situations, and to deal with horrendously complex transfer situations. ▶
I did the Everyday Rail English books in late 2017 so to clean up on China Railway’s epic mistranslations (they run great trains, but some translations are just totally random). It was bilingual for the sole fact that they had to have something to read in English, but all the descriptive text and others remaining in Mandarin Chinese. Like my Chinglish book, it found itself an unexpected international audience. There is hearsay this book made it big in the Belgian community in Beijing, both civilian and diplomatic (!??). As a result, this book began an unexpected second life as a book semi-primed for expats as well (supposedly so they could probably use pre-canned phrases to navigate their way around the rail network).
The Bookworm’s probably the most well-read, literally, of all expat hangout places in the Jing, so I decided to talk about the book, but also my documentary, and other untold stories of the Chinese railways, at the Bookworm for the 14 May 2018 event. The topic was so Sheldonesque I thought I’d get maybe just a few coming along for the ferrovial brainwashing. Except that I had underestimated interest in this…
Not only did I take a look at the raison d’être for the book — but I also went ahead with a few unknown facts (and hopefully less factoids) of the railways in China… such as the rather complex way they managed the stations on the Beijing-Shanghai HSR (11 different entities or bodies manage the 24 stations!), or how Muping has this Tottenham Court Road-like echo hall at the departures hall. ▶
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… ▶
Every year, at this time, we’d see millions and billions take to the rails, roads, and air, as this nation of 1.3+ billion and coming make their way home to their ancestral homes — back to their grandparents and parents — just for that classic meal, the dinner on New Year’s Eve in the Chinese calendar… For 2017, I’ve decided to take part in this by not just launching a Twitter topic on it (#Chunyun), but to make a difference and trial new brochures helping people. And also to broadcast this live to the wider world audience.
It’s been said Chinese railway tickets are a blessing and a curse. The blessing being that you’re booked onto one train, with one credit card-sized ticket telling you everything from which gate to use, which train you’re booked onto, when you’ll set off, and what seat will be yours. Unfortunately, the curse is that they’re all in Mandarin Chinese…
Except for that I didn’t want this to hold true forever. Having talked to quite a number of seasoned expat travellers, I decided to create (using Apple Pages) a brochure describing what this, that, or the other thing would be on the ticket — in both Mandarin Chinese and English. There was also a card for passengers who’d have lost their ticket, and need help getting a replacement. ▶
So Beijing beat Almaty pretty much solid — secured those 4 crucial votes — and brought the Games home! That was amazing already (although I do admit, probably on the day the vote was about to happen in Malaysia, when I went on the Bakerloo line train, I was so bloody nervous I swear I was about to have a heart attack — my Apple Watch registered a heartbeat pretty much nearly three times the usual!).
And now I’m back in Beijing for just a fortnight — 14 days since I was happily stamped in — and what on Earth is this? BOCOG 2022! Beijing Organising Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games! And even better: I got my own microphone there!! ▶
One thing I’m pretty “sure” about this picture is it’s going to tick quite a number of language purists off. But then, a shocking majority of young Chinese will often mix English into their otherwise Mandarin Chinese conversations. This got to the better of me at Baker Street tube station earlier today, when I was running out of words in Chinese with a fellow academic colleague (also Chinese), and I had to resort to a little bit of “assisted English” to get the message across.
My end, this is less a matter of concern for “lingo purists” as I’m somewhat with them — fully aware that Chinese is at the risk of being “eaten away” by “100% English”. Hu Jintao’s years saw a campaign, if ever so brief, to force government TV anchors to completely abandon Chinese as much as possible. Even TLAs (three-letter abbreviations) in English were officially frowned upon. But then, the language purification campaign came and went. ▶
Beginning today, I’ll gladly do pro bono language lessons in the following languages for the following bodies in the following countries:
Bodies: National railways, city metro, transport police, visas, and immigration.
Languages and Countries: English for China (with future option of German, French, Italian, and, at a much later date, Rumantsch); English and Chinese for Switzerland.
And the reason(s) why? In bullet-point form, real quick, here’s why:
- The 2014 Handbook of Everyday English for Beijing, a work of a whole smorgasbord of language and media experts, had me deeply involved in the project. It was a great project to work together on — we met with some of the most knowledgeable experts in the field, which included translators at the Chinese Foreign Ministry and at key national universities. I did much of the translation and a fair load of the proofreading, as well as the VOs and video show presentations (hopefully they’ll be live soon).
- That Handbook had a lot of content which was precisely related to public transit, visas and immigration, and how the police are asked questions by visitors. I’ve also been through many of these (over a million kilometres in 220+ cities across 24 countries / territories); I’m now on my sixth passport). ▶
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. ▶