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…▶
In Switzerland our only “really” global airport is not located in the Federal City (much the equivalent of a “real” capital in other countries), Bern, but Zürich. It is only the “real” 100% Swiss airport of a major dimension (since the airports in Geneva and Basel have connections to nearby France, but all exits at Zürich Airport lead solely to Swiss territory).
We are somewhat satisfied with our 3-runway (or two-and-a-sort-of-half runway) airport, which is in a well-forested part of suburban Zürich. We completed around a decade back the new Fingerdock E, which is where most intercontinental flights land. The inside of the airport has also been massively redone, from the toilets to the concourses and shopping areas. The inside of the Airside Centre, in fact, feels not much unlike Shanghai Pudong!
However, it is the explosive growth of Beijing’s new air hub — Daxing International Airport, as it is sometimes known — that simply wows me in full. A few days back, I took my car for a spin, dashcam and other imaging devices ready, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new airport in the making. What I saw was enough to make me faint: basically miles on end of cranes and construction sites meaning that this new airport was about to become reality — very soon! ▶
I do admit I left China at a time when it was pretty much in its doldrums. 2014 was a slow year. Earlier that year, me being stuck in smog in very bad traffic was pretty much it to me.
It would be nearly 7 years since I was last in London, so I imagined development had really picked up there. I took the Metropolitan line to the city terminus at Aldgate twice — once in November 2014, and again in summer 2015. It was highly disappointing: there was just about no change there in the City.
In the meantime, Beijing had engaged Magnet Mode again: just about everything from the Winter Olympics and the G20 meeting to international gardening and relaxation summits headed its way into the Middle Kingdom in a chain series of events starting from summer 2015.
With this return trip to Beijing, the absolutely amazing pace of development just completely took my breath away. I took the Beijing Subway the day I landed to see how fast things were picking up in the CBD, after seeing pics on the Web that there must have been at least one new skyscraper in the making. The entire city took my breath away. Even more breathtaking was Hebei, especially that part which would host the world in 2022. ▶
I took part in the Beautiful Hebei photo expo — an event where I absolutely did not regret being part of it. An extremely key reason for this being the case was because it was about Hebei, a part of China now about to be made famous by co-hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics. In fact, that part of China, which the Western media preferred to think would be completely snow-less, was entirely snowed in just as this post went onto the Internet.
The celebration dinner tonight was a moment of appreciation for all who were part of this event. I took it very seriously as it involved something dear and near to me. My wife’s origins by family roots was from Hebei, that very same province that got highlighted there, and I actually taught for two years in Hebei (and would happily do so again in future). Hebei was a place for me to go to when I got fed up of Beijing (that would actually happen!… but not all the time), and I’ve basically explored all the major cities in the province, save for Xingtai and Hengshui in the south, and maybe Huanghua in the southeast. I wanted to be part of this event which involved a part of China that would host the Winter Olympics in 2022 because being part of the Games (even off the field) in 2008 was a great experience for me.
My role at the meeting was as event host. For the rest of us, that translates to people who do little else than go onstage with a microphone, saying the right things, and trying to connect the dots for the audience. But that was only part of the story. With key events, you had to have two — a lady and a gentleman — so I had to get in touch with the lady presenter, Shuo Zhang, early onwards and try to figure out just how the scripts would work. A huge amount of details were put into the cue cards (which we tried to ignore as much as we can, just to appear more natural). I made more than the usual dashes to Waitrose, if only for the extra caffeine, because I’d be keeping late nights (up to 04:00 once!). No detail was spared — not even the back of cue cards, which could be spotted by eagle-eyed members of the audience. There was no complaints whatsoever: we just wanted to put on the best possible show for the audience. ▶
Over two hundred people came as the event kicked off in the afternoon hours of 31 October 2015. Local and Chinese media covered the event, and we had speakers and key guests from the University of Westminster, Hebei enterprises (with some making a very long trip over to London from China), and others, including support from the Chinese Embassy in London. The ribbon cutting kicked the event off into gear, with speeches also made (as usual), but a lot of entertainment as well — including Peking Opera, Cheongsam, and solo guitar performances. Messages of congratulations from Hebei in China were also read — it was quite an important event, with 66 pictures of Hebei displayed throughout Fyvie Hall.
Most of us might be wondering why Hebei was “such a big deal”. Here’s why Hebei’s key: It is the “other host” to the 2022 Winter Olympics. Victory on 31 July 2015 has not meant that solely Beijing has nabbed the games whole. Events will be shared between Beijing and Hebei, with central Beijing and Yanqing hosting some events, then Zhangjiakou (specifically Chongli) hosting others. It’s probably not all too nice to win gold in China in 2022 — if you forgot which province you won it from! The other big reason why “Hebei must be it” is the creation of a new megalopolis that will dwarf Tokyo and Yokohama in comparison — Hebei is joining the larger Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei metropolitan region, which will see in the mix the Chinese capital, a central municipality, and dozens of major cities in Hebei. Already now, we’re unifying standards across three jurisdictions so that the greater Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area is reality sooner. If you’re into major developments in North China, you cannot afford to “just ignore” Hebei.
It was a fantastic time entertaining visitors, and me and the other host pulled this off in both English and Chinese, often with one person alternating between these two languages on the fly (even if just for a bit). For once, it was quite an experience introducing senior academics I work with (instead of myself being introduced by the distinguished scholar, which happened more frequently my end!) onto the stage — there was a lot of mutual appreciation. ▶
David Feng to Host Hebei Photo Exhibition Launch Event at University of Westminster on 31 October 2015
I’m really happy to share with everyone that I’ve been confirmed as an event emcee of a photo exhibition about the province of Hebei. This will be held at 14:00 on 31 October 2015 as part of the opening ceremonies.
Hebei could be just any other random province out there, but since winning the rights to host the Beijing & Zhangjiakou 2022 Olympics, it has become the epicentre of a huge amount of publicity. Its close proximity to Beijing, plus a further regional integration project well underway to get Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei even closer, means that the province of Hebei is increasingly a Big in China.
With Hebei being as key as it is — hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics — it’s time the rest of the world in London knew what this place is all about. We’ll be having lots of pictures that will hopefully take your breath away. You’ll actually get to see the non-Beijing part of China that will host the games in 2022. And you’ll actually see some liquid stuff (Beijing is landlocked; but Hebei is right on the coast).
So join me as we start the show: 14:00 on 31 October 2015. This will be at Fyvie Hall at the University of Westminster’s Regent Street Campus (309 Regent Street). The entire exhibition will remain viewable to the public through to 06 November 2015.
▶ Get more info — and get tickets (free!)
See you there! ▶
Yesterday saw me bring the world of China media knowledge to lesser-known parts of the country — outside the Tier 1 cities such as Beijing and ilk. And that, to me, was actually something I did with a lot of pride.
When I graduated, having gotten my PhD in summer 2012, my first priority was not to work up the ladder to an eventual professorship as quickly as possible, but to give back to the other 99%. In the same vein, although people would vie for a teaching position in big cities a la Beijing or Shanghai, the rest of the country is left virtually untouched. To me, teaching at Hebei University, in a part of China just 100 miles away from central Beijing, is probably the best thing I can do now in order to spread the knowledge like peanut butter. As a matter of fact, I actually love doing this, because I can clock up my rail miles in the process (even if they don’t have a rewards programme).
I started teaching a class of seven students from all over the world today — they included students from South Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America, amongst other places. I made sure the class was as lively as possible and shied away from a fixed system of handouts and “100% PowerPoint presentations”. ▶
Looks like Hebei is swallowing Beijing full.
Either that, or you took Municipal Highway 209 form Nankou to Yanchi.
Sometime back, at the Yanchi Inspection Station, I saw signs leading to Changping, and that made me kind of think. I also started wondering when I saw a signpost to Yanchi in Changping. I drove too quickly, so I couldn’t back out. But I knew there was a link, of sorts, between the two.
This time, I finally nailed it. ▶
I’ve been taking a few road trips as of late. I just finished one to Zhangjiakou, and this to me, as a Swiss, is a little like a homecoming. Obviously, Switzerland is totally made up of mountains, and seeing a bit of these sure felt I was closer to my bit of the world!
Zhangjiakou was predictable. Tangshan, less so. In 1976, one huge earthquake literally tore this place to pieces. As a result, I seriously wasn’t expecting anything other than hastily-rebuilt buildings. I would seriously not be surprised if I had caught sight of rubble, to this day!
So off onto the freeway it was. ▶