I’m headed back to Beijing in around a month, after all these years in the UK. Beijing, indeed, is the place I was born in. I’ve always kept my homeland and Beijing close to me — and it shows in all the involvements I’ve been part of. In the past two years, I’ve been more involved academically, am a closer part of the London Chinese community, have been part of events and meetups amongst locals in London, have been closer to UK media and the rail world, and through all this, now understand the UK better — not least also through my travels to all 32 London Boroughs and The City, as well as all lines and stations on the London Underground and the DLR.
Beijing is the city of the future. Once back “in the Jing”, I’m going to be involved in the Chinese capital as never before. My main career is obviously going to be rail-centred, but I’ll also keep a firm footing in academia, Beijing’s international events, and particularly the Swiss community in Beijing and across all of China. The Beijing & Zhangjiakou 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, as well as the building of the northern China megalopolis around Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei, are stories that will define our time and are unique in their own right. This is where I’ll also come in with my own experience and know-how, as I do my part in making China and its people better off and living better lives daily.
Here’s a look back at 25 pictures of two highly successful years in Britain. ▶
«Da isch ja mega, sehr geil!»
My favourite from the many Schmirinskis skits (of Swiss TV fame) was one involving one of these hors-la-loi skiing down an unauthorised path. After having cleared some distance, he let out a string of Alpine yodel-ish exclamations ending in «Da isch ja mega, sehr geil!», which literally means How cool is that!? in English…
Lea Bridge station came (back) to life in one — 31 years after it closed down. (For those of us born after 1985 however, it’d be the inaugural opening.) «Da isch ja mega, sehr geil!» was my first reaction, for not only was it my first-ever station opening (outside of Ji’nan West station of the Beijing-Shanghai HSR), but it was my first on non-Swiss, non-Chinese soil. I took the opportunity to take a fair number of pictures — mostly souvenir snaps, too.
My train to Lea Bridge departed at 20:08 from Ponders End (actually it departed a minute late. We pulled into Lea Bridge at 20:20:38 (that’s from my iPhone records), and I pushed the Door open button and the whole crowd erupted into wild cheer. ▶
It’s not a David Feng talk if it’s not about trains. With the population of just over two Londons moving from the countryside to the city every year across China, something will have to carry them. And whilst the country may have pretty much the largest national motorway network on the planet, it’s also home to over two-thirds of the world’s HSR tracks.
This already-massive network — at 19,000 km (11,806 miles) — is expected to grow even more by 2020, with figures by then to hit 30,000 km (18,641 miles) for the entire nationwide HSR network. With most trunk lines running at no less than 300 km/h (186 mph), this is going to be one of the most efficient ways to get across the country.
My talk on 12 April 2016 at the London Book Fair introduced urbanisation in China and its effects, with a focus on infrastructure. ▶
It had every last David Feng element possibly conceivable on the planet. Trains. Subways. HSR trainsets. Audiences. Comparisons between the Metropolitan line and Beijing’s Line 1 and the Batong Line extension. The audience at the London Transport Museum was wowed for an hour as I did my shtick — a one-hour presentation on From A to B in London and Beijing. Everything was fully localised for a London audience. Miles per hour appeared next to their SI equivalents, and the Victoria line was shown its Beijing counterpart.
In the London Transport Museum’s Cubic Theatre, over 80 were seated as they discovered how the Chinese rails and roads worked. I first started with a fact-and-distance check: the easternmost end of the bridge by the Tube platforms at Upminster, in essence the closest point on the Tube network to Beijing from inside the M25, was 5,302⅔ miles (8,099.2 km) away. That station was a new late 2015 addition: Changping Xishankou station. ▶
There’s one thing I’m not all too happy with the food I have in the Jing: salad isn’t part of the menu in many a restaurant. (You pay the equivalent of £7.— or so for that in Beijing — cheap by London standards, quite a pocketbook-thumper by the standards of the Jing!) Obviously, in China, things are massively different: vegetables, especially cooked / stir-fried / ____ed ones, take their place most of the time. In particular, I don’t get rocket (the veg, not the Cape Canaveral version) as much as I’d like to in Beijing. And the greens and fruits I get at the average supermarket in town are astronomically priced for a Beijing budget.
The other thing I’m seeing is I easily get more mileage on foot in London than in Beijing. This strikes me as odd, as I take the Tube (or Subway) pretty much as often I do in Beijing as I do in London. Plus, Beijing has a larger still network; London’s next addition won’t be until 2018. However, in the end, my device reports I get less miles done on foot in the Jing than inside the M25. ▶
I have been taking trains for pretty much as long as I can remember. I remember quite clearly I was onboard a train in northeastern Switzerland, in second class, along with other members of the Chinese communities, in either 1989 or 1990.
In school, I quit the school bus service and instead, got myself multiride tickets between home and school. In high school, I got myself annual nationwide season tickets, known as the SBB GA travelcard (Generalabonnement). I wanted to spend some extra time on trains to get my homework perfected, so I was lucky enough to get a first class edition of the travel pass. This also meant I had weekends when I could travel onboard any train in Switzerland for as long as I wanted to. It also meant I had a front-row seat to Switzerland’s new ICN pendular train (when it came onto the rails on 28 May 2000) and the Coop shopping coach (a nice concept, unfortunately slightly flawed — as you had the train go at pretty high speeds, making the shopping more like tight-rope walking!).
When I returned to China in 2000, the whole national railway system there was completely different. You had virtually no freedom of travel: you were booked onto a specific seat on a designate train, and because I wasn’t up for this, I gave up trains in China for 8 full years. However, I was able to talk myself onto trying a train on 01 August 2008 — a Swiss day that had Chinese elements, for the world’s first-ever 350 km/h (217 mph) train service opened up on a day that was both Swiss National Day and military day in China. ▶
My wife Tracy seems to have this urge to push me to challenge after challenge. Most academics default to being shy most of the time, which was why I thought my involvement in this 2nd Global China Dialogue would be, at first, a long ways off. In reality, though, it turned out to be anything but.
My roles were finalised merely days before the event started. I had confirmed roles of being both a Discussant, and a Speaker. I was supposed to offer my 2p regarding how others on the Civilised Dialogue – Transcultural and Comparative discussed the issues of the day, and give a presentation on Urbanisation and the Fabric of China’s Internet.
Spanning two full days, the event featured attendance of up to 70 people, and a great variety of noted speakers, commentators, and specialists from all walks of life. ▶
I will be part of the UK-China Culture Exchange – 2nd Global China Dialogue: Transculturality and New Global Governance conference. This will be held at the Wolfson Auditorium in the British Academy on 23 & 24 November 2015.
My role at this event at this moment will be as discussant of the second forum on the first day — Civilised dialogue – transcultural and comparative.
Here’s a quick briefer into the conference… ▶
What has happened on 13 November 2015 in Paris is certainly disconcerting. This is no way to enjoy the night late on Friday. Much as we are aware increasingly of the risk of attacks that “just happen” in the post-9/11 world, nobody expected things to — boom, just happen like that.
Obviously what happened in Paris is just dreadful — it is just so totally wrong when harmless, innocent lives are taken. The fact it happened just on the opposite side of the English Channel also meant it wasn’t too from home, here in London.
World reaction, though, was just one of outright sympathy. Every city that had a major landmark lit it to the colours of the French national flag. The countries closest to me did so as well. Just as of late, Bern donned its Federal Palace the French tricolour; the same happened in Shanghai with the Oriental Pearl Tower. The news from China, in particular, that they decided to join in this, was encouraging, because hitherto I had thought China to be rather ideologically removed from the rest of the world. But it is a positive sign that the country is being taken seriously as a key player on the world stage these days.
But what took my breath away was how this was done in London. ▶
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. ▶