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). ▶
So after filming three more stations on 27 June 2017, we got back to Beijing late that evening and hopped right onto Train G123 the next day. Yes, 48 hours late, somewhat inexcusable for the Shanzhai Sheldon Cooper of Beijing, but oh well.
The new Revival Express train is in red. This to me is an excellent choice for colour… even before 1949, red was seen as a very Chinese colour. When people got married, it’s known as a “red party”. Enterprises are established at lavish parties where guests of honour wear “red tags” with a red flower and baskets of flowers (fake or real) are draped with ribbons of red. Over Chinese New Year, money is stuffed in red packets. Coincidentally, the present-day largest-denomination banknote, CNY 100.—, is pinkish-red. Red was also the colour of the walls around Tian’anmen, Zhongnanhai, and the Forbidden City. So it made sense to have a red train literally in the China of the same colour! ▶
Consider it Mac OS X Public Beta for London’s rail & tube network. Within a couple of years, TfL Rail will give way to the mighty monster we’ve all been dying for (felt the most when Oxford Circus is no different than Xizhimen in Beijing, or People’s Square in Shanghai, underground trains-wise) — Crossrail.
I have always had this manic compulsion, of sorts, of trying new trains the moment they roll out. Sometimes, I get interviewed; more often than not, though, it’s just a secretive little trip to test the new system. Now in the case of TfL Rail services from Liverpool Street to Brentwood and Shenfield, I actually cheated by taking an Abellio Greater Anglia train some time back straight to Shenfield (where the Oyster card reader happily feasted itself on my pay-as-you-go credit; I was dim-witted to cram in with other commuters — not the most pleasant ride, obviously; plus you pay more during rush hour!). So this time, I actually took a train out to Brentwood, and in the process, snapped picture of almost all stations enroute. ▶
Beginning today (16 January 2014) until the end of the Spring Festival Peak Travel Season, you’ll see me providing bilingual railway information throughout this peak travel period, especially on Weibo. The railways are pledging safe, convenient and pleasant services this year — and as a traveller to many different countries, I like this. This is a good move from China Railways — they’re treating their customers the right way.
A lot of people are on the move, so to make people travel the easiest, I’m promoting the bilingual posts. The entire railway system (national, joint-venture, local and private railways) as well as all of China’s transport systems, news organisations, and just about anyone is free to retweet the posts, and I allow this for the simple goal that people get home easier after getting info from them. I know rail and metro people are busy this time of the year. I hear you — it’s time I got into this to help you. Oh, and because I’m an English teacher, I take full responsibility for my translations.
I’m doing this on my own initiative — and in case you were wondering who I am, I’m a Lecturer (equivalent to Assistant Professor in the United States) at the Communication (Media) University of China (I’m also a “foreign expert” there). I’m also the author of Everyday Rail English, a column for making the rail system in China speak English. I’m doing this to help; I get no money out of this. And to many extents, because I’m helping everyone, I’d like to keep it that way. ▶
I’ve done 100,000+ km in China, and man do my bums hurt.
But unfortunately, they’re getting all the station names wrong. Some even are off-colour.
Poor Hangzhou needs a better name than one that implies — the more private parts of your body. Thankfully, beginning August 2013, I’m joining the official national railways web site, People’s Railway Daily Online, at peoplerail.com. Every day, I’ll be telling rail folks in and around the country how to write English right. ▶
Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak not once, but twice at the Chinese High Speed Railway Travel Cooperation Conference, which was held at the Beijing Railways Tower, not far from the Beijing West Railway Station.
In the first event, I was part of a panel on the topic of high-speed rail in Taiwan. I actually visited the island and took five trips on that HSR system. I commented on how the system in Taiwan connects with the city metro systems in each major urban area, such as Taipei and Kaohsiung, even if the stations were somewhat further away from the heart of the cities.
For the second event, I had my own ten minutes onstage, where I introduced audiences to how railways were run in China, compared them to the situations in Europe (especially Switzerland), and floated ideas for how to make Chinese railways more international. I also had my wishes for Chinese HSR. ▶
The Swiss knew that there was enough Swissness when I applied for Swiss nationality (well… maybe, maybe not, I’m just sayin’ to get Bern’s attention, heh…) because I “bought” an essential part of Swissness in the form of a two-year Generalabonnement (GA) on the Swiss Federal Railways. The GA basically makes you about 4,000 Swiss francs poorer per year, and in exchange for that, you’re spiritually free on the rails. (Nope, you still can’t do balancing tricks on the rails themselves — that would cost you your life — but what it means is that you can hop onto a train at any time without the need or hassle to buy a ticket — and you get the best thing on the rails: 1st class.)
Funny though, though: at the naturalization “thing” I was never asked if I was a rail nut. I’m not sure if I would have had the nationality any sooner did Bern catch wind of the fact that I’m on my way to finishing 10,000 km of rail travel for just 2010. And that’s in Far Far Away China, where any “good” rail systems are far from being a full-scale network. The thing about trains and Switzerland is that people swear by it (although they swear at it if it’s late by 5 minutes, which accounts for a scant 5% of all trains).
The Swiss are total train nuts. The average Swiss travels at least a couple thousand kilometers on the rails, and that’s if that Swiss citizen isn’t called David Feng. ▶