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. ▶
The average academic talk is where you’ve students all facing one way, staring at a speaker, and then trying to make sense of this. Then you realise that when I do seminars and events, I wanted to make it the exact way both the speaker and attendees want it. We decided shifting tables so that most of us ended up looking at one other — much like a semi-roundtable — would be the best idea. And that’s exactly how the classroom was arranged for the first China Media Centre seminar, which took place today.
Vincent Ni, who’s now with the BBC World Service, came today as speaker to deliver an extremely insightful talk — insightful as it was also thought-provoking and very much what you expected from a distinguished journalist with a lot of experience. He has covered the elections in Myanmar / Burma, the Arab Spring, and much more. He has also worked previously in China-based media, moving recently onwards to media based in the UK. ▶
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’ve been in just around 250 cities in 24 countries and territories, so I am seeing more and more cities that look the same. And Milton Keynes, or MK for short, sure counts as one of the weirder cities I’ve been to.
For a start, it’s in essence Shangdi (in Beijing; just by Zhongguancun), but rotated about 40° or so; otherwise it’s not unlike newer parts of Zhongguancun and northern / northwestern Beijing (especially around the Xi’erqi area). There are huge avenues (not unlike China), but that’s it; otherwise, it’s all square / rectangular office buildings.
I think I summed it up pretty well on Facebook:
Britain-ise Zhongguancun and Shangdi, turn the thing 40 degrees around, wave a magic wand, and kaboom: you get Milton Keynes. ▶
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’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 did something I haven’t been doing for a fair while today at 14:30: speaking in front of an audience of 100+ people. (Stage fright is a one-off thing, though; never mind my last speaking gig in front of close to 100+ was in spring 2014…)
My 30-minute “blah” was about a myriad of things — all related to media, journalism, and the like. Things such as framing the news, covert (and not so covert) agendas, and pigeon-holing people. Things such as really trying to make sense of anything from the refugee crisis in Europe to Corbyn leading Labour (what the media thought, and what the academics thought). Things such as how social media was such a big game-changer, and how the Chinese Great Firewall couldn’t 100% define what happened inside the People’s Republic. ▶
Croydon, to me, was this fantastically crazy mix of the UK, Hong Kong, and Mainland China in the weirdest possible mix, especially architecture-wise. (The presence of Tramlink added a more Helvetic factor to the whole thing, too.) And I’d have never really found out much about Croydon — if I hadn’t been there recently to get my Registration Certificate, which was recommended if I wanted to get Tracy her Residence Card.
These Residence Cards are good for 5 years, but there’s something they didn’t tell you — waiting times are upwards of 6 months, and they actually take your passport away for the whole six months. Hence went our first planned trip back to China straight down the sewer. (Oh well.)
To prove I was eligible for one, all I needed were a few payslips from my university, plus my new, David Feng passport and ID card, a hugely complex formed filled in, and — that was pretty much it. I could get mine the same day (really not fair: Tracy had to wait all those months). ▶
The only bit I’m not too happy with Pinner is the fact that if you’re on a Metropolitan line train to Uxbridge, it won’t take you there. Too often, I rush down to platforms with a Met line train waiting — only to see it ending at Uxbridge.
I was like: OK, so there’s one less option for me to spend my time in.
To me the reason why I’m in for Pinner is because it’s the England I grew up knowing it would be. Never mind I was educated first in Switzerland, then in China. The England I was brought up knowing it to be (a la what I have seen on the BBC, read in UK-authored textbooks and on the Web, etc) would be one with a nice little High Street, a fair bit of shops, people talking to you at establishments (like restaurants), and a fair bit of peace and quiet. ▶