A Weibo Act of Railway Kindness

As a decilingual, there are two things that can get you free smiles on the rails, and they all begin with “grati-”. One is, of course, a free ticket — a ticket for free and gratis. I got two of these, when Xi’an Rail took me over to climb the challenging Mt Qinling — transport to and from the mountains was included, so we didn’t fork out an extra cent. (Last year, though, I paid for over 34,000 km of rail rides!)

But the other “grati-“ is a little different: It’s called gratitude. The amazing Ürumqi Railways in northwestern China’s Xinjiang “knows” me on Weibo. They have included me twice (in the form of a @mention) on Weibo (Twitter for China, censors included — et-hmm…). And these guys aren’t people talking to the depths of the desert: over 270,000 follow these guys, and that’s about a fifth of the population of even one of the smallest provincial capitals in China.

Lately, these guys tweeted me on the Jiayang Railway in Sichuan, which still runs steam engines. (Link here in Baidupedia — Chinese text only.) They included only two people as @mentions: me, and the official China Railways account. (The official name of that account — the “Political Propaganda Department” of the Rail Ministry — scares a lot of people already, when you come to think of it. Not very approachable in name, to many an outsider.)

I decided that it was high time to keep giving back even more to the rails.

This was a true act of Weibo kindness. A veritable Weibo act of railway kindness. It got me excited about Xinjiang. Friends on Facebook knew about this. I’m now certain that I’m really looking forward to the chuanr.

I’m a weird animal in the rails: I’m a university professor (the way a lot of Americans, but probably not many a Briton or a German, might see me), and I’m not affiliated in any way with the rails. Mom, dad, and the wife have never worked for the rails either. But I’m one of the most faithful advocate of rail travel amongst “civilians” (outside the rail system), and I’m here to dump Chinglish at China’s rail stations.

Somehow this whole thing started back in April 2012, when the head of the Wuxi East Railway Station invited me to take a good look at the station. Wuxi East’s English was in good shape, but there were still a few cases of Chinglish. These went away when I optimised their English out of a move of pure kindness — they retweeted me when my wife and I was doing a live radio show, and friends like that really stand out.

What starts out well will continue well. I know that I’ll keep on helping the rails get their English up to speed. And if that merits another nice @mention from them, that’ll be neater still.

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