Category Archives: Media

David Feng on Radio Today: Trains, 18:00— Beijing Time

Again, it’s time for a train journey — microphones included, please. I’ll be onboard Radio Beijing Joy FM live at 18:00 Beijing time today (Thursday, 13 September 2012) for a live programme about travel on trains, both in China and overseas. (Tune in the “traditional way” via radio: it’s FM 87.6 in and around Beijing!)

This comes at the culmination of a seven-nation train trip to Europe, where my wife Tracy and I travelled by train in Switzerland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Liechtenstein, as well as visited the Freiburg im Breisgau Railway Station.

Present mileage here is around 23,019 km or so (not including two RER trips in Paris operated by SNCF), and I’m good to break 30,000 km within the year if all turns out fine. With 143 trips by train I am probably one of the most enthusiastic rail folks out there. I’m also a fast rider: 64.03% of these trips were at speeds of 300 km/h or faster.

This brings my global mileage from the 1990s to approximately 151,028.33 km. I have a little personal goal to reach 250,000 km by the end of 2014, in time for the second half of this still-new decade.

Sadly, I’m no longer as precisionist as I used to be: missing are specifics for train trip details as of mid-August 2012. The good thing, though, is I’m still keeping count on the timing of the trains. On one of these super-rainy Sunday afternoons when I tire of life off the rails, I’ll probably pull the rest of the figures into the database and see how things went.

Catch me live via Internet Radio (new on Sina Weibo) — click the radio icon on the official radio page on Sina Weibo, and chime in!

Tianjin and Beijing…

…looks like a very crazy combination indeed:—

  • Geopolitically speaking, since they’re all municipalities under the control of China’s central government, they’re strong, politically and particularly economically. Guangzhou and Shanghai, on the other hand, are just dealing with “mere provinces” around them (although Guangzhou also has the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region interested). So that’d make the pair look a bit like Germany and France — both powerhouses in Europe, or probably the US and Canada.
  • Quality-wise speaking, if we deliberately choose to ignore high speed rail and what it did to Tianjin, we are looking at something a little poorer — a little like Switzerland and France, and at times, even Switzerland and Italy.
  • If we look at “how they are willing to zhuang bi, or to pretentiously “make up” to the stronger brother” (that’s Beijing), that’s just outright hilarious. It’s Apple and Samsung or even Apple and eMachines (remember these guys?).
  • If we look at the attitudes to life, though, it’s a little bit like German-speaking northern Switzerland versus the Italian-speaking Ticino in the south. One’s more serious; the other is way more relaxed.

But it’s the quality bit that hit me (rather, the lack of it). Whilst getting my hair done lately, I’ve been a little _____ enough to have watched Tianjin TV’s late-night news at 23:00. These guys ran something like ten ads that were the same in something like a 30-minute period. (They were ads that looked royalesque and featured supposedly an Italian (must’ve been the generic “cheap expat we can use for about a few thousand yuan for a fake ad” — I’ve heard of horror stories like that from the expat Twitterati in China) doing an ad for — out of all things — a light switch. Out of all things!) In Switzerland if you had a 30-second “main ad” by Advertiser A, followed by a 30-seconder by Advertiser B, then followed by another 10-seconder by Advertiser A, you’d feel ratty at Advertiser A already. In China, you’d wish they gave you America’s Second Amendment, as the pure repetitiveness of the ads are probably too scary. It’s a little bit extreme to, well, shoot yourself because of these ads, but you’d at least fair well feel like banging your head into the wall.

Just before the 23:00 news show, I ran into one of these “design-my-house-right” reality shows which I hated. Never mind that a bank I knew from the show was, well, “familiar to me” (although I know no real staff inside the thing). No, it was more a case that they decided to use “canned applause”, with even a little bit of the whistling effect. You can hear that they’re the same canned sound clip from around the second time they run it. I caught the “rhythm” the second time they used that canned clip. Again, a little wishful thinking of what might happen next to me if they gave us the Second Amendment. OK, I’ll let go of that. But seriously, don’t you feel like shoving your head into the fridge when all you hear on TV are like a thousand repeats of the same canned audio clip — featuring fake applause?

Whilst I’m sure I’d be banned from Tianjin for life (well, not actually) if I called it a little bit like a Shanzhai Beijing in the making, we do have to be real, folks, and face up to reality. HSR is probably one of the biggest blessings to hit the Jin — seriously. Train-wise, I’m also happy about their old Metro Line 1, but the signage on new lines look too much like Beijing. Different, though, is their accent (that spoken accent really stands out!), and their crazy road layout, and probably the road signs… and in fact I wish they’d keep that different.

Tianjin has something better to do than to mimic neighbouring Beijing — ultimately to the extent that they might want to incorporate themselves into Beijing altogether… I’d be sad when that would happen. I’d no longer have the “real life” (as in “unbureaucratic”) port city to rush to every week or so, when the Jing throws too much on me…

Tianjin Satellite TV: The 199 Yuan Phone That’s a Scam

Tracy was watching Young Bao Qing Tian lately on Tianjin Satellite TV. You’d probably that a centrally-governed municipality that’s about 30 minutes away from the capital by HSR is yet another world-class piece of art, so that Tianjin TV, too, must not suck.

But you’d be fatally mistaken. These guys get rid of lazy afternoons by — airing ten-minute long telemarketing infomercials that force you to buy a cheap, CNY 199.— shanzhai (rip-off) mobile phone. Forget Apple’s iPhone’s tinge of silver on the sides; this is supposedly gold plated. And, oh, its voice recognition system is so good that it knows what you want to do before you finish, if you watched the whole 10 minute spamvertisement in full.

Most incredible is how they try to be “covert” (if at all) about it. Instead of denouncing Apple, they brainwashed the audience with the phone’s copycat features and that “199” thing. Of course, for 199 yuan, one gets a sub-optimal makeshift (make-believe, even) phone. That old adage — “you get what you paid for!” — more than applies here.

I’m just shocked that Tianjin TV has OKed the infomercial. I’m more annoyed that the local company behind the spamvertisement (called “Real” — get real!) decided to use primitive methods at cheating (or attempting to cheat) the audience: by repeating stuff a hundred times or more. They must be fanboys of the notion that lies, repeated a thousand times, become the truth. I’m telling ya, the US does the whole thing much better — even Peking does this better (at times). When you try to manipulate minds by repeating the same thing a thousand times, you’re showing people your lack of confidence and lack of expertise in “propaganda-nomics” or “propaganda-ology” (take your pick).

My end, I’m not going to buy that fake ripoff. I’ve got my iPhones and I’m happy with ’em already.

PS: Onto something else: Anyone else know why on earth my iPhone 4 keeps having the hotspot (even if connected via USB) drop off by itself?…

Trains and Media: What Happens When You’re (Not) Informed

Apart from the all-important first year party of the Beijing-Shanghai HSR entering into service, there’s also something big — in fact, two things that are big:

  1. Trains 6417 and 6418 running their final runs between Beijing and Chengde; and
  2. Longjiaying Railway Station shutting down to passenger traffic

The former received a lot of coverage. I was, in fact, invited to a live show on Beijing Traffic Radio just to tell people that these super-cheap trains in Beijing were running their last runs. (At CNY 1.50 per full price ticket (from Beijing to Beijing East), it’s CNY 0.50 cheaper than the Beijing Subway!) The latter received just about no coverage at all.

And I’m telling ya, there’s a world of difference. What I’ve seen on Weibo recounts of a huge crowd by the Beijing East Railway Station, and tickets from Beijing to Beijing East being fully sold out. Quite on the contrary, there was no coverage of Longjiaying being bid its farewell. No TV crews, not even the random microphone from the local radio station. Nada. Tracy and I boarded Train D4532 — the last HSR service from the station — as totally normal people with no outside media coverage at all.

Most of you might be wondering now just where the heck this Longjiaying is. It’s a railway station between Qinhuangdao and Shanhaiguan stations (which also might not make sense: OK, it’s Beijing’s closest major coastline, beaches included*. It’s so reclusive, in fact, that road signs don’t make reference to this isolated stop at all. To a lot of us, Longjiaying seems to be one of the stations nobody must have any idea of. This yellow-ish station, handled by the QInghuangdao Vehicles Department of Beijing Rail, used to remain hidden to passing riders through to 15 November 2010. Before then, the only trains that’d stop here were those from dedicated railway routes carrying cargo.

This Tier 3 station suddenly became a major stop on and after that date, as Qinhuangdao station nearby underwent a massive expansion effort to accommodate HSR services to and from northeastern China (to come later this year or by spring 2013, latest). A bit further away than Qinhuangdao itself, this station is probably Station 3 of 4 in the massive Beidaihe-Shanhaiguan semi-conurbation, which is just west of the boundary with Liaoning. (Liaoning is already part of northeastern China’s three provinces.) This bit of north-northeastern China sports some very nice coastlines (plus a few crazy donkeys and camels that Tracy forced me onto… heh…)

Longjiaying is going to end service as a passenger station as today (30 June 2012) draws to an end. There are plans to, even if just provisionally, move passenger traffic back to Qinhuangdao (now redone and bigger, with the obligatory skybridge passageway). The only folks who knew this were die-hard train addicts, as well as train crew. They signalled the end of services to the station as, upon arrival, they removed, permanently, destination stickers on the trains. (The platform opposite our arrival platform already sported trains with new stickers indicating their future departure station at the nearby Qinhuangdao station.)

Apart from that, there were no signs from “society at large” that Longjiaying was finishing its final day. It’s pretty obvious, then, that the media plays a big role in this. Make the closure public via media — and you’d get a crowd. Close it covertly — and nobody’d know.

That’s how big the media is these days — even on Weibo (and microblogs in general).

* It’s also where the super-secret political meetings happen in the summers, as the “political bigs” gather in covert locations to determine just what the heck will happen to the Middle Kingdom as the temps get cooler. We know this because as our train pulled into Beidaihe, which is in this region, super-official-looking vehicles were spotted on Platform 1. Of course, there were no photos at all; the mere thought of that might land you one heck of a heavy political hiding!)