Category Archives: Street Level China

Street View China: Autumn in Beijing

The centre of town is chronically plagued by that nasty PM 2.5 (the media made it worse by “announcing” the “invention” of PM 0.5, thus negating just about all of City Hall’s efforts), but on the outskirts, it’s a very different matter. Here on the Nankou-Jiantou Highway in northwestern Beijing’s district of Changping, it’s natur pur.

Here in the same pic: shades of red, yellow and green. The way autumns always were meant to be.

I believe in results, not just propaganda. If the government was serious it would have acted with much more force. City Hall was andantino before the Olympics, but right now, five years after the “magic of Olympian proportions”, they’re now back to larghissimo — in essence, larghissimo sostenuto. Those in power with a brain should be in vivacissimo, even prestissimo mode, and should add a dash of fortissimo, even furioso in terms of how they deal with polluters. The current state of affairs, sadly, is rather malinconico at times.

And it doesn’t start by forcing 50% of all cars off the road when the PM 2.5-o-meter reaches record new highs. That’s for incompetent mandarins. I’d say, slap a flat fare of CNY 100 on anyone driving their cars on any day (half fare if you live inside the city centre). Slap double fare on cars outside of Beijing. Charge the police and military (except for those on active duty). Charge even diplomats (if you live in the same city, you’re “farting away” regardless of what flag you fly).

Più veloce! I’d like to see more such Blue Sky Days for the centre of the capital — rather than to see it relegated to the outermost outskirts of town.

Street Level China: 0 m.a.s.l.

That’s zero metres above sea level, for the uninitiated. Some time ago, I joined my wife on a trip to the city of Qingdao (in eastern China). She had media business to do in Qingdao, so I went around the area while she got busy — I went as far out as west to Ji’nan (where I found my optimised English standards in use) and environs, as well as the cities of Zibo, Weifang and Gaomi.

Shandong finds itself at an HSR crossroads, although only some of its most important cities are linked to the national HSR system. There’s a 200-250 km/h HSR stretch from Ji’nan to Qingdao, which will soon have a newer 350 km/h addition. When that’s done, trains will take just over an hour to reach Qingdao from Ji’nan (at the moment, it’s upwards of three full hours).

The cities of Weifang and Zibo struck me as two cities I could really imagine myself living in. In Weifang I found wide, open spaces and (what else) a Starbucks and Pizza Hut, one next to the other, so I could do a little food refuge if a crass excess of seafood got me scared (I am, after all, a little more “continental” — remember Switzerland is a landlocked country!). Zibo, though, is a funny place. The city isn’t made up of just one locality, but a series — with the main city (Zhangdian district, Zibo) at the northernmost extreme. The main city district has a lot of buildings which remain those with a very 1980s / 1990s look; that’s no surprise given the fact that the city didn’t miss out on the first round of reforms (when Deng Xiaoping was around), but later rounds of reforms and development went elsewhere. My rail friend there told me that Zibo started off as a Tier 2 town, then was downgraded (unofficially) to something he calls “Tier 2½” — because it’s missing out on the latest round of reforms and opening up. A lot buildings in Zibo still retain the look they had two decades back; they money, in the meantime, has gone elsewhere.

Gaomi remained a sleepy town to me. Me and American-Chinese friend Will went there back in 2010; my granddad hails from there, so to give him a nice surprise, I picked up a train ticket from that town. I remember back in 2010 that when I went there, there was probably one major statue, a huge highway leading into town, and then all there really was — remained peace and quiet. They’re redoing the station — it’s showing its age, but is still incredibly busy.

I was also given a personal guide tour of Qingdao’s main station by station staff, who showed me how train crew got busy. Next time you board a train departing Qingdao early in the morning, just remember that you’re not the first onboard: the train pulls in an hour ahead and train crew have to prepare absolutely everything within around 30-40 minutes before they let passengers in. It’s work.

I hope to return to Qingdao soon — there’s a whole swath of eastern Shandong I have yet to totally explore!

Street Level China: Shijiazhuang Railway Station

Shijiazhuang Railway Station

The new Street Level China post features, which are published regularly on this blog by David, offer you a view of China from street level — uncensored, unrestricted, unmodified.

Face it, the future of the rails in China lies with HSR. High speed rail landed in China beginning in 2007 with the 6th Nationwide Railway Acceleration Campaign, when trains running as fast as 250 km/h were unleashed. In 2008, even faster speed demons were set loose, to the tune of 350 km/h. The conservative rail minister Sheng Guangzu, however, rolled back speeds in mid-2011, initially finding no plausible reason, but later “backed” by the Wenzhou disaster. A speedbump is not expected any time soon, but already, these machines, rolling at 300 km/h, have transformed the way Chinese people get from A to B.

Shijiazhuang’s new railway hub features 24 platforms (nearly five times the size of the original station), an elevated concourse many times the size of the old, Maoist-era-in-appearance building, and links to the upcoming Shijiazhuang Metro. Soon, cars may disappear altogether from the parking lot in the picture, as many people transfer from HSR to Metros. Already now, many people “park and ride” from this station to Beijing, Zhengzhou, or further afield; it will take most riders just over an hour on fast services to reach these metropolises.

China’s HSR network calls for 16,000 km of express rail, although speeds have been lowered in western China. These short-sighted moves are, however, proving themselves to be failed policies, the best evidence of which can be seen in eastern China. Here, a new 350 km/h line is planned in eastern China’s province of Shandong between the cities of Ji’nan and Qingdao. At present, trains run no faster than 200 km/h on the existing accelerated line. Just think of the benefits the new 350 km/h line can bring the ridership, as well as those along the railway line.

When all is said and done, and when speeds are improved once again, Beijing will only be 8 hours away from Hong Kong, 12 hours from Ürümqi, and 24 hours from the once prohibitively-remote city of Lhasa in Tibet. China’s new revolution is less about political doctrines and more about moving people elegantly from A to B in a highly efficient manner.