Tag Archives: new


Heathrow Terminal 2 vs Beijing Terminal 3 (Previous Version)

There’s good news about living in Harrow: We’re only two bus stops away from a rental car station. But now for the bad news as well: it’s closed Saturday afternoon and Sunday all day.

And sometimes, life calls for that trip to central London on Sundays — on more flexible timing than what the Tube offers you. So where do I get my car? Heathrow Airport. Thankfully, you get to choose where you pick your car up — you in essence arrive at any terminal, then choose the desk of your car rental company.

I decided to give the recently re-done Heathrow Terminal 2 a try some weeks back before I headed to my rental car company at the airport. (Coincidentally, I have now mastered this skill I once thought was impossible — driving a manual / stick-shift in the UK — I can do this as one of my licences is a full one for manuals as well.)

I can’t really speak for Terminal 2 as a full experience, since Tracy and I have yet to catch a flight there (plus British Airways doesn’t fly out from Terminal 2, so it’s the Speedbird terminal AKA Terminal 5 for most BA flights). But I did get a chance to grab a quick bite at the landside Terminal 2 cafés.

The one thing that comes to you after 14 years in China is this perception that all airports have to be big. Chengdu’s Terminal 2 certainly stunned us, as it took us forever to get from the plane to our taxi rank at the exit. (Barcelona El-Prat was huge as well, but at least it was more compact.) So I was looking for Heathrow’s latest addition to be huge, certainly landside. After all, this came after Beijing Capital International Airport’s Terminal 3, so it had to be inspired by China, or aspire to be of similar dimensions. Right?


Heathrow Terminal 2’s dimensions left me wanting for more. There was only this bit of the airport at the departures level where you had a bite (and even so, you had to head out of the main building into a covered “midway piazza” to change levels). There was woefully little for you at the arrivals level, and the fact they couldn’t exchange Macanese patacas wasn’t too encouraging either.

Contrast that with Beijing’s Terminal 3: there is a Starbucks that occupies probably 20% of the whole Arrivals area. I’ve met tonnes of visitors from especially the US in that part of PEK T3. It gave you a place to “belong to”, as it offered options “just in case” you needed something at the airport. The fact that Level 4 now comes with a railway ticket office for Chinese trains is a very cool new addition. And for those of us who would prefer something more British, there’d be a Costa at Departures Level as well, which was in fact where we entertained (quite coincidentally) British TV executives at the China-UK summit on TV formats about half a year back.

I’m not saying Terminal 2 “is through”; it isn’t, and for a terminal that opened less than 4 months ago, I’m sure there’s a lot more in store. I was expecting maybe a major brand name café a la Terminal 5 at the Arrivals Level (you at least got something from Costa before heading onto the Heathrow Express). But big name café chains aside, Terminal 2’s arrivals level feels tiny. Not that you had to have sofas at the arrivals level (PEK doesn’t come with that either). But it gave you a feel: This is as big a terminal as we have. Which for the world’s leading industrialised nation doesn’t say a lot.

(But then again, for the real Britain, you’d head outside of Heathrow.)

I’m thoroughly impressed by Terminal 2’s wide open spaces, but less so with regards of what the terminal building itself has. For the newest terminal building of the capital of the UK, I thought I’d be seeing something a little larger, with more on offer. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoilt rotten by Chinese airports. Or maybe @ LHR T2 it’s still earlier days.

But I’ll still be thankful for the Costa at the Departures Level at Terminal 2. I know I’ll need to get work done on those long flights. Thank heavens I know there’s a Caffeine Charging Station. Plus to have the ultimate word on T2, I’ll need to get out of (or fly into) London from that terminal.

I hope when I’m airside, I’ll be positively surprised.

PS: I am starting to get used to the “duo-tone” airport jingle at Heathrow…

So — Is It “Beijing South” Railway Station or “Beijingnan”?

New railway standards published last year now mean that the railway station in southern Beijing south of the main station, which in Chinese is known as 北京南站 (Pinyin: Beijingnan Zhan) is to be known as the rather odd-sounding “Beijingnan” Railway Station instead of the standardised “Beijing South” Railway Station. That’s a little bit like renaming the Zürich Main Station as the Zürich “Zong” (Zong 总 means “main” in Chinese) station for Chinese, or to use transliterated German for Chinese readers — 苏黎世豪普特站 (Sulishi Haopute Zhan in Pinyin, which simply means Zurich “Haupt” station — it doesn’t tell you it really is the main station!). Worse is a Big Apple application: imagine calling Grand Central Station “Zhongyang” Station! (“Zhongyang” in Chinese means “central”.)

However, before you torment the railways in a fit of fury and utter confusion, consider the pros and cons:—


  • Apparently, this would make it easier for taxi drivers and locals not familiar in English to show you where the stations are.
  • Train direction signage uses mainly Pinyin (but then again, they were mainly designed in the 20th century — HSR signage on trains still use English; intercity trains to Tianjin say “Beijing South – Tian Jin”, albeit the extra blank in Tianjin).
  • Train tickets use Pinyin (but note here that they used to use English, certainly for HSR, especially before the Pinyin standards came out).
  • Language neutrality: Beijing’s south station is Peking-Südbahnhof in German, Pékin Gare de Sud in Franglais French, and so on. Now if everyone just said Bahnhof / Gare Beijingnan, that’d make it supposedly easier.

But then again that’s not all sides of the story told…

(as in why Pinyin doesn’t work out great)

  • First, this goes against a comparatively new (edition 2010) railway signage standard book published by the former Rail Ministry, which mandated the use of English instead of Pinyin for direction indicators (South, North instead of Nan, Bei).
  • Second, expats I’ve talked to say that the point that locals not knowing South (in English) is a moot point — if they don’t speak English, and you speak Chinese, then the name issue won’t be an issue anyway (you couldn’t talk to them in the same lingo in the first place!).
  • Foreigners in China and overseas also point to the fact that as they are still using the English words for Railway Station, that they’d might want to use the English for the cardinal direction of the station anyway.
  • Obviously, sticking in Nan (Pinyin Chinese) in an English description is suspect Chinglish. (But dissecting the Chinese name of the city, too, would be Chinglish!) Also, you now have a case of mixing parts of words that don’t belong in the language you’re using.
  • Academics based in Beijing point out that this only goes to do international travellers in China a disservice — train regulars in China also agree, saying that if Beijing South was to be used, people would at least look at the station “the right way” on a map, where as Beijingnan would simply leave them confused.
  • I’ve seen ticket sales staff at Beijing South telling international travellers that trains to Guangzhou leave from Beijing West, not Beijingxi Railway Station. They’ve got to get used to a standard that doesn’t sound right.
  • Think also about the massive changes required in the city metro signage. Line 9’s station at Beijing West Railway Station, for example, doesn’t say Beijingxi Railway Station! How about giving that money to kids that need it the most? (Corrupt officials might also eye after that bit of cash — for a potential secret purchase of Mao Tai! But I kind of digress.)
  • Finally, something has to be said about that massive amount of money that has to be wasted in replacing signage bit-by-bit in China. That’s not really a sustainable way of feeding into GDP growth that lasts!

I’d like to hear from you what you think should be the best translation — Beijing South or Beijingnan — and the best way to do this is if you emailed me (or tweeted me on Twitter, giving your reason). Later I plan to do a much more detailed bit research in this — but because it will involve giving some personal information I have to get the secure form working first!

I look forward to the day when I arrive at the Baoding HSR seeing signs that welcome me to the Baoding East Railway Station, instead of the present-day make-believe “Baodingdong” Railway Station.