Category Archives: Rail

Standardised English - Ji'nan West

Railway English Goals for 2014

Despite my increased presence outside of Beijing this year, as a plan to explore this weird, at times wild, but always wonderful world of ours, I’m still involved in improving railway English for China’s railway system for 2014, and I’ll keep my “non-rail” identity (as in: not working as an official member of rail staff), as I’ve done so in 2013 and in initial efforts back in 2012.

I have to say that China’s railway system has remained mixed with regards to the English enhancement programme. On the one hand, I suspect those who drafted out earlier versions certainly aren’t pleased at their “hard work” being wiped out by a non-PRC citizen interested in pro bono enhancements to society, and the dispute over “Should we call Qingdao’s new station “Qingdaobei” or Qingdao North?” is still at times unsettled. On the other hand, though, we are seeing much improved English at an increasing number of stations around China — customers are now told to “please allow passengers more space” at ticket officers, and riders are being told at Ji’nan’s west station that “international passengers must book at manned counters” (instead of previously no English at all; although even here I suspect the English can still be improved further).

For 2014, these are my goals, which are slightly less on “new features” and more on “maintenance and sustainability”:—

  • Improve English according to fixed standards as approved by the newly-formed independent, multinational board of language experts.
  • Based on China Railways’s unique international ridership, adopt UK English (no longer US English), as UK English is seen much more in multilingual environments, especially in Europe.
  • Create an Internet-based “English on demand” system, and begin work on eventually creating a password-protected database containing the whole English / Chinese rail dictionary / phrasebook.
  • Continue the Everyday Rail English Branding System: keep the Everyday Rail English and Bilingual Rail Info presentation forms (optimise font use where needed), and in doing so, make the railway trains come closer to city metro trains by providing more transfer and city transit-related content.
  • Maintain an open, expansion-based system so that any developments or changes in the national railways system (eg: the implementation of a new ticketing policy) can immediately be reflected, and the necessary English be generated.
  • Eventually down the line — prepare a book of sorts, so that people can have something they can actually put their finger on to improve English. Furthermore, create audiovisual or audio-only content — merely text-based content won’t help all that much!

The idea behind this is: once the whole system is set up, at least for the immediate-short term, it really doesn’t matter where I’m based: everything’s Internet-based, so it doesn’t matter as much if I’m in Beijing, Bristol, or Boston.

On the Road Again

It’s late November. I like these late November days. First, the temps indoors are going up — we humans love places where the temps are just right — everyone should have those nice feelings of going into places where it’s nice and warm… and second, people are just calmer overall. 40+°C temperatures over summer means we will see (and have seen!) a few folks lose their calm — I took the train to Jilin once, and I saw passengers up in Second Class totally lose it as a few passengers from northeast China wrestled one another because someone was sitting in another guy’s assigned seat — or someone’s bag was probably an inch too long!

Talk about things to lose your calm over…

These past days have been filled with action on my end. I’m on the road again after one of the worst colds on record — for two weeks in late October and early November, I was out with a 40°C fever and a terrible throat that made me lose my voice for about two full days. In just four days, I completed trips to Xuzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Wuxi, met station crew from Xuzhou and Wuxi, and became honorary speaker and English consultant for stations in and around Xuzhou — so if you see Chinglish there, don’t yell at the railways — yell at me instead!

The city of Beijing has been having more blue sky days as of late. In fact, if you’re armed with a car, it’s one of the best seasons to be in and around the Jing. Your best photo shots come out from days right after the cold, northernly winds “greet” the city, where you’ll get at least one or two days of blue skies without feeling like it’s Siberia (with only chillier wind giving you a hard time).

I’ve taken some good shots of the Jing in past years, but these days, my “mobile machines” are trains, not cars. I’m thinking of Zhengzhou for Friday — another round of railway Chinglish extermination, as usual. To me, the title “Honorary Speaker and English Consultant” for Xuzhou means only one thing, really:

“Doctor Chinglish Exterminator David Feng”.

Street Level China: Shenyang’s (Seemingly) Missing Rail-to-Metro Links

Details, details, details!

Love this picture of Shenyang’s main station? (Brilliant skies, eh?)

Trouble is there’s no way to get into the station from this end. And this end of the station (which is its southern square) has a Metro Line 1 station. You need a 5-minute taxi ride to transfer from rail to metro here.

Neat Shenyang North station, right?

Big news: Its Metro station on Line 2 is at the opposite square (again, the southern square). This is the north entrance to Shenyang North. Riders are instead directed to the Qishan Road station, a couple hundred metres away.

It’s the total lack of attention to details that make riders feel like they’ve been toyed with. It begets them a bad attitude (especially those from the West). It’s like — Yes, there is a Metro station — right by the station, but you’ll have to walk miles to get there!).

I don’t take this excuse that “oh it’s still under works… (we might be missing the money)…” Cut the nonsense. How much does it take for you to finish up a station exit? Shouldn’t cost you the price of — like — an Apollo mission, right?

Let’s dump the laziness and get those rail-to-metro transfers realised!

So — Why am I Helping the Railways Get Their English in Order?

That’s because I started helping my school clean test-tubes and beakers when I was about 15 over lunch — when I had nothing better to do after finishing my quick helping.

I’m not kidding you. It might seem a helluva strange reason: how do you mix cleaning lab gear with optimising English? But that’s the thing: it’s all about helping out and not “asking for attention”. (My friends in China tell me that this was the thing that was done half a decade ago. These days, if you help out, you’d be seen like an outdated follower of Lei Feng (“the mythical Chinese guy that helped everyone”) if you didn’t leave your name on the thing.)

Like: As of late, one of the trains that’s used my optimised English, train D365 from Beijing South to Fuzhou, got commended by the official People’s Railway Daily. But you never saw any public mentioning that “it was David Feng’s idea to equip the train with bilingual service cards, and that David had to work and retweak the cards, time and again, to get it right, and that David Feng paid from his own pocket to get the cards made ‘for real’, because he wanted the thing on the train ASAP”.

I seriously couldn’t care more. The thing is, I’m helping out because of Chinglish on the trains. Honestly, when you’re told — Please don’t throw the rubbish into the dustbin — you know that something’s gone wrong. Where else can you dump that banana you’ve just devoured? Obviously, the windows are sealed; it’d be suicide to crack these things open at 380 km/h*.

So with China concocting more Chinglish than they’re eradicating it — the rails included — it’s about high time I stepped in to stop the mess. Regard me as the lingo-savvy street cleaner, always photographing Chinglish and always correcting it. For one thing, I don’t like it when my railways scream out with Chinglish on their back. (If you bang into me you’ll see I’m Chinese, irregardless which ID I hold. And I don’t like it when Chinese Railways has to make do with sub-par Chinglish.)

Wuxi East is a cool station, and they’re probably a little cooler with standardised, optimised English all over the place. But nobody’d knew they translations were David Feng works — I deliberately left all traces of David Feng-ness off the thing. Ditto with Xi’an North — if you spot optimised English, that’ll just me doing my thing, sans credits. Oh and the same with Hanzhong and Ji’nan West.

I’m helping the rails get their English in order. (As an assistant professor of English at a key uni in China, it’s about time I did something for real — combining what I teach with what I love.) I’ve been to 22 countries and territories and I know when they’ve right-glish hanging over you in station signs. Obviously, since this is China’s railway system, I’m basing my optimised English on Chinese national norms, but I’m also making an effort to get the English up to speed by consulting with how English is used the right way in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Switzerland, and the UK. (Forget the US — they dumped the rails a long time ago…)

I don’t expect to get paid for this; I’m also not after free rides. (I paid for 34,000+ km of rail travel last year.) It’s a bit of Menschness (a la Guy Kawasaki). I’ll be happy when I slip into bed in the evenings knowing that Chinese Railways have one less sign in Chinglish, and one more sign in optimised English.

For one thing, I’m already happy now that passengers on HSR services to Shijiazhuang are no longer told: “Please don’t throw the rubbish into the dustbin”.

That for one thing sure keeps the rails cleaner!

* Soon. (I’m optimistic.)

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.