Monday, 5 January 2009

Beijing Subway Is Fast. I Am Not (An Appreciation)

Video by Josh Chin, Wall Street Journal

One of my new year's resolutions is to be faster. More efficient, yes, but also faster. Like lasers, and the Beijing subway, which makes up for what it lacks in panache (privet, Moscow!) with sleek zippy trains that get built at record speed. (I make up for what I lack in panache with fingernail biting.) The subway isn't the most complete in the world (O Moskva!) but over the past 14 months, with the opening of line 5, and then lines 10, 8 and the Airport Express, it grew by almost half (!), and suddenly people were being zipped to places in the city they probably had never heard about, much less visited. It was like manna from the underground (Actually, I think you can buy some good dark khleb in the Moscow Metro, but not in the Beijing ditie). 

Look, I don't love the Beijing subway, at least not in its current prepubescent stage (as opposed to its future Three-Gorges-size version), but there's nothing like a city with a terrible, sprawling urban plan to make you really appreciate a subway. 

Not long after it opened -- just in time for the Olympics -- Josh Chin at the Wall Street Journal interviewed me about line 10, which he calls, correctly, "the iPhone of subways." Come to think of it, that, coupled with photos of the NYC subway, might actually be a really good marketing slogan to appeal to Beijing's rising middle class, who are buying cars the way New Yorkers buy iPhones (the Beijingers are buying iPhones too). If you want to see me, look for the guy in the video who is sporting a treehugger(.com) beard and speaking slower than the G train. I'm assuming this is why more of our interview wasn't used (to Josh's credit). 

Among the things left on the cutting room floor were my meditations on Beijing's smart cooperation with MTR, the private company that operates Hong Kong's Swiss watch of a subway in exchange for getting to own all the land above the subway too. MTR is developing Beijing's western line 4, and owns Ginza Mall, a Japanese watch of a shopping center that connects (surprise!) to the Dongzhimen metro station. I probably also talked about the pleasures of bicycles and pearl tea. Also: the problem with music criticism today.

I think we spoke for about half an hour, which means that by the time Josh left my apartment (to be accosted by a police officer checking registrations), somewhere in Beijing a new subway station had been planned, designed and built. 

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