A Blogger's Guide to Beijing

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Friday, January 2, 2015

And they think I'm colour blind?

It seems like no time ago that Beijing’s subway system was pretty basic, to put it mildly. With the coming of the 2008 Olympics, of course, a great deal of effort was put into expanding the metro, but even when I arrived in the northern capital just over three years ago there was still only a handful of lines in use. 

But all that has been changing fast; and at the end of every December since then, a new clutch of stations and tracks have been unveiled to the general public. 

This year was no exception. We now have a new line 7 and a new line 14 – both of which will be extended in the months and years to come. Line 15 was extended too, right across the northern sector, running parallel with the existing line 13. 

And the result is that the Beijing Subway system is now the largest in the world. True, we don’t (yet) have a Line 3, 11, or 12, but we do have 17 lines in all. 

But that’s not what everyone has been talking about. Instead, the main topic of subway-related conversations has been the massive hike in rail fares. 

Now, if this had been London or Paris or most other western cities, I reckon there would have been a huge public outcry that fares have risen by a minimum of 50%, with the majority of journeys now costing double what they did a week ago, and in some cases up to three, four or five times as much. 

But you don’t hear the Beijingers whinging, that much; and probably that’s because everyone knows full well that for a number of years we have had a pretty good deal in comparison to almost anywhere else in the world – except perhaps for one or two South American metro systems, not to mention the subway in Pyongyang where the residents of North Korea pay about a tenth of what we have been forking out here in BJ. 

Ever since I came here, any journey in the capital, however long or short, has cost the same – 2RMB… that’s 20p or 30 US cents. But now the powers that be have introduced a distance-based fare system where any journey up to 6km costs 3RMB, then from 6-12km it’s 4RMB, and so on up to in some cases 10RMB – or £1 a journey! Ouch! 

It’s hardly what you would call rocket science, but the subway management has taken no shortcuts in educating the masses about how to calculate the new fares. Everywhere there are new maps showing not only the new lines, but also what the fares are from and to each station…

Each station has its own map and all the other stations are marked with the appropriate fare, making it dead easy to see how much you will be paying out for the journey.

For those who cannot read maps (such as women and infants?) the info is given in tabular form too. 

and armies of volunteers and official staff are much in evidence at every station, on every platform, at every ticket office throughout the first few days of the new system. 

Naturally, all the existing lines have had their maps updated with the new transfers – such as here on line 9 showing a transfer to the new line 7 which is depicted in a glorious peachy-orange colour.

And yes, as many of my friends know all too well, my colour sense is somewhat visually challenged; but I have to say I quite like the Line 7 colour…

… which is even reflected by the in-carriage map, unsurprisingly. 

But then some bright spark had a brainwave of making the train seats blue to contrast nicely with the complementary orange colour of the line. 

Line 15 has no such multi-coloured pretensions. It’s purple; it’s always been purple; and it strictly retains its purplicity…

… or does it? OK, well perhaps we can veer towards pink... or maybe we should just call it light purple?

Or should that in fact be ecclesiastical purple? 

Or perhaps blackcurrant/Ribena purple?

Or perhaps even an in-your-face blancmange purple? 

And my “friends” call me colour blind? Has no one here heard of the Pantone system? (Actually in Putonghua it's pronounced 'Pantong' if you want to impress your graphic designer friends.)

On this line they have gone against the trend found on all other Beijing Subway lines (except for the Airport Express) and mounted the TV screens – on which you can find when the next train is due, together with a mix of advertisements and Shaun the Sheep cartoons – parallel with the trains, as opposed to sticking them out at right angles so that every person on the platform can see them (as opposed to just the favoured few who are standing in front of them). 

Ah. Here’s a sign to the new Line 14. And guess what – yes it’s also pink, though in fairness it’s a different purple-pink from line 5 and line 15. 

Or is it? Maybe the head of Beijing’s Subway system just loves the colour pink – but far be it from me to cast aspersions about his sexuality. 

Even the onboard maps have a noticeable similarity to the pink signs I have so astutely been following.

Certainly someone has a sense of humour, though what is fun about travelling on line 14 I cannot for the life of me imagine…

Or maybe I spoke too soon. Perhaps the thought of travelling in a lurid pink train could conjure up images of that pink Rolls Royce belonging to Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds. But is that any reason to use another in-your-face tint – this time pea green with a little larks vomit thrown in for good measure? Come on guys – is Line 14 pink or green now? 

But you know, perhaps I am being too judgemental. The Subway Management have done their level best in what one has to be admit is not the easiest job, pleasing a cynical old bastard such as your favourite blogger. 

And as a finishing touch they have even stuck some poinsettia stalks into a plastic beverage cup to brighten up the litter bins – which even has the effect of discouraging the hardened Beijingers from gobbing into the receptacles, the way they normally do (oh, yuk – please don’t get me started!). 

Well done Beijing, for a job very well done!

And if anyone ever complains again about my poor colour sense, I will make a point of giving them the personal contact details of the Head of the Beijing Subway (assuming, that is, that I can find the poor guy written up in Wikipedia, Linked In, or Gays Anonymous).