I just returned from China, and after a week of traveling about Beijing in its ubiquitous and very cheap taxis, I decided to take the Beijing Metro Line 10 back to my hotel. Built in 2008 in time for the Olympics, the metro is modern, efficient, clean, quiet, and cheap (2 RMB or 31 cents). In the early afternoon on a Friday, it wasn’t overly crowded either (well, by Beijing standards.)
What I wasn’t expecting was how simple it was to use. All signs and announcements were in both Chinese and English. I know the New York subway system pretty well, but I have spent many hapless minutes on the wrong platform, only to see a small sign about weekend service disruptions. It's an experience more similar to traveling on the Moscow metro, where, many years ago, I remember staring at my station stop name trying to imprint the Cyrillic image into my brain like a picture. Forget the picture, miss my stop. Luckily, my memory didn’t fail.
The Beijing metro is just another example of how China makes the seemingly daunting simple. I have traveled to China six times over the past five years, the same period when China raced from having virtually no wind power to being the global leader in wind installations.
I am not an expert on the place: I don’t speak the language, I’ve only traveled to a few big cities, and I have few connections beyond the wind industry. Yet Beijing is a city that has become comfortable for me. I know my way around, the food is familiar, bargaining in shops is enjoyable, and crime is not a concern. As I put it to my uncle who moved to Beijing in September, “things just seem to work here.” He agreed. During his first week, he had to deal with a broken washing machine in his apartment. His landlord sent up a repairman within 20 minutes, and it was fixed in a couple hours at no cost.
When have you heard of that happening in the U.S.? In transportation and in wind, it seems there are some lessons to be learned.