Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A China-town in China?!

This week the PCC group and I took the high speed train to the city of Tianjin  (天津).  This was our first chance to get out of Beijing itself, and although it was really cold I really enjoyed myself. Tianjin is a smaller city than Beijing with a population of almost 13 million people and a whole lot of construction.  Of course most of China's cities are sponsoring huge construction works, I think it was more visible in Tianjin because the city is not full of high rise buildings. 

Only took us 30 minutes! How cool!
In order to get to Tianjin, we traveled by high-speed train!  This was my first time on this kind of train, well pretty much on any train besides the commuter rail to Boston. I was surprised how smooth the ride was and how nice the train itself was.  They had western-style toilets, toilet paper and everything! There was more than one student who decided to hold it for most of the trip so they could use the bathrooms on the train simply because we are not all masters of the Chinese toilets yet :)  According to Google Maps, Tianjin is 139 km from Beijing South Railway Station and should take almost 2 hours to get to; on this train it took us around 30 minutes. The train went at least 290 km/h, quick find a conversion table!  And they look awesome! On the way home I bought a small train key chain for a souvenir.  For only 55元, less than $10 this was a great experience.

The biggest difference I noticed between Beijing and Tianjin was the architecture.  Beijing has tons of skyscrapers and modern buildings while Tianjin has smaller, older-looking buildings. This is due to the presence of former foreign concessions.  In 1858 at the end of the of the first part of the Second Opium War, the Treaties of Tientsin (Tianjin) were signed by Chinese, French, British, Russian and US forces.  This allowed for the opening up of the ports to foreigners for trading.  Later these and other countries established concessions in Tianjin which had their own schools, hospitals, churches and the like.  In 1927 Tianjin became a municipality.  Foreign troops were allowed to garrison the river to ensure open access to Beijing until British troops were asked to leave the city, by which time most of the other concessions had been given back to Chinese rule.  Instead of destroying the buildings created by the foreign presences, Tianjin re-purposed them, keeping the feeling of Europe in some of the city areas.  

I think that in the 5 or so hours we spent in Tianjin that I had decided that I liked it better than Beijing.  The architecture, amount of people on the streets and  general atmosphere of the place reminded me of Boston, Massachusetts which is a city I really enjoy spending time in. Since it is a quieter city, there were people in our group that found it boring, especially since it seemed that we didn't really have any specific destinations in mind when we got there. We got to go to a restaurant that sells Tianjin's famous Goubuli baozi 狗不理包子 and also got to see a five legged frog as an extra bonus.

5 legs!

 In short, Tianjin is much quieter than Beijing and appears to have a slower pace to life.  There is a great pedestrian shopping street with a snack street and some higher end (authentic) stores. We went to "Culture Street" where they sell a whole bunch of souvenirs in small shops all the way down this street.  There is an obvious entrance with a gate admidst the Western-style buildings and brand new high-rise apartments, it really looked like Chinatown which was really strange seeing as how I'm already in China. 

Inside I bought so many cute things that will be gifts for friends and family, and also stumbled upon a Mazu temple where people were praying and lighting incense. This was the first time I'd actually been to a religious place besides a church and a temple, so seeing people practicing this in what looked like an ancient place to me gave me goosebumps. I had told Wei laoshi that if I return to China to teach English, I think I might enjoy doing it in a place like this more than I would in Beijing.

People praying

At the end of the day we got out of the freezing wind (had I mentioned how freezing and windy the temperature was that day?!) and went to a noodle restaurant next to the train station.  There I had some of the freshest noodles I've ever had.  We watched the man roll out the dough into noodles, cook them for about 20 seconds and then right into our soup bowls they went! 
And all the historical information I grabbed from Wikipedia!
Fresh noodles being made!

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