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Keeping my feet on the ground in Tianjin

The research wagon sets out for northern China, and we set our sights upon Tianjin – a city not too far away from Beijing. I was pleasantly surprised by the place, seeing as it had been populated by various Europeans at the start of the twentieth century, and they had left a decent legacy of colonial buildings and handsome streets. Although there were few actual attractions to speak of, it was really an interesting location and a notch more ‘Chinese’ than Shanghai or Beijing. It must be said that it is still unlikely that I have seen the ‘real’ China after my forays onto the mainland. None the less, interesting enough to entertain us for a few days of business.

The handsome side streets west of the city centre were packed with vendors selling classic Chinese tat. Sadly, no Christmas presents were found! But this was perhaps due to the very cold weather.

Old boys play games in the streets, away from their wives (much like Taipei!).

Somewhat reminiscent of the Hutongs in Beijing

This guy was one of the most characterful people I met – down from the north in Hubei, he ran a Xinzhuang (need to check) BBQ that just pumped out the best lamb kebabs … after a tip from Lars in Shanghai, I now seek out these chaps. Killer, every time… and worth returning to! This type of BBQ can be seen on the streets quite regularly.

… which we did, when Alfie arrived a day later (with beer added).

The guy insisted we take a photo together, but then entirely lost interest when I suggested I send it to him … he thought I should just give it to him the next time I see him!

And why was I seeking out the street food? After recommendations from several people, I was to check out the internationally famous ‘Gou Bu Li’ dumpling restaurant. The name (狗不理)comes from a story of the original owner who used to cook dumplings of astoundingly poor quality. Some say, the quality was so bad that when he dropped one, even dogs would not eat it … hence ‘Even Dogs Wouldn’t’ as a name. When this happened, he went away and learnt from a great master (I am somewhat making this up) and came back to great acclaim, but the name stuck.

Walk in and taste the food… and well, the only thing I would add is that ‘Even Rich Dogs Wouldn’t', as they were pretty bland and very expensive. The photos of George Bush Sr. and various Chinese dignitaries didn’t help me change my mind.

‘Even Dogs Wouldn’t’

Rows of electric bikes, which are ubiquitous in China

After a day of seeing the same shops and hearing the same blaring music, I happened upon a Starbucks opposite a rather an attractive old Church. Clearly, this was what all the other foreigners in Tianjin thought too, and I bumped into a pair of fresh-faced English teachers who pointed me towards a couple of night spots. Well, ‘the’ night spot…

Dubbed ‘Alibabas’ it is down a dark, dark street, down a dark, dark lane, behind an unassuming door and a large piece of carpet… the only place to hang out for those living in Tianjin, it was none the less lively and fun enough to return with Chinese people in tow.

Reflecting on religion

New friends

The Liverpool match

Entertainment from our Chinese hosts takes rather a different form, and mainly revolves around displays of taste and wealth. Lunch on the Saturday consisted of one of the local banquet restaurants, and in typical tourist fashion I went around taking photos of everything moving… which it turns out is quite a lot!

The welcoming committee

Yes, that is a turtle, and yes, it probably has a price on it for cooking

Delicious frogs

I’ll take the snake in Black Bean Sauce… seriously

Charming location in front of the freeway… with good parking. China and Korea often seems to have this sort of hazy light that is quite hard to describe.

Great views.

And to top off our ‘cultural research’ we went to check out the tallest tower in Tianjin, and a building that has clearly seen better days since opening in 1991. There was almost nobody there, and I for one felt particularly fidgety at this height!

The ‘TianTa’ (天塔)- China’s scariest building

My guides walked straight out onto the glass-floored deck. Normally, I think I would have no problems doing this, but my whole body only wanted to do one thing, and that was to go DOWN, away from this shaky, rickety building with wobbly floors and bumpy elevators.

It’s very traditional for lovers to put locks onto the gratings of such buildings to signify their love for one another. With this symbolic gesture, the lock then spends the rest of its life looking out across the pollution of northern China …

In this photo you can definitely SEE the pollution just hanging in the air – and today was not a bad day. Combine it with the dust storms coming from the ever dustier north, and you can palpably taste the air whenever you step outside. So, even sunny days are reduced to hazy, foggy experiences which leave you squinting into the grey distance, dry of lip and scratchy of eye.

And as an industrial designer actually making these
goods, I have to feel a major pang of guilt when I experience it.

One Comment

  1. Posted 2007/12/28 at 10:29 | Permalink

    It’s true that dogs won’t eat the meat inside those steamed pork buns. I once had one from a convenience store up in some remote tourist spot in Taiwan, and looking at the meatball inside I decided just to eat the bread part. A stray dog passed by and I lobbed the meatball on the ground in front of it. It took a sniff and walked away. What goes into those meatballs that would deter even a hungry dog from eating it? Makes you think.

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