Year Abroad: Tianjin Travels

TO TIANJIN!

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Off the HSR at Tianjin Railway Station

Off the High Speed Rail and into the bustle at Tianjin Railway Station.
Beijing – Tianjin: 54.50¥
Shanghai  – Beijing: 550¥

It’s autumn in China, and I recently made a trip out of the bustle of Shanghai up to Tianjin, where over the course of four days I managed to amass a large amount of photos of the journey, the city, and very few of myself and my friend Peter.
(Sorry, Pete.)

In comparison with Big Ol’ Shanghai, Tianjin is pretty chilled and quiet city, and I’ve spent a lovely four days wandering some of it’s least tourist-trekked streets, thanks to my trusty guide, as well as some of it’s Lonely Planet-style tourist attractions. Despite the fact that Tianjin covers an area some six times larger than Shanghai, it’s population is only half that of the shiny southern city – and it shows. The streets are chilled, the metros are only quietly bustling, and the people are friendly (what a shock to the system).

Take note Shanghai.

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REAL CHINA

We start off the trip with an excellent 6¥ bowl of noodles at what Pete has dubbed ‘Man and Wife Pull Noodles’, a tiny, tiny, tiny restaurant that sits in a rickety road alley just by Tianjin Experimental High School. If you haven’t tried eating where the locals eat, you’re missing out on a real and genuine experience of China. This street is lined with lots of similarly miniature restaurants, all of which have been dubbed with fabulous English names by the local, non-Chinese speaking foreigners, and are flocked with tracksuited schoolkids at lunch (beware).

I keep accidentally calling the restaurant ‘Man on Wife Pull Noodles’, much to everyone’s delight.
Well, it is a bit of a mouthful.

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By Necessity, Alley Restaurant, Tianjin

These pretty bottles are filled with Chinese vinegar, and are perfectly lined up on our table (one of only three, in a space smaller than my tiny dormitory bedroom at Fudan University). The decor has definitely happened by necessity, and not because they’ve popped down to the local Ikea.

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Cat in Basket, Waiting

Oh, and here’s a Cat in Basket outside the shop.
Why are you so grumpy, kitty!

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I’M A TOURIST!

Next, I get the grand tour! Try the Tianjin Radio Tower, 1 Weijin South Rd, Hexi, Tianjin in summer for a great view of the surrounding city. On a smog-free day take the cheeky elevator up with a 50¥ Adult ticket (20¥ Consession/Student), and check out the span of the sprawling city. Afterwards, the nearby Lake Park 水上公园  is perfect for a relaxed stroll and watermelon on a stick! The attractions themselves are all a little worn out and dusty, with lots of attendants that seem to be there mostly for show – but worth visiting for the strangeness of it all. Other tourist spots worth a visit are the shiny, new Museum District, the Italian Quarter, the Old Town and the Tianjin Eye.

Radio Tower in winter  is an absolutely amazing sight.
Tianjin is b-e-a-utiful in winter, if not horrifically cold.

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 Tianijn Radio Tower

Tianijn Radio Tower.

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If you get a chance, go for a stroll around the local areas (or a bike ride if you can find one and are savvy enough not to get killed on raod that have a fairly relaxed attitude to general traffic laws). Out by Wujiaoyao the two story houses and residential streets are slow paced, and filled with wandering elderly people in faded floral packs; the wide, dry streets are sparsely tree-lined and seemingly under constant renovation, with building dust churning now and then under our shoes. Card playing old men in dark jackets shout in tense, tight circles around makeshift tables.

We were very alternative, and took a stroll in the dark.

A NIGHTTIME STROLL IN TIANJIN

One lovely evening after a long day at the nearby Italian Quarter and Old Town, we take a stroll down along the HaiHe 海河 Riverside to soak up some more of Tianjin’s relaxed atmosphere, take some photos, and a look at night-time life.

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Tianjin Father and Daughter, Nighttime Radisson Building

A man and his daughter sitting in the glow of the Radisson Building.

Tianjin, Nightshift Nap

This man is taking the night shift on Tianjin Old Street very seriously.

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Over the Bridge, Tianjin

Over the Bridge.

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Three Men Fishing, Tianjin China

Three men fishing under an over pass; the man on the very left is wearing what’s left of his daytime, smart suit, while the older gentleman in the middle has the look of an old-timer to the trade.

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Tianjin Little Eats Street 天津小吃街

Little Eats Street, Tianjin is busy and bustling.

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Last Man Working, Nightshift Tianjin

Last man working the nightshift.

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The Clock, Tianjin

Tianjin Clock in some pretty cool looking light pollution.

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HEADING BACK


 “Home, James!” My family say this when we’re going home after a day out, but I don’t know why, or who this mysterious ‘James’ is. Peter made a face and sounded fairly insulted that I was calling him James… Does anyone else say this? Support would be greatly appreciated.

Anyway, after a long day out, we nip on the last metro of the evening on line three and head home!
Tianjin’s metro is wonderfully efficient, and much less overcrowded that Shanghai’s rush hour. English everywhere and friendly staff makes it a super easy tourist city.

Wujiaoyao Metro

I love how symmetrical everything is in the station, and as a treat, they’ve opened the backs of all the metro coin machines –  pretty neat.

From the White Lights, Lamps in the Dark, Tianjin

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AWAY I GO

View from the Window, China High Speed Train

At on my window seat back down to Shanghai as the High Speed Train hits 400km/h!

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It’s a long journey home when you’re leaving an old friend and heading back to a city that you can barely call home yet. It’s a seven hours door to door, and I do nothing more than doze, read and listen to music.

It’s been great to take a step back from Shanghai and chill out for four days from the stress of university level Chinese and watch Pete make all our transactions, translate, tour guide and generally be an excellent host. On the creative side of things, one of the great joys of touristing with a friend is you don’t have to feel nearly so ashamed of spending five minutes trying to get the shot that you want. So cheers to the large album dedicated to one of China’s five national central cities.

Hope I can come back soon,PhotoVogue Shelled Light, Charlotte Black

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.Charlotte xx

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PhotoVogue Shelled Light, Charlotte Black

Oh, hey there Vogue, this is the Tianjin Railway station.

😝

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China: LeShan Buddha

The Leshan Buddha.

Incredibly hot day. Sweated my socks off, much to the disgust of the locals. Ended up putting a towel over my head as we queued in the blistering afternoon sun to go down the pilgrims steps to the foot of the big man himself.

By that time, no one was particulaily savouring the sacred stairs experience. We just wanted the sticky, people-herded-down-small-stairs experience to end.

The biggest Buddha in the world though? Pretty fabulous!

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China: PANDAS! Chengdu

PANDAS! PANDAS! THE CHENGDU PANDAS!

Don’t like sex. Couldn’t be bothered reproducing. Only eat food that barely sustains them, although they’re perfectly capable of eating meat. Hmmmm… not the cleverest of animals clearly. But BOY are they CUTE!

Even though they are undeniably silly animals, with little to no interest in continuing their own species, it is impossible to deny that pandas are incredibly, incredibly endearing. Munching on bamboo, sitting on their bottoms, deftly maneouvring massive paws, ambling across my shot…

Silly big bears.

N’awww.

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China: The Everyday Life

The Rickety Bus Lottery

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I love Chinese buses.

The rickety thrill of not knowing where you are, or if you’re going to end up where you think you’re going.

There’s something to be said for doing things the way the Chinese do. All the way across the world, the thing that gets me the most is the chance to experience how other people live their daily lives. I love the terrifying, ramshackle confusion of indecipherable bus timetables, of minuscule print stop names, the hurly-burly locals bustle for seats.

The lurch and groan of the buses in Chengdu screech of ancient machinery, and the rattle of tin-trap assures me the metal contraption has never seen a safe test, let alone heard of one.

Who knows where I’ll end up.
I’m sure it’ll be exciting.

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The Chengdu Noodle Man.

Time for lunch and I’m sitting in a Xingjiang Muslim noodle restaurant that’s at most the size of a small bedroom. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a mattress hiding somewhere amongst the cupboards at the back.

I manage to smile politely enough to let the suspicious young chef kindly allow me video him literally pulling the noodles for my lunch, even though he clearly thought I was batty.

 He’s got serious skills, and is extremely polite.

You sure don’t get noodles like this in your ramen-pack folks.

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Thanks Noodle Man!

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Chengdu:

Buses
The Noodle Man

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China: Journey to the Mountain

 

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Journey to the Mountain

#1 Gate to the clouds

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It’s a great, heaving breath I take as I step out of a tiny Chinese bus at our first stop on our upwards journey of 3,099m:
the Gate to Mount Emei, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China.

It’s been a stomach-churning drive to this point, but the air is clear, crisp and fresh. It’s a rush of oxygen that comes as a huge relief, not only because of my all-too-familiar feeling of car-sickness, but after a month in China, I’m craving any kind of air that doesn’t feel like a dice with a slow, carbon-monoxide death.

With much reluctance, but greatly refreshed, that I step back on the bus to cross under the arch towards the Emei summit.

Our next stop is the Gondola at the base of the mountain, that departs from within a beautiful, deep-coloured wood building. Unfortunately, however, it’s under repair this time of year, and we’re herded towards the second back-up gondola leaves from behind this beautiful wooden building.

The aptly-named back-up gondola is a tiny, creaky plastic box – a relic from the 80s – which two foreigners can just about squeeze into. For the love of God, do not shake the box. We ascend through five minutes of cloud over tiny, paintbrush trees until we suddenly, with an artistic bust of sunshine, break the clouds…

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#2 Golden Elephant Peak

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The first section of the walk after the death-defying gondola ride takes us to base of Samantabhadra Statue Peak. It’s a stunning eruption that pierces into a swathe of blue sky – the likes of which I haven’t seen much of in China so far.

All along that steep incline towards the glimmering monument, people of all ages, and from all over the world climb the steps at times puffing almost shoulder to shoulder.

All different people, looking, in reverence and revery, and resting tired feet in the passing cloud.

Beautiful.

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Lack of Oxygen:
Peak of Emei Mountain, Chengdu, 3099m

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At the summit of Emei Mountain is this moment of real breathlessness.

The second, and unfortunately not final, terrifying rickety bus across the side of Emei mountain, took us to a  – then unreassuringly under-renovation – cable car, which took full running-jump into the tiny carriage, and proceeded to leak and rock us over proper Chinese mountains and sheer cliffs as the peak began rising up out of an endless sea of clouds.

At the summit rises three monolithic structures, atop an avenue of white-and-gold elephant lined steps: a goliathan gold buddha-elephant-spike, a golden temple, and a silver nunnery. They’re floating in and out of passing clouds, and there are these sudden bursts of gold reflections when the clouds break and the sunlight strikes the shining metal.
The Golden Summit.

All along the upward climb people were silently praying, periodically stopping to force their foreheads to the solid concrete steps, and to put smoking incense sticks and fat red candles on racks – the wax dripping everywhere, big sooty orange flames. People  were dirty, an end of pilgrimage dirt that suited their tired, reverent faces. A brilliant dirt, next to the gleaming temples in the sun and clear, thin air.

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We stayed for several hours, before beginning the quiet, slow decent to the base town.

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Mount Emei:
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China
Pǔxián Púsà (普賢菩薩)
First Buddhist Temple in China
Earliest extant reference to the Shaolin Monastery

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Journey to the Mountain #
Journey to the Mountain #2
Journey to the Mountain #3

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China: Pingyao, A World Away

Pingyao, The Last Walled City

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As I leave Beijing, I’m travelling by sleeper train to whats known as the last functioning walled city in China.

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It’s overcast in the last functioning city of its kind in China.

Walled.

And the walls are impressive. Worth scaling, worth cycling, and worth soaking up the strange time-capsuled quiet in this local town. Most of the industry left here is touristy, but it’s of a resigned kind that seems to be more subdued about its ancient, and now-unpracticed culture.

The walls have been restored recently; they’re only a testament to their original glory. The daily performances of walled city rituals loud and cast in lurid neon costumes.

A glance from the various scenic walls, temples and watchtowers in the city confirms that the grey overcast of the sky only extends into the leeched dry land outside the walls; ain’t nothing growing around here.

 

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GREY, BUT NOT THE RIGHT KIND

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I’m missing home.

I guess the greyness of the barren, but quietly bustling Pingyao city reminds me of the overcast grey skies in Ireland autumns. I spend a day rummaging through the various tourist-trap trinket shops until I find some restaurants containing the locals, where an order of knife shorn beef noodles (刀削牛肉面) almost makes Taiwanese standard, and I phone my mum despite international charges.

Mainland China is so vast, I’m disappointed in my own surprise in its difference from Taiwan, the only Asia I know. There’s no breakfast here I recognise, and certainly no soya milk. The language is heavily accented and the bargaining rough and unfamiliar. Even my soupy bowl of Beef Noodles, the famous Asian kind, is spiced with earthy, unfamiliar flavours.

China is vast.

A little shop, from which a bleary elderly man peers out, has it’s front windows plastered with a plastic red sign in English. It cheers me up a little, and I return to my hostel for a much restoring nap.

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The Band that Won’t Stop.

 

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The traditional band at the afternoon (17:00) performance in the walled city of Pingyao get a little carried away with their own music.

The lead band-man has just given a cool look of derision to the flustered gentleman on a PA system trying, somewhat in vain, to get them to stop so the main theatre performance can go on.

Well, the band’s not having any of it.

On another note, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single instrument that they’re play that funky tune with. I’m not a traditional Chinese music specialist, but if you are let me know…

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Falling Into Spirited Away

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Pingyao City

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I’ve fallen into Spirited Away.

For those of you who haven’t seen this world-wide, award-winning piece of animation by Director Hayao Miyazaki, it’s one of my favourite films. They say the original bath house setting was inspired by a small, traditional alleyway that’s a tourist hot-spot in Taiwan: 九份 (jiǔfèn).

Nevertheless, whether you’ve seen it or not, the walled city at night is magical, dark and mysterious, echoing of a childhood long in the past running through eerily-red light cobbled streets.

One of the most beautiful moments in China.

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Pingyao:

The Last Walled City

Missing Home

The Band

By Night

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