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.

😝

Year Abroad: Shanghai Night Life

Shanghai Night Skyline Pudong PuXi The Bund

Ladies, forget pre-drinks,

WELCOME TO SHANGHAI.

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It’s not all about the studying out here in Fudan University, Shanghai. For the first week, us newbies have been  sampling some of the famous nightlife that the big city has to offer.

Apart from the fairly long metro journey from where we are in Yangpu District out in the evenings (where the last train is at 1030) and the dubious fare negotiation with taxis from the French Concession area back, there is actually very little money that leaves the pocket – especially if you’re a girl. Sorry boys, but Shanghai is infamous for ‘Ladies Nights’. In a very desperate attempt to lure women into bars and clubs there are deals such as free entry, free drinks all night, free mojitos all night, and even, free champagne. Mum and Dad, I swear I’m being sensible…

Boy, we have not been disappointed by Shanghai. Here’s a quick spin through the fab range of nightlife that Shanghai has to offer whether you’re on the hunt for something classy or downright dirty.

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Arkham Club Shanghai Bunker Nightlife

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In September, I set foot in the fluoro-splashed tunnel that leads to the Arkham bunker: a high-roofed chamber with raised platform stage and meshed off viewing gallery in which heavy beats from TICT Creative’s Nat Self pounded for the Zombie Disco Squad – unfortunately, rather literally interpreted by several glassy eyed clubbers with sweaty face-paint.

If you’ve been in Bristol, this is the Shanghai equivalent. It’s smoky, it’s grimy, and it’s most definitely sweaty at this lock-down venue, and the classic house/disco/hip-hop mix is heady and heart-pounding. There’s not much to say for the bunker itself: it does what it says on the tin. But stick a few hundred zonked out, limb-flailing, drunk uber-hipsters in one little space and things are bound to get messy. Although I’m surprisingly sad there are less Batman gimmicks, it’s all very cool down at Arkham.

Arkham
Phone: +86-13701972878
Address: No.1 South WuLuMuQi Road, Shanghai

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Last Saturday night at The Shelter was a heady mix of soul and beats as Soul Brothers ’72 took over the low-ceilinged basement on YongFu Road, and I barely noticed the bouncers as we paid out 40RMB cover, though word on the net of gives them some unconfirmed but unsavoury press. Still that may have something to do with my blood alcohol levels at that time. The bar/club is a tightly enclosed underground with a red-lit, neon, dystopian dance-floor playing havoc in the dark against a blue-lit, exposed brick set of seated alcoves towards the back of the club which have a deep-freeze meets French wine-cellar feel.

There’s an eclectic range of music on offer every day of the week at Shelter, so it’s worth taking the three minutes to prepare yourself for the evening’s flavour, be it hardcore electro, hip-hop, funk or house. But if you’re up for reasonably priced drinks, some body flailing, or a plushly hip sit-down booze, The Shelter’s a good night for a big group of friends to do a take-over of a fairly moderately filled club.

The Shelter
Address: 5 Yongfu Lu, Xuhui, Shanghai

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PHEBE Club Shanghai Nightlife

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Phebe, located in none other than the French Concession area of Shanghai is on a Wednesday night, overflowing with ladies of all dressed to the nines –  and some not too shabby-looking lads who are apparently willing to pay the 100RMB cover in (+ 1 free drink). Ladies get MONDAY and WEDNESDAY free cover before midnight in exchange for supplying a working mobile number  (they check) with an open bar 0900-0400. Worrying.

If you’ve the honour of being a lady, you’ve no excuse not to pop in. From the hundreds of glowing red lanterns suspended from the ceiling and dark lacquer wood seating giving a wonderful faux-Chinese cultural decor, to the white and sketchily tuned grand piano centrepiece in the bathroom the club really is swish. If you’re there to appreciate the interior design that is.

Packed out across the numerous enclosed table areas, walkways and raised catwalk-esque dance floor, there’s barely space to take a breath on a ladies night where the writhing bodies in a healthy ratio of foreign to locals are always vying for a cheeky dance, drink or a swift exit to the bathroom for a tactical vom.

PHEBE: 3D Club
Tel: 021 6555 9998
Address: No. 10 Hengshan Lu, Xuhui, Shanghai

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Helens Shanghai Nightlife

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This famous expat and student bar is a chain that runs throughout China. I’ve been to Helens Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin to date, and I can say with certainty, that there must exist a ‘Helens-in-a-Box’ starter kit, because the decor, from the international flags to the wooden beams and strange faux stone-work walls are Exactly The Same wherever you go.

At 10RMB for a big bottle of Tsingdao as a standard across the board, it’s a nice, quiet hubbub and raucousness bar for students to have a couple of pints at the end of the day. If you want a serving traditional American-style bar food, I suggest you go early to get a seat. Certainly on ladies night Wednesday (with free drinks all night for 50RMB) be prepared to fight for a space just to stand.

On a less crowded Monday afternoon, a friend in Tianjin taught me a great trick of ordering a Helens ice cream (3RMB) and taking advantage of their Free Coffee Mondays.

Bliss.

Helens
Address: 49 Wuchuan Rd, Yangpu, Shanghai, China
Opening Hours: 1600-0200

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SOHO Club French Concession Shanghai Nightlife

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Soho isn’t the club on everybody’s “Go To” list, but it’s one that we’ve been to perhaps a few too many times. It’s a pecularity of Chinese clubs that a) smoking is allowed and b) the effects of excessive drinking will be tolerated. As a result of this, I always return home smelling like I’ve been cheerfully capering about in an ashtray, and I spend most of the (later) early hours in a club practising the time-earned art of narrowly dodging the drunken lurching of overly inebriated, and inevitably expat, assholes who seem to think I’ll react to inappropriate groping like the unfortunate female staff.

But don’t let that put you off.

 The music is loud enough to rupture several internal organs, and by the end of the night the ringing in my ears lasts well into my sleep. Pleasurable. There are Chinese dice-and-cup games (which I still haven’t been able to hear the name of; I’ve asked several times) on each table, us foreigners have been negotiating free entry, and us ladies a free drink.

On top of that, the 90% local Chinese capacity of the club are fairly subdued, sitting on the provided couches, engaging in dice with us when we pass and offering small tumblers of whiskey and ice; pleasant interactions galore. And to top it all off, the inside of the club is filled with massive white umbrella and globe-like structures that make it look like you’re suspended in a large plastic cloud.

What’s not to like about that?

SOHO
Address: 4 Hengshan Rd, Xuhui, Shanghai, China
Phone:+86 21 5469 9898

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Royal Meridien 789 Nanjing Lu Shanghai Nightlife

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Hel-lo to one of the classiest ladies night on the town, free Champagne flows on FRIDAY nights 2130-2330PM at the high flying 67th floor bar of the Royal Meridien Hotel on the PuXi side of the Bund. The dim, warm glowed setting, the floor-to-ceiling reinforced glass windows overlooking Shanghai’s commercial quarter, the gold-lit bar, intensely polite waiters and high-top chairs all give this location a distinct air of class…

Well, that is until the hoards of girls, Western and Chinese alike, arrive to shoulder, at any cost, their fair share of the various flutes of bubbly on offer. Grenadine bubbly, orange bubbly, and even mint bubbly is doled out into the vying flutes at the bar – and God forbid you put your glass down anywhere, as the one glass you get per evening is your only ticket to intoxication.

Royal Meridien: 789 Nanjing Lu
Phone: +86 21 3318 9999
Address: 789 Nanjing Road Pedestrian St, Huangpu, Shanghai, China

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Park Hyatt 100 Century Bar Shanghai Nightlife

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This particular venue is not for the faint-hearted. The beautiful Park Hyatt hotel is not just a towering landmark on the Pudong riverside of the Chinese Bund, it’s grandiose, high-ceilinged building houses the luxurious 100 Century Avenue bar and restaurant on its 97th floor. With a plush, dim-lit interior, hushed jazz music, and waiters so freakin’ attentive there’s almost definitely some sore of homing beacon involved in their training, there’s no beating about the bush as to the type of clientèle expected.

Yet, for those of us still fairly fortunate, it’s not entirely unreasonable to pop in on the 97th floor for a pot of tea (40RMB) or a house cocktail (80RMB) for a glimpse of the spectacular view. With a bit of persuasion, and a little patient waiting, one can even nab a splendid table right by the thick glass windows for the evening and look out over the third tallest building in China – the Jin Mao Tower.

P.S I hear the toilets are particularly swish.

Park Hyatt: 100 Century Avenue
Tel: +86 21 6888 1234
Address: 100 Century Avenue, Pudong, Shanghai, China, 200120

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There are certainly more excellent venues to add to this list of Shanghai Night Life, and even as I type this, Wechat is pinging about a certain Ladies Night at GloLondon… Looks like you might be seeing Post #2 sometime soon!

Till then

Charlotte xx

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外婆的小菜

Year Abroad: Celebrations & Farewells

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As is be a common theme in our household, everything can be improved, and solved, by eating good food, and boy does our end-of-trip celebration dinner come up to scratch. For the end of our month family holiday together, short family stop-over in Shanghai, and celebrating both my parents birthdays, we head to a restaurant in Wujiaochang (五角场), two bus stops from where we’ve been staying near Fudan University.

外婆的小菜

4F No.600, Handan Road, Shanghai
No: 5566099

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From the lush interior and the welcomed air-conditioning, seated waiting line to the terrifying recorded screeching of “外婆請你吃飯嘍!!!” at deafening volume, it’s a good start to what is one of the most fabulous meals I’ve yet to have in Shanghai. A pleasant little waitress from Anhui province is quick to help us, and another girl steps in to suggest some house specialities for the big night – and they certainly don’t disappoint: beautifully prepared, delicate, perfectly cooked and a sensory delight to behold. Perfect for a family of connoisseurs.

Our favourites include:

外婆紅燒肉 49RMB
荠菜鱼丁滑豆 29RMB
西子藕韵 15RMB

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It’s definitely telling that the only dishes I’ve managed to take proper photos of are three of the sweetest on the table. They do keep saying that Shanghai food, and South Eastern Chinese food in general is meant to have a sweet edge to it, and these dishes certainly hit the spot –  from sticky, rice stuffed lotus root to mouth-watering, slow-cooked braised pork that I’ve been especially recommended by a friend from home. It’s a fantastic farewell meal.

I wish I’d taken more pictures, but take it as a testament to the quality of the food!

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It’s certainly not until I’m walking my last walk back to the hotel my family is staying in and bundle up into their room for the last time that I realise, with a heavy chest, that I’m not going to be seeing them all together like this for a long time. At most we’re apart for four months at a time, and I can tell already that I’m going to miss them a lot.

I may have to make an impromptu trip home at Chinese New Years after all…

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Taiwan: NanShan Second Chance Cinema, 湳山戲院

湳山戲院
(Nǎn shān xìyuàn)

台北市通化街24巷1號
No. 1, Lane 24, Tōnghuà Street, Daan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106

All Day Ticket, Any Showing 140NT

Show Times

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It’s been pretty rainy here in Taipei for the past couple of days as Typhoon Trami heads our way, but here in the capital there’s tonnes to do – even if it’s bucketing down water outside.

Yesterday the family and I went to Nanshan Second Chance Cinema, a cinema which shows films that are out of main cinemas but not on DVD yet. Not only that, but the tickets are only £3/140NT for a full day of films. You can see any of the eight films being screened, bring in your own food and drink, and there’s even a disgruntled woman at the door who gives you a stamp to go out, dine and return again! Pretty neat.

Nanshan’s a bit grotty outside, and the seats aren’t as plush as a normal cinema, but the screen definition and sound in the theatres is good; the larger theatres are the upstairs ones, and as long as you don’t mind perhaps more rustling than usual, it’s a fab rainy day retreat. The cinema itself sells the usual popcorn and sweet treats, the nearby restaurants are cheap (of course, there’s a 7 Eleven on TongAn Jie) and don’t be shy about take a steaming pot of noodles into the theatre!

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star trek

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We went for the one showing, and saw Star Trek: Into the Darkness, as we’ve all been indoctrinated as Treky fans in our house. I recommend to plan ahead if you want to make a day of it – the later showings and blockbusters are more popular, so be prepared to queue. Top tip: watch the film prior to your blockbuster in the big screen upstairs!

Air-con’s fairly chilly, so bring your cardi, your food and of course, your own loo roll (it is Taiwan, after all).

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Felix McCabe Photography: Spine-tingling Shots

Photography is one of my favourite mediums and Exeter photographer Felix McCabe’s work continually gets me right in the heart in two ways. Firstly, yes, his work is brilliant. From the evocative lighting of his portraits, to capturing expressions that grip our curiosity, his shots are  bursting with character. Secondly, he’s self-taught, ambitious and – only nineteen, which makes the rest of us feel underachieving and old… All I can say is definitely check out his work on facebook/twitter/tumblr and keep an eye on this guy.      I know I will be.

Reblog of my own article, originally written for Razz My Berries Magazine.
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Images Copyright Felix McCabe

Beijing, TUESC: Forbidden City

Forbidden City

It’s a predictably hot day when Emma, Ellie and I chose to visit one of Beijing’s most coveted set of historical buildings: The Forbidden City.

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Rivulets of sweat run happily down my back, my umbrella is up, Chinese-style, and my back-pack of water feels a lot heavier than a litre of water duly should, but nothing can overshadow the sheer scale of the endless courtyards, alleys and royal buildings in the elaborate 15th century complex of beautiful, painted-wood roofing. As we file in under a huge portrait of President Mao, we’re battling with the people towards a small dark tunnel: the entrance to the city itself. It’s hard to believe, given the addition of thousands of tourists, whistles, tour-group speakers and jiggling flags, that this entire area was once a secluded, palace of secrecy and royalty.

Instead of talking the main bee-line up the middle of the complex, we soon veer off to shaded side roads, back alleys of the servants and noticeably less crowded; from these bubbles of quiet. we observing the vast cobbled courtyard space into which the bottleneck of tourists tumble ant-like, and sweating, admiring their hundreds in a space once reserved for ceremonial events and special dignitaries.

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The contents of the exhibitions here are definitely undermined by the misty glass-cum-plastic that divides the sticky fingers and foreheads from what is possibly antique furniture – though it’s hard to tell in the dim rooms, a stark contrast from the blinding sun outside.

Having visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei, which houses many of the original artefacts from the Forbidden City, evacuated after a long trek across the country of China over to the small Formosan Island by Chiang Kai Chek and his followers following the Civil War in China, it is not hard to see that the two heritage sites offer very different experiences. In my opinion, The Forbidden City demonstrates the sheer vastness of the architecture and demonstrates the immense power of space and place in politics and society, whereas for the contents and details of the internal wealth, art and culture, it is best to look to the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

However the souvenir shops and exhibitions in the Forbidden City offer excellent air-conned relief from the scorching morning sun.

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Chinese Chat

As a last anecdote of the day, a man in his late fifties, thin as a bean pole and wearing heavily clothes as sun-bleached as his skin is tanned, calls out to me with a flash of white teeth and astoundingly well-accented English.

It’s hard to displace the shock of the apparent incongruity of his appearance and his Oxford-style English within the wall of the Forbidden City, and his alarming tendency to peer very closely into my face when speaking knocks me straight out of my historical reverie. But while his enthusiasm to converse with us definitely straddles the border with frightening, it’s an excellent example of the curiosity of being a tourist in China; the people may stare without prejudice, and converse with mild prejudice (rightly assuming the majority of us cannot speak Mandarin), but they for the most part, are purely curious: being foreign in China is certainly an oddity in a way that is no longer common in England.

Considering the vast scale of the country, its tendency to umbrella its many ethnic diversities as a community of one country (in contrast to the emphasised individualism of the West) and it’s relative youth in terms of international tourism and wide-spread immigration it is hardly surprising that two English girls, and one half Northern Irish, half Taiwanese Mandarin-speaking girl (to be precise) can cause a small amount of fuss.

Interestingly, once most people discover I can speak Mandarin, they are suitably unnerved and back off.

It’s the real foreigners that they want photos with.

😉

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Taiwan: Dazzling Cafe Mint Excursion

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This week I lucked out on an invitation to a ‘Drinks and Desserts’ leaving do at Taipei’s branch of the Dazzling Group‘s Dazzling Café Mint – and it’s not one to be turned down! This mildly terrifying corporate group originated in Taipei City, the brain-child of Janet Yang – already a local fashionista designing collections and collaborating with fellow Taipei designers – who in 2011 launched Dazzling Café Pink, selling a speciality of honey toast. With it’s elaborate white decor from plush carpets, decadent upholstery to trimly dressed waiters providing a fairly overwhelmingly executed back-drop to some stunning desserts it’s no wonder the Dazzling brand has since opened five different high-class branches across the city.

It’s an excursion not to be missed. Lines for seats stretch around the block at peak times, so unless you’ve got a friend that can cheekily seat you up the list, it’s best to call not only beforehand, but on the 16th of each month – the only day when reservations are even taken. The drinks and desserts are pretty pricey for Taipei standards, but you’re paying for the whole experience – so treat yourself! My choice of the obvious Dazzling Classic Toast comes in at a neat 200NT with a sweet pressed kiwi drink of 70NT – totalling around £5 for you Brits out there. Pretty unbelievable by foreigners’ standards.

Dazzling Café Mint
No.3, Lane 248, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Rd.
Daan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
Resv. 02-8773-9229

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