What We Did on Spring Break: A Visit to Tianjin

Tianjin. It’s a beautiful Chinese city–or at least it seems beautiful to me because of all the European-architecture everywhere. Sure, there are plenty of ugly skyscrapers and apartment buildings too, but at least there’s some variety in this city.

The Haihe riverfront

If you pay close attention to that blue sign, you may be able to see that it says “No Fishing.” Well, a couple hundred feet away, we then saw this:

I’m sure he passed his reading comprehension classes.

Tianjin had a lot of French, Italian, and British businessmen living there from the end of the 18th century until China was closed to foreigners. So they had a huge influence on the way the city looks today.

Influence like this.
A giant clock. It’s kinda ugly, but kinda steam-punky too.

While in Tianjin, we rented a bicycle built for two and rode around the city. It was a little awkward because the second seat was so low and they didn’t have the tools to raise it for us so my knees kept hitting the handlebar in front of me, but we managed.

The bicycle guys had no idea how to use my camera. Took them about five tries to get this one, and they’re all about flattering angles!

While riding around, we noticed the super cool stoplights they had there. Instead of being giant and bulky and ugly like they are everywhere else, they were just a light on a pole, and would count down for you so you knew how much longer they’d be green or red.

This one had just turned green, and the light would move down until it hit the line in the middle. Then it would turn red.

After biking for our allotted hour, we went to the Cultural Street. It was about like every other cultural street in every other Chinese city–lots of paintings and knickknacks and people selling the same kinds of food and hordes upon hordes of tourists.We tried a rice cake thing that wasn’t great and some ice cream and figured we’d seen enough.

Ice cream…and feet.

Oh, and they had this stall selling pearls…with the dead shellfish that they harvested the pearls from just sitting there. Let’s just say I’ve smelled better smells. But the pearls were pretty.


So after we got our fill of ice cream and dead oysters (NO, we did not eat them!), we headed over to the Italian quarter for some lunch.

…and more crowds.

This was the most multicultural place we’ve seen in China–they had Italian restaurants, Thai restaurants, French restaurants, German restaurants, and Chinese restaurants. They might have even had more, but those were the ones we saw. Of course, all the people were Chinese, but at least the food was different, right?

We opted for Thai–and even remembered to take  pictures of the food.

Spring rolls (it started with six….)
And Pad Thai.

It was good, and good to have a little variety from run-of-the-mill Chinese food.

Then we walked around the Italian quarter for a while and took pictures of all the brides and grooms getting their pictures taken.

Isn’t her dress pretty?

The brides had beautiful dresses, but this groom’s fashion sense was rather odd, to say the least. I didn’t want to seem TOO creepy, so I didn’t maneuver quite as well as I could have, but a purple plaid suit with a bright orange tie is not exactly my idea of sedate wedding wear.

See? His tie is ORANGE!

I’m not exactly sure, either, why someone would want to get pictures taken with approximately two thousand people in the background, but apparently the flowers and the houses outweighed the people.

The other “bride” (her “groom” was in jeans and a t-shirt, so I think she was just getting pre-wedding pictures done or something. They do that here.)

When we were done looking critically at men’s fashions for the day, we strolled around the rest of the square and enjoyed the random statues of famous Italians like Dante. Because he’s so connected to China.

DSC_0851 DSC_0853 DSC_0847


And since this post is eons long already, I’ll leave you with that and be back with part II shortly, I hope.


More Pictures of Xi’an: Bell Tower, Drum Tower, Terracotta Warriors

You’re all probably getting tired of hearing about Xi’an and seeing all my gazillions of pictures, but I think I’m finally running out of them today.

Last things? Drum tower and bell tower. They look a lot alike, and were used for about the same purpose. The drum tower was for beating the hour on giant drums and making sure the watchman was still awake.

The bell tower also seemed to be for beating the time on a bell. And I think there were watchmen on both.

Giant bell. Jared reminded me several times that they used to make cannons like this too.
On the tower.

They had really neat performances for both places–some college students playing drums in the drum tower, and then playing all sorts of traditional Chinese instruments in the bell tower. Both groups were extremely good at what they did, and very laid-back about it. They showed up precisely five minutes before the performance and threw their costumes on over their street clothes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything capable of taking a good video, so you get blurry pictures.

The blur is just how fast their hands were moving.

And then Jared insisted we go up to the top and walk around the edge, like fifty feet in the air. He may or may not have had his hand nearly squeezed off. But there was a good view, except for all the smog.

The roads there were beautifully straight.
Looking down on Muslim street. It was a bit too early for the crowds of people.
But you can still see all the lights.
From the top of the Bell Tower.

The very last thing we saw in Xi’an were the Terracotta Warriors. They were pretty amazing, and apparently every single one has a different face. Part of me can’t help but wonder if the emperor didn’t have anything better to do with his time and money than make clay soldiers modeled after his real army. But still, they were very neat.

These ones are ones archaelogists are putting back together because they were all broken.
A man and his horse.
After the farmer discovered the warriors, they built this huge structure over them to protect them from the weather.
Because they’re made of clay, some of them have broken heads and stuff from when vandals broke in.
Our guide was very helpful in explaining the different hairstyles–topknots are regular soldiers, caps are officers.

I promise this will be the last of the travel posts for a while, since the only place we’re still planning to go is the Great Wall. You can’t be living in Beijing and fail to see the Great Wall. That’s nearly criminal!

The Return of Tourism

Last weekend we finally traveled some in China. And just in case you want to know–if you’re visiting China as a tourist, Xi’an is a great place to start. It’s a beautiful city–way prettier than Beijing!

We left Saturday afternoon at around 4:00 p.m and took a high speed train that went 300 km an hour. It  was amazing how quickly it got us there–1080 km and 6 hours later, we were in Xi’an.

The inside of the train

Sadly, however, SOMEONE was stupid and left her Kindle behind. So for 6 hours or so, I had nothing to do but take pictures of the dark windows, which led to (I regret to say it) train window selfies. Yeah, I know. Pretty lame. But what’s a girl to do when she has nothing to read?

I like to call this one “Girl with a Camera.” Sounds more artistic that way.
And this one makes me look slightly ethereal and like I’m on fire. . .

Once we got there, we were in for a bit of a problem. It was 10:00 at night, and we had no idea where anything was. I’ll skip all the boring details of how many people we asked for directions and how we had printed out directions to the WRONG hostel that we didn’t have reservations for and so ended up there at 11:00 at night, but yes. We survived.

In the morning, we went to church, which was amazing, and wandered around Xi’an for a little while. We stumbled across this really neat street which we had been meaning to visit anyways–it’s called Muslim Street, because I guess it’s where the Muslims in Xi’an sold their food and stuff–and walked around for about an hour and a half. It sort of turned into a maze by the end and we weren’t sure how to get out!.

As you can see, there were hordes of people!
A bread stall

Some of them tried to charge us exorbitant amounts (Jared thought they must be unionized or something), but we made it out of there without losing too much money.

See that bread in the very back? The man tried to charge us 30 kuai for it! By contrast, the ones in the front were only 5.
On the right of the picture is the grill they use to grill their meat (usually lamb) on a stick.
Jared with his favorite thing.

This meat on a stick might just be one of the best reasons to come to China. It’s so flavorful and tasty that you’ll always want to make your meat this way. Or maybe move to China just to get it.

As we walked further along, we kept hearing these strange pounding noises. Looking around, we spotted these men with giant hammers pounding something (we never did quite figure out what it was or why it needed pounding). It looks like some sort of candy, but it was too expensive, so we didn’t try it.

The giant rope thing is like taffy, I think–the kind you have to pull to get to the right consistency. That kid is clearly not impressed.
Because a goat’s head makes everything better!
Does he look Chinese yet?

This hat has a funny story. We were walking down the street and Jared picked it up to try it on (it’s just like the ones that the Chinese policemen wear). He asked the lady how much it was, and she said 80 Yuan. That was too expensive, so we started walking away, and she kept calling numbers after us–50? 40? 30? 25? She was really desperate! We still didn’t buy it, though.

You’re probably about pictured out, so I’ll leave you with a picture of a Chinese person cooking soup. He may need to update his equipment soon, I think.

Yes, that’s fire.

Have I convinced you to come to Xi’an? If not, stay tuned for more pictures and commentary (though I can’t promise it will be more interesting than this post was.)