My first trip in China was fairly soon after we arrived. The Autumn Festival happened during our first or second week of the semester, and as a result, we had a good couple of days away from class. I’d made many new friends, and everyone had different plans. Some just wanted to stay in Beijing and relax, a few went to Shanghai. A friend and I decided to visit Tianjin, a neighbouring city to Beijing.
Travelling in China is very weird. Everything is documented. To buy a train ticket as a foreigner, you need to provide your passport. Also, your bags are scanned and you get a small pat down when entering the train station. It can seem excessive, but China is so safe in that sense. It makes me wonder why places like London don’t do it?
We took the bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin. It only took about 30-40 minutes to get there, and my friend and I were staying overnight, as we wanted to see a lot of Tianjin on our own time. We found a hotel, dropped our bags and decided to go explore our first city outside of Beijing.
We first went to Minyuan Stadium, which was just next to the hotel we were staying at. We walked around and visited the Five Great Avenues Museum, which talked about the history of the area. What was fascinating was the exhibits explaining how 230 buildings in the area were mimicked with the architecture styles of Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Afterwards, we headed to the Old Culture Street. I really recommend this street, as it’s basically a tourist’s dream. This street is filled with all the souvenirs you could imagine, such as jade tokens, silk scarves and painted fans. There was so much food, it was wonderful!
Street food is one of my favorite things about China. You can get kebabs, which varies with the type of meat. Could be beef, chicken pork, squid (chicken heart is yummy), or different vegetables, all fried and spiced and cooked in front of you. There’s also squid, noodles, potatoes, and the touristy foods like scorpions and caterpillars!
Then, we headed down towards the river and the Tianjin eye. We were planning on going on it that evening, but the queue went round the corner, down the road and along the riverbank! We didn’t want to spend our evening queuing, so we just walked down the riverbank until we had dinner.
The only thing about Tianjin we didn’t particular like was evening activities. There wasn’t anything to do apart from dinner and drinking. So instead, we decided to head to the cinema and see if there was an English speaking films.
Please note, it’s impossible to find out if a film is in English online. Just go to the cinema, cross your fingers and pray for the best.
Thankfully, there was one: Nine Lives. You’ve probably never even heard it. It starred Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner and Christopher Walken, and Spacey gets turned into a cat because he’s a bad guy. It was actually voted the worst movie of 2016! We thought it was kind of funny. The best part was the cinema. This one put us in this deluxe/VIP screening, where the leather seats were absolutely huge, reclined and had waiter service (at least that’s what I assumed the buttons on the chair were for, a little light came on and everything).
The next day, we headed back to the eye, as we were determined to go on it. Even though it was about 10am, the queue was still busy. We assumed this was because of the Autumn Festival season. The views were great, it was just a shame that the pollution was a little bad that day. I started to see differences between Tianjin and Beijing. Tianjin seemed more open, as the streets were larger and the buildings were not as enclosed. Also, it just seemed cleaner in general.
When we were at the top of the eye, we noticed a temple just across the road and decided to pay a visit. It was so interesting to see all the relics and the architecture. However, it wasn’t good when I accidentally walked into the building that all the monks stayed in. Apparently, you aren’t allowed in. At least, that’s what I understood when the security were shouting and waving me out the door!
Afterwards, we took a taxi to visit the Confucius Temple in downtown Tianjin. It was late in the day, and we were the only ones on the site, excluding the few members of staff making sure we didn’t break anything.
Then, we just headed back to Beijing. It was a really great first trip to learn about travelling in China. The best lesson: buy your train tickets either before you leave home or when you first arrive at your destination. Don’t do what we did and go to the train station when you want to leave. We ended up waiting for 3/4 hours at the train station as the trains were all sold out.
ESPECIALLY during the Chinese National Holiday.