Beware the Eyes

Tianjin and Binhai

I’ve got a lot of things left to cross off my Beijing bucket list before I leave China. I know I’ll be back to travel more at some point but I don’t know when. So I’ve just been trying to do as many new things as possible before I go.

Recently Jess and I tried this new whisky bar near our house. I’ve never actually tried drinking whisky or really straight alcohol at all but it wasn’t bad. Mostly we just enjoyed the atmosphere-it’s super quiet and relaxing. The bartender let us smell a bunch of different bottles and made recommendations for us to try.

Last week, my friend Carol got tickets to an NHL game. I’ve never watched hockey in my life so when she asked me to go I was all “Sure, why not?”. Carol’s Chinese but her new husband is Canadian and now she’s on a mission to learn how to be Canadian 🙂 Neither one of us knew anything about the game but since it was Calgary vs. Boston we decided she’d cheer for Canada and I would cheer for USA (who won, btw!). Mostly we just had fun people watching. The goal of playing in China was to get Chinese audiences interested in the game before the next Olympics come to Beijing, so the organizers made a point of explaining the rules first since a lot of the viewers were new to the game. Every time there was a goal or a penalty they would post an explanation of what was going on up on the screen, which was really helpful to us. All sporting events should do this-I might be able to follow them!

Then this weekend Jess and I took our apple booth money and went to Tianjin. Tianjin is not far from Beijing-only about half and hour by high-speed train. Actually it took longer to get to and from the train stations than to take the actual train. Tianjin is a major city in its own right though; established in the 15th century, it’s the fourth-largest city in China with 13 million people. It just sort of sprawls along the Hai River to the coast, running into the newer city of Binhai. The library we wanted to see is actually in Binhai but we enjoyed exploring both cities. We found this cute park close to our hotel. There’s actually a lake in the middle but you can’t see any water because it’s completely covered with lotuses-thick enough to walk on.

The cities seem distinctly different despite being so close together. A lot of the buildings in Tianjin and Binhai are more European than the traditional Chinese style of Beijing. In some ways they feel more modern. The people, not so much. We get stared at all the time in Beijing and have more or less become accustomed to it, annoying as it is. Beijing has thousands of foreigners though so we’re not really such a strange sight. Tianjin, though, was awful. People would stop and gawk at us constantly, old people, children, one girl, about seven, walked up to our table in the coffee shop and stood about six inches away, just staring. I wanted to leave my backpack in a locker instead of carrying it around the library. The lockers were automated; you scan a code with your WeChat (WeChat is basically the only app in China), pay with your phone, and the locker opens. The app was entirely in Chinese but not that difficult to figure out, just took a few minutes. The whole time we’re standing there trying to use the app, this family gathers around us and starts staring. When the locker finally popped open they all gasp and start oohing and aahing like they were watching some kind of performance. It’s enough to make me want to scream sometimes.

The library was spectacular though. It’s known for the giant atrium with a sculpted sphere in the center, surrounded by stairs lined with books. Well, pictures of books-the atrium wasn’t approved by officials to house actual books. But surrounding the atrium is a five story library that houses 1.2 million books and people can bring them down to read on the steps. There are also several quiet study rooms.


The Tianjin-Binhai Library is well worth the trip just to ogle at the architecture and people-watch.


This Binhai skyscraper in progress looks like a rocket!

The ancient Culture Street in the center of Tianjin was an enjoyable way to spend a couple hours. To be honest, the street food may have been the biggest draw. Tianjin is home to my favorite street food-jingbing, an eggy crepe folded around a crispy wonton with spices and sauce.


After strolling around the culture street, we found the Tianjin Eye, a giant ferris wheel built atop one of the many bridges crisscrossing the river. It towers above everything around it and takes about half an hour to make a rotation. We were up higher than the apartment buildings surrounding us!


After dinner, we came back to take in the sunset views and see the riverfront all lit up at night.

Jess had read up on the nightlife and found that the Astor Hotel had a speakeasy type bar, called O’Hara’s, with drinks and jazz. It’s really tucked away so you have to ask away and the front desk clerk led us to a back hallway and showed us in. Their drinks were great and the atmosphere is cozy. We were too exhausted to stay and wait for the music to start but I want to go back, hopefully next month.

All in all, I’m mad I haven’t made time to go to Tianjin before now! It’s so close and such a nice change to be out of Beijing.

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