My lasting impression from my visit to Tianjin, China’s fourth largest city, is how big it is. Even locals don’t know their way around the entire city, at least according to Chen Ying Jiu, my guide; a young woman who speaks halting English.
Tianjin has a population of a whopping 14 million.
On my visit, after a brief stay in Beijing, I headed to Tianjin on the high-speed train. It is a 45-minute ride to Tianjin, over 130km away. Upon disembarking, I saw a man buying stir-fried frogs to eat. He understood my curiosity and he spoke to me in English. “Trust me, they are our very best.” I could not hide my disgust.
I met my guide and we boarded a bus and paid two yuan (about $0.3)) to the Olympic Stadium bus station in Nankai District, the most developed district in Tianjin. The city is well-structured and designed.
A 15-minute walk along the Lingbin Road got us to Jin Ao Hotel. Across the road is the Ling Ao shichang (market), where seafood is sold. From crabs to frogs, the Chinese culinary options are diverse.
Tianjin’s flat topography enables one to see all the way to the horizon — all the city’s buildings, parks and roads in a clean, unpolluted environment.
It was winter, and the city was gloomy and overcast. The leafless trees give the impression that I was in a desert.
The efforts that the Chinese have made to build their country into an economic juggernaut are clearly visible. What is more impressive, is how futuristic they are in their intentions. For instance, ordinary motorcycles are banned (even as they export them to Africa in large numbers). Instead, they use electric motorcycles and bicycles to safeguard their environment from pollution.
Tianjin is a direct controlled municipality. That means that the government controls essential services like transport, and owns a huge stake in the sector. Public transport is affordable: For short distances one pays 2-4 yuan ($0.3-0.6). Both buses and trains are clean and comfortable.
The buses are built like theatres; the middle seats are at the walls; those at the back are raised giving it a look of an academic lecture hall. The taxis are blue and prices are determined by the fare calculator.
The roads are installed with surveillance cameras that have tamed crime to almost negligible levels. Obeying traffic lights is the standard practice.
The preferred means of transport is the subway.
I visited Tianjin Towers, the tallest building in the city. Locally they call it Tianta (Tian is sky and ta is a pillar). At 337m tall, the building has 72 floors above the ground and four below. It serves as a point of reference for the city and is the only steel-only-walled building in the world, according to the brochures. The tower has a sightseeing hall at 308 metres, and offers visitors a 360 degree view of Tianjin. The sheer vastness and orderliness is breathtaking.
Another attraction is in Nankai District — the Shuishang Park, the largest water park in Tianjin. It has nine islands and three lakes, pathways, pagodas and gardens. The park occupies 100 hectares. The city has numerous parks for boat riding.
I had seen part of the Great Wall of China when in Beijing: The Jixian Huangyaguan section at Tianjin is steep and has 41km of the total 21,000km of Wall.
To my taste buds, Chinese food is generally bland; their food is greasy and they use too much garlic. Stomach upsets are common for first time visitors. In Tianjin, I had the Kung Pao — chicken with carrots, peanuts, cucumber and rice. The Tianjin version is not as good as that served in Sichuan province.
One of the noticeable things in China is the absence of established religion. While Buddhism is the religion of choice, my guide tells me it is illegal. You need to show your passport in order to enter a church; most churches are merely tourist attractions.
At Binjiandao, there is a small Adventist church but sermons are conducted in Chinese; there is an interpreter for visitors.
The Chinese could do with a stronger anti-smoking law. Non-smokers suffer at crowded places such as the market.
The city has no slums as during winter every house must have water and electricity. Perhaps if Africa suffered more extreme weather, the continent would be better developed.
And not to be left out, US franchises from McDonalds to fashion houses can also be found on the streets.