If Dalian was new to me, then Tianjin was a complete unknown. All I “knew” was that it was the port for Beijing and therefore, the last stop of our adventure.
It was a quiet and subdued bunch then, who met for the last ticket-issuing session in the theatre this morning. We’d spent a while packing up our luggage, beginning the process of sorting out everything in preparation for our journey home and yet had a long day ahead of us, in our case, a city tour of Tianjin.
It had been a mystery why, on this last day, the city tour was to last eight and a half hours, especially since we were actually docked in Tianjin. Was there really so very much to see in this place?
As we began the drive from the port, we began to understand why.
The port itself is on a vast area of reclaimed land, some 75km from the city itself. The drive along the highway took us through areas of flat, barren landscape, windswept and bleak without a sign of habitation, apart from wide roads which seemed to lead to nowhere.
Some areas were still being drained and here there were gangs of workers, pumping water, digging and covering the land with polythene. My goodness, what a desolate place this was.
Yet, here and there were vast building projects. Huge tower blocks of condominiums and residential property, out here in the middle of nowhere. Who would live here? Well, for now, no one, because most were empty shells in a landscape of temporary builders’ accommodation and marketing hoardings with names such as “Dream in Mansions”.
Interspersed with the new build tower blocks were rows and rows of containers, stacked by the road. Mmm. Nice outlook!
As if they had found some leftover concrete and felt something needed to be built from it, here and there were huge flyovers, some with traffic but some going nowhere, ending abruptly in mid air. And of course, underneath was the same old windswept earth with the occasional puddle.
We gaped, open mouthed and really couldn’t quite believe the scale of all this development, nor understand the purpose, since there really wasn’t anything anywhere nearby to hint at why someone would come here. Unless of course, they might be persuaded…
Mile after mile, one development after another, this one rather European in style with half-timbered gable ends and a semi-detached appearance to the houses. But still, all empty, incomplete and standing in a wasteland.
Eventually, of course, we reached the outskirts of the city, though the theme of huge building development continued. It appeared that large swathes of the city had been flattened to make way for more tower blocks, posh hotels and swanky corporate headquarters.
Wide streets drew the eye to new, modern bridges and the city’s inhabitants crossed the road at their peril in spite of there being a zebra crossing marked.
Our first stop was the Jing Yuan Garden – not so much of a garden as an historic house.
The house had been the home of Puyi, the Last Emperor (if you’ve seen the film?) after he’d been deposed.
We watched a short film about him and his sad and somewhat tragic life and then looked around the reconstructed rooms. I was more interested in the man himself and the rather touching personal photographs of him and his family.
I was interested to see a pair of his spectacles there in the display too, for as you can see from the photographs, they were part of his very distinctive appearance.
Since most of the furniture in the house was reproduced to enable it to be used for official functions, I didn’t really find much of interest in the layout of the rooms.
I did, however, rather like the distinctive door furniture.
As we were mooching around the house and garden, we could hear music from a loudspeaker and the voices of children, which appeared to come from the school opposite. Of course, we had to investigate, so abandoned Puyi’s home in favour of nosing through the school gates to watch a little rehearsal of a performance by some schoolchildren in a corner of their playground. Very charming it was, too.
(I worry a little about taking photographs of children here, bearing in mind that such behaviour would be frowned on at home, so deliberately left this one in long range. However, like many others, I find it hard to resist capturing the sweet little children dressed in the most cute outfits, especially then their parents appear to be happy to have their children photographed. I’ll keep those pictures private though and apply the same respect I usually do here)
Back in the bus then and another long trip across the city, along wide roads lined with new skyscrapers and more building projects.
The traffic was heavy but kept moving, though in places, was somewhat chaotic,
The rules of the road are open to interpretation – can you believe that the black car there in the middle of the photograph is parked? This was outside the restaurant where we stopped for lunch. Good, recognisable Chinese fare, tasty and hot - and plenty of it, too. There was also the added entertainment of the ladies’ loo, which was of the stoop variety with no lock on the door, a hinge which swung open unless held closed and which, with less than three hands made for “interesting” usage. But, of course, we manage!
Off again, watching the young woman take her life in her hands at this busy junction where no-one really follows convention but rather goes for it in whatever way they can.
We were heading for the Tianjin Yangluiqing Woodblock New Year Pictures Museum next. These are the traditional Chinese artworks which were hung at New Year…hence the name.
Highly symbolic, the most popular design features a baby with a fish (I’ll add links at some point when I have more reliable access to the internet)
Having carved a piece of wood with the design, tracing it from a drawing on paper, the wood block is inked and a piece of rice paper laid over the inked block and pressed down to create a print. The print is then further drawn into with brush and ink before colouring with Chinese watercolours.
This last stage is worked in series, with the printed outlines glued with rice glue to a solid block to prevent warping and buckling whist painting.
We wandered around a while, looking at various displays, but for me, it was the real thing which was the most interesting. Here’s the stacks of woodblocks in storage, each one numbered for reference.
I actually videoed a couple of demonstrations here, rather than took photographs. I’ll upload the videos when I have edited them.
Our next stop was the Tianjin Museum, which was one of a group of buildings set around this modern square, with a large, central pond. I’d say this was more serene and peaceful and a lot less bleak than the photograph suggests, though that could have been as a result of the piped music which was playing over the loudspeakers. It was nearly closing time at the museum, though, so it was a quick whip around.
For me, the star exhibit was this wonderful panel. Sadly, I had no time to find out anything about it, but rest assured, I will. Running the whole length of the wall and measuring about twelve or fifteen inches in height, the detail was immense. These tiny figures were no more than an inch high and the whole panel told a story, of course. Amazing.
There was also a fine example of another traditional art that we’d been advised to look out for – a snuff bottle with a painted image inside the bottle. This one was particularly exquisite.
We had one more scheduled stop to make – at a shopping street in the cultural centre, but we encountered one all too familiar snafu just down the road. School pick up time. Here we were now in the former British enclave (can’t you tell b the buildings?) and every mummy in the city was driving to pick up her little darling and wanted to park as close as possible. Chaos. Getting a bus through here took forever.
In half an hour, we’d barely moved and it was already gone five o’clock. Bearing in mind it was going to take us more than an hour and a half to get back to the ship, that we had packing to do in order to have our suitcases outside our suite by ten this evening, and most important of all, we were looking forward to one last dinner together, we all took a decision to forego the last stop of the day and came right back to the ship.
It was well gone 7pm when we got home and bundled into the dining room for one last dinner with our favourite people. We laughed and enjoyed each others company and were truly demob happy.
We’ve now completed the packing, have just our hand luggage for our transit into Beijing early tomorrow morning and will say a few more goodbyes then. For now, though, it’s the last goodnight from Voyager for a while.
What fun we have had!