This year, I have been tutoring an adorable Chinese four year old, helping her with her English classes and playing fun games. It has been an amazing opportunity to get to know a local family, who have now basically adopted me – they really are the loveliest people I’ve ever met!
It’s coming up to the end of the Chinese New Year holiday, and they very kindly offered to take me travelling with them to visit their restaurant in Tianjin, a coastal city near Beijing. Most famous for a huge explosion in a Chemical storage facility in 2015, Tianjin is none-the-less an interesting place to visit as a tourist. There are several museums, temples, parks and shopping streets – plenty to occupy you for a couple of days.
I spent most of the time visiting my Chinese family’s amazing restaurant on the outskirts of the city, which specialises in seafood – absolutely delicious! It was also beautifully decorated with water features and pools. I mostly entertained Doris while her parents were dealing with business matters, playing fun games with her and her cousin. However, some days the family took me to visit local attractions, including Guwenhua Jie (an ancient style culture street), Florentia Village and a beach.
This street was actually built in 1986 but replicates the ancient architectural styles of the local area during the Qing dynasty. There are a huge range of shops, most specialising in the typical “tourist tat” but also stores selling local artwork, embroidery and jewellery. Of course, this being China, there was also loads of food shops and stalls! My Chinese family introduced me to a local delicacy called 麻花 (ma hua) – crispy fried dough twists cooked in sesame oil. Although probably a rather touristified shopping street it was really lovely to wander around and see the local specialities, and worth a visit if you’re in the area and want a bit of retail therapy, Chinese style.
Florentia Village is an Italian style town rather unique in China due to actually being designed by an Italian developer rather than the usual “fake towns” with replicas of famous landmarks from elsewhere in the world. Still though, it was quite surreal to visit – with designer stores selling Gucci and Prada set among fountains and pristine Italian style buildings. Apparently, it is quite common for Chinese couples to visit places like this for wedding photos as a prelude to their European honeymoon – a slightly bizarre idea to us perhaps, but I guess a cheaper way of getting those essential holiday shots to show off at the wedding without actually having to splash out on a plane ticket! They also had an adorable little train going around the village perfect for little Doris to play on!
I have to admit, when thinking of my ideal beach holiday China isn’t usually one of the first places that comes to mind, and it can certainly be said that visiting the beach in Tianjin was somewhat different to the beach holidays I enjoyed as a kid in England. Firstly, you usually have to pay to visit the beach, yet they didn’t seem to be spending that money on maintaining the area judging by the odd bits of rubbish scattered around. Luckily travelling with a local meant they knew all the tricks, and it was a quick drive around the corner to a gap in the fence! A rather hair-raising climb through the fence, over a wall and scrambling around the rocks later we were at the beach. It was wonderful to see the sea again and breath in that fresh seaside air! Unfortunately the locals seemed a little cautious about actually playing on the beach – perhaps over concerns about children eating the dirty sand? Doris and I ran up and down the sea wall and dug our toes into the sand by the waters edge for a short while, before we had to head back as it was getting dark.