22nd June 2016 – Tianjin – 天津
Had nothing planned today, but didn‘t intend to do quite as much nothing as I did. I
spent a while in the morning thinking about where best to go next, and became set on
the idea of taking buses everywhere because it would be cheaper and more interesting.
I‘m sure the ‘interesting‘ aspect would be true enough but, after going to the bus station
to find things out, it appears to be that bus ticket prices are similar to trains anyway.
I then settled on the next best idea, which was to break train journeys between
major cities into smaller sections so, for example, instead of the several hundred miles
from here to Dandong, I can make several stops on the way. The reason for this is two
-fold. Firstly it will hopefully get me to slightly more interesting places (though maybe
I should brave it and catch a bus to somewhere trains can‘t even reach) and secondly
I have a budget of 200RMB a day which I want to remain within even when buying
travel tickets between destinations.
With this in mind I decided to buy a ticket to Huludao, a small coastal city halfway
between here and Dandong, for about 100RMB. However the queue inside the station
was so long that I decided to postpone the task until later. Even with about seven ticket
windows open each line was a good ten or fifteen metres long. At least nobody was
By now it was lunchtime so I returned to the place where I gained the freebies yesterday.
Not that I expected anything else but its good to go somewhere familiar. The
woman serving the dumplings was there and seemed pleased to see me. I bought the
same as yesterday then sat and talked with a man who I presume is the husband of the
woman making the food. I learned that they‘re from Anhui province, some 1000 miles
south of here. He said it‘s in the middle of China but, having checked a map for myself,
I‘d be far more inclined to say it‘s in the east. At it‘s closest point, Anhui is only
about 100 miles from Shanghai, and you really can‘t get any more east than that.
After this I stopped at a shop connected to the bus station, which is right next to the
big open pedestrian area in front of Tianjin train station. I wanted to buy a certain
snack I‘d seen which is apparently a Tianjin speciality. It isn‘t really anything special,
a sort of baked biscuit thing made of dough in long strings twisted up. Imagine a thick
rope –the type you‘d get tying a mid-sized fishing boat to a harbour—then take a fiveinch
piece of it, make it dark brown and biscuit-like, and add a sweet or salty flavour.
Not bad but not a favourite. More interesting to me was the two old women who
worked there. They got talking to me and it quickly became apparent that they had the
strong and indifferent characteristics that only an old person can show without fear of
reprisal. They asked about Britain and my opinion on China‘s leader, Xi Jinping, to
which I said I really had no idea. Their response was that they hate the Chinese government because they don‘t get to vote for anybody. I didn’t know how to really explain that western ‘democracy‘ is a money and media spin-controlled farce, and instead
an agreement was made wherein we both admitted that we love our countries but
not their respective forms of governance. This sort of discussion is surely a little more
dangerous for younger people in China to have. The conversation then became more
tame with the usual questions regarding what I‘m doing, my age, if I‘m married and
the seemingly common suggestion for me to marry a Chinese girl and stay in China.
Interesting really—if a foreigner arrived in the UK solely to find a wife it would be
frowned upon to some extent, yet here I‘m having the idea pushed onto me by men and
women alike! These old ladies are not the first to have suggested such a thing.
Later, and after rethinking my travel ideas once more, I bought my train ticket, but not
to Huludao. I‘m instead going to Qinhuangdao, a different coastal city in the same direction but not quite as far.
Thursday 23rd June 2016
13:30—Tianjin Station 天津站
Currently waiting for my train, the K77 14:48 to Changchun (though I‘m only going a
couple of stops, to Qinhuangdao). The station waiting area is huge and much like that
of an airport with the usual sorts of shops and several huge electronic displays showing
regularly updated information for the trains coming and going over the next 12 hours
or so. The main difference between here and an airport waiting area is the rows and
rows of seating in the majority of the central of the area, which is certainly needed as
there are hundreds of people in here.
One thing I‘ve been rapidly reminded of is the lack of ability to queue in some people
here, particularly older folk. To get into the station there are security checks, including
an X-ray for luggage and frisking for every entrant. The staff manning the security
however are very young, surely only just of employable age, and as such they really
don‘t seem interested in what they‘re doing. There are sub-optimal security checks like
this in every public transport area, including metro and bus stations. When I was entering
the station, a semi-orderly queue had formed but several people walked straight to
the front. Even more strange, in my opinion, is that nobody said anything to them. Chinese people seem to keep quiet about most things that don‘t massively concern them.
Today also I‘m more aware of how many people are noticing me as a foreigner. I
bought some noodles from a small shop between the station and the place I had stayed
at, wherein a table of four slightly grubby looking guys—clearly from out of town—
kept muttering something to do with a ‘foreigner‘ and looking over at me. However it
wasn‘t hostile; merely curiosity. After this I went to a nearby shop to buy snacks for
my journey and was again greeted with surprise when the staff learned I could speak
Chinese with them to a mildly conversant level. Strange since Tianjin is a major city
almost directly next to Beijing, where I‘d have thought a fair few foreign faces can
speak the language. I suppose I should expect a lot more of this kind of reception from
people as I travel into slightly more obscure areas and so this is the last time I shall
mention it, unless it relates to something really out of the ordinary.