Joseph got some time off from his job as Journalist at Reuters, and he suggested we take a trip. I was staying with him in Beijing, attending a conference and drinking beer. What to do with a day and a half of freedom? I suggested we go to Tianjin, which is only a half hour train ride from Beijing and also the fourth largest city in China. It has a history of colonialism and imperialism; when the Eight-Nation Alliance fought China in 1900, they invaded Beijing through Tianjin. Every other baozi restaurant I see in Shanxi claims it is made in the Tianjin style. Ten million people live in Tianjin, so I thought, from probability alone, that must mean there is fun shit there!
We got into a taxi from the train station. The driver had no idea where our hotel was, and in between phone calls to the hotel to ask for directions, we asked our driver what we should do in Tianjin.
“这不是玩儿的地方,” he said simply. There’s nothing here for tourists.
“But the baozi are good,” I pressed.
“Eh,” he said.
We got to our hotel, where we had to pay the bill for our room in advance. Joseph pointed out a cabinet full of brightly colored dildos in front of us in the hotel lobby.
“Those are pretty small,” he said.
“Wow!” I said, walking toward the dildos in fascination. Big mistake. A middle-aged Chinese man walked by and grunted approvingly. “Eunggghhhhh,” he said. I immediately jumped away from the dildos.
We first tried to find food. We went to the so-called “Food Street” which turned out to look like a knock-off of a market I went to this summer in Brussels. It also only sold overpriced and pre-packaged foods.
The skyscrapers were plentiful, and the subway system was almost exactly like Beijing’s, except with fewer lines, fewer people, and nicer employees.
Tianjin: Beijing’s younger brother with low self-esteem.
I noticed a restaurant called “Goubuli,” which I’d heard of before. Goubuli is a famous baozi restaurant. Joseph and I went inside, stared at the menu prices, and left.
So we ended up in an area of Tianjin that looks like Christmas in Pittsburgh. We went to a beer garden and drank some good ass Doppelbock like two good foreigners. Then we bought two mugs, a bottle of Snow, which is China’s most popular beer, and drank it on the street. It was 11 p.m. We finished the Snow and decided it was time to call it a night.
We got another taxi back to our sex hotel and asked our new cabdriver what the hell we could do in this town.
He told us, “Go to Goubuli Baozi!”
We were like, “Fuck no! That place is expensive!”
After further prodding, we found out he himself had never even been to Goubuli. We decided that it was a Tianjin gimmick, and we decided to never go there.
Tianjin: Land of Unconvincing Gimmicks.
The next morning Joseph and I tried to go to a sex shop next to our hotel. I barely got a glimpse of some fake breasts before I had to bolt from the store. It smelled like the owners had been eating lots of dairy and not emptying their trash for weeks, and I did not want to vomit on all the dildos.
We then improved our moods by eating what is marketed as a classic Tianjin breakfast, 煎饼果子, jianbingguozi, which is basically a jianbing with youtiao in it. What I mean by that is it is like a savory crepe with delicious spicy bean/fermented tofu sauce, two eggs cracked in it, and two deep-fried delicious breadsticks, wrapped up like a burrito.
Even after we had breakfast, Joseph and I still needed a pick-me-up. The sex shop was a bust, and we couldn’t drink beer at 11 a.m. in the morning. What to do now? We decided, and quite rightly, to bathe ourselves in a bright beam of Communist propaganda!
We went to the Zhou Enlai/Deng Yingchao Memorial Hall. For those of you unfamiliar with your Communist power couples, Zhou Enlai was Chairman Mao’s premier. He went to school in Tianjin, so his memorial was there. Everyone loves Zhou Enlai. When I was young and in Chinese school, I would have to read apocryphal tales about Zhou Enlai offering parachutes to young girls on crashing planes, or how he shook a janitor’s hand and brought warmth and meaning into the man’s life.
One of the best things about the place was the primary documents. I have come to expect forged primary documents in Chinese museums, but this place didn’t even try. For example, the photo below is supposed to be Zhou Enlai’s application and resume to some Japanese school from 1918. The paper was about as crisp as the letter paper in my HP Laserjet printer at home.
At one point, Joseph mentioned that we seemed like we were in a video game, and our mission was to find something interesting to do. Even the subway tickets looked like arcade tokens, round like colored plastic coins. We would stop and ask friendly faces along the way for help. Ultimately, we failed our mission.
Tianjin: ten million people masturbating at home.