On Dry Land Again

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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What I did
Shi Family Mansion
Antique Market Street
Food Street

Flag of China  , Tianjin Shi,
Friday, June 17, 2011

Chinese currency is Yuan or RMB $1, = 6.48 yuan.

Tianjin Population: 42 million!

In Tanggu we walked off the boat through customs and immigration in a flash. This port of entry is not very busy. Taxi drivers acosted us as soon as we exited the building and yelled after us that the buses are all broken. Then we crossed the big and mostly empty parking lot to the bus stop on the main road in front of the port building to catch the bus into Tianjin. We had gotten the lady at the ship's information desk to write instructions in Chinese. The bus was waiting and there were plenty of seats. We passed a beautifully groomed pedestrian walkway along the water front with planters and wildly imaginative buildings, artwork and venues.

At Wai Tan Station the bus driver pointed us to our next bus #621  that just pulled up. This one was packed but Michelle was lucky and found an empty seat near the front. She didn't bother to take off her pack...where would she have put it? So she sat on edge of the seat figuring she could endure for 50 km. After all how long could 50 km take? After about 20 min Michelle rear-end got so numb she feared sliding off the seat. It seemed every block had a bus-stop...this was going to be a LONG ride. The in-your face conversations people around us were having, either with each other or on the phone, sounded as if they were agitated. 

Outside, the suburbs blended into each other, attractive high rises sprouting up like mushrooms and new building projects were in process everywhere we looked. The old hutongs and cement block apartment buildings torn down and replaced by wider roads, high rises and up-scale department stores. Our ride turned out to take 2.5hrs. The 50 kilometer journey cost just 7.5 RMB each total (about $1.15) The bus ended at the Tianjin main train station. There we could have hopped on bus 5 to take us closer to our hotel but we figured the taxi would be cheap and easy.

The cab drivers at the Tianjin station are snakes and quoted us outrageous fees to take us the 2 km to our hotel. None would take us at the meter rate (8 RMB). We were annoyed so we walked to the main road where we hoped to get an honest driver who would use the meter. No luck. A tall Chinese engineering student asked to help us and walked us over the bridge in the direction of our hotel. His English wasn't bad. In the course of our conversation, he said we are the first foreigners he has actually spoken with. His sense of direction was a bit off as he sent us over the wrong bridge. It was a long sweaty hike to get to our hotel. We estimated we walked 3km. It was a nice hike along the river with great views of an impressive skyline. Since we had relaxed most of the day on board, we concluded that getting this bit of unplanned exercise was not going to kill us.

Dave had booked the LP recommended hotel on orangehotels.com.cn. The site is in Chinese so it was a bit dicey guessing what the booking steps were. But with google translate, we had a confirmed booking at 25% off the rack rate! On arrival, the smiling staff of the contempory hotel was a bit confused by our reservation until they figured out Dave had booked the wrong day. Our reservation began the following day. He also had booked a single room with just a small bed. No worries. They gave us a double at the internet rate. We were happy. The room had no window but was great. The darkness allowed us to sleep like babies. The AC blew arctic air.

A pet goldfish 'Lilly' kept an eye on things in our room. Free wifi, flat screen cable TV and a great shower at $36 is not the cheapest but the Orange is simple, well located, very modern and comfortable. A rubics cube in the room had a note stating that we could get a free cup of coffee in the lobby by presenting the solved cube to the front desk. No free coffee for us :(

We are amazed at the huge skyscrapers and how life has changed for the Chinese people, not just since we visited in the 1990's but also since our last short visit in 2006. The newly built huge apartment towers actually have some charm with different heights and stylish rooflines a much more pleasant sight than the cement blocks from a few years back. I'm sure we don't have to go far off the beaten track to find "the old China" again though. Everyone has cell phones like in Japan and are engrossed by them, not paying attention to anything else.

Hotpot is the most common cuisine in Tianjin and we fell in to a simple looking place with a smurky teenage waiter who said 'méiyǒu' (we don't have any) to most our request as we pointed to the picture menu. Finally, we gave up and took his recommendation. We wore the bibs they provided but made a mess of everything anyway. And the hotpot was delicious compared to the swill they served on the ferry. We are so spoiled aren't we? 

The next day we woke just in time (9AM) to get the 10 RMB ($1.50) breakfast at the hotel; the rice gruel, a vegetable sandwich, hard boiled egg (so hard I almost broke my teeth on it) banana and a glass of juice or milk. The Orange draws a clientele of twenty something singles and young couples. They are  young, and very hip, have enough disposable income to visit the big city and stay in a decent hotel.

Our computer blacked out again. We have been having an intermittent problem with the display going out when we grabbed the left side to move it. And we could cause the fail by pushing on it next to the touch pad. We would reboot and the display would work fine again. But this time nothing worked. We did not bother replacing the computer in the USA because we were going to China! 90 percent of the world's PC's are made there, aren't they? They must be cheap as dirt here. NO WAY! With the devaluation of the dollar, and high taxes, they run 30 to 40% more than at home. A big gap even with negotiations. An off-brand low end local model is more than China made name brands are in the States. Apple is really popular and the Chinese are snapping authentic Apple products at a nice premium. It was great fun to explore the electronics mall. But except for common connectors and the like, these markets are no longer a bargain. And it is getting harder to find the cheaply made copies.

Eventually, the computer woke up again and was usable. But now were scared. We ran and system back up and took the computer to the "HP" store in the mall. We explained the problem using baidu translate on the stores computer. (Jason had turned us on to google translate trick in Mexico). The next day we got a call that they would fix it for 500 RMB ($77), with a 30 day warranty.
After we got a call that computer was ready, we taxied over and with one push next to the touch pad, the display went bonkers. Next day we went back again and they explained we had a difficult problem and the sure way to repair it was to replace the motherboard at 1000 RMB. Again we said 'okay' and were told it would be ready by end of business the next day, if the replacement motherboard arrived in time. The next day the motherboard was confirmed to be unavailable for another two days, at best. We wanted to move on from Tianjin and decided to pick the computer up without the repair. But we arrived and were given stall tactics. Finally we walked to the repair station to find the computer completely disassembled on on the bench. They had their best guy looking at it. They wanted another two hours to try another fix. We said okay and this time, he put the motherboard in a fixture and applied a heater to one of the components. The solder reflowed, and 'voila', where ever the bad connection was, it wasn't there now. This fix worked and we couldn't make the computer fail again. We will keep the computer backed up and keep an eye out for a replacement computer, just in case.

We spent a week in Tiinjin, a few days to explore the city and re-orient to China again, and then a few extra days waiting for the computer repair. There is not much in Tianjin for a tourist, but they have miles of modern outdoor shopping malls, Old Town, Ancient Culture Street, Antique Market Street, Food Street, and just outside of Tainjin is the 'Shi Family Residence' that we planned to visit.


Antique town is a kilometer from the Orange and the traditional style buildings there are a sharp contrast to modern Tianjin. Michelle found a shop with a back room full of knock-off fake products. The little daypack she decided on wasn't in the hidden room but it was interesting to confirm this stuff is still going on.

Food Street is worth just one visit. Dozens of restaurants and snack shops are enclosed in the two story mall. There are loads of stalls with knick-knackery too. Chinese tour groups were filing through behind their flag toting guides. We took a few minutes to watch the Sugarman make a lion shaped candy. 

We had the hotel clerk tell us how to take the bus to the Shi Family Residence located outside of Tianjin in the suburb of Yangliuqing. He said we could not take a bus all the way. We would need to take a bus 623 all the way to is end and, from there, a short taxi ride. LP has bus instructions from the center of town but we erroneously believed our hotel clerk knew the best way from his hotel. 

We soon were waiting for a bus that never seemed to arrive. We must have waited an hour in the hot sun before the bus finally lumbered around the corner. It was air conditioned and only 2 yuan! Standing room only. After a few stops, we got lucky and were able to sit. Thirty stops later, or so it seemed, we were in special economic development zones with newer looking factories and massive worker dormitories...in the middle of nowhere. Eventually we got to the end station as recommended and looked for taxi. No taxies were waiting. A few drove by but they already had passengers. Finally a taxi came by and picked us up. The driver made a face when he saw where we wanted to go, like 'what are you doing here if you want to go there?.... He drove us there though, is was still quite a ways. Just a few blocks before we arrived, our driver pointed out where we should catch a bus when we want to get back to Tianjin. We can take the bus the entire way.

At the Shi Residence, the ticket office lady sold us tickets and directed us to the entry gate. We walked around to the entry gate and the same lady was there to punch our tickets, like she had never seen us before! It was not busy and there were only a handful of Chinese tourists.

The Shi family was one of Tianjin's eight grand families in the end of Qing dynasty. Shi was rich and depended on shipping. He settled down in Yangliuqing in Emperor Qianlong of Qing dynasty then bought lots of fields and became a big landlord. In 1823, the Shi family divided into four parts. This residence is the fourth part. 'Shi Family Residence' was built in 1875. It consists of several courtyards, 278 rooms and a theater. 

We explored the various rooms behind walls of the mini-city. Most of the residence does not appear 'restored' to original condition but instead seemed to have been rebuilt with modern materials to resemble the original. Some bedrooms were set up with furniture and the theater was complete with chairs. We saw Filial paintings as well as some others that had story-boards posted below. One told of a filial (Dave had to look this word up) son so connected to his mother when she 'bited' her finger, the son knew to come home. All the stories were strange and, when combined with clumsy translations, comical.

We saw enough to get a good idea of how life must have been for the Shi's and the peasants who supported the lifestyle.
We had a difficult time finding the right bus stand because we did come back the way the taxi driver drove. But we spotted the bus number that lonely planet recommended and soon we were lumbering down the road in a rickity bus back to Tianjin. It was also a slow one but we relaxed and watched life go by out the window of the bus. Once we got to our neighborhood, we jumped in a cab to take us the final few blocks. It seems the snake taxi drivers hang at the bus station and the legit drivers work the street. We never had a problem getting the drivers to use the meter once we got away from the train station.

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