Tianjin, China

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
Trip End Aug 10, 2007

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Flag of China  , Tianjin,
Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A couple days after our Dragoman tour ended, Roberta and I decided to take a daytrip from Beijing to Tianjin, said to be China's third largest city after Shanghai and Beijing.  Tianjin is just over an hour by express train from Beijing and has a much less frenetic pace overall than the capital, perhaps a legacy of its days as an old concession port city controlled by the European powers during the late 1800s, along with much historic western style architecture in the city center.

By and large, though, Tianjin is a city of new skyscrapers and an enormous amount of construction, especially infrastructure projects - several new bridges across the river, at least one new skyscraper under construction for every one that's been completed, and massive expressway projects with huge spaghetti-junctionlike interchanges, and a main train station closed for renovation with all trains diverted to a temporary one far out in the 'burbs.  The Chinese government is supposedly trying to develop Tianjin into a northern financial center to some day compete with Shanghai.

Chinese trains are still quite perplexing to me.  It wasn't difficult to buy a ticket to Tianjin, but it wasn't possible to buy a round-trip ticket.  So, when Roberta and I got back to the station (the temporary one way out in the 'burbs) to head back to Beijing, we found out all tickets were sold out for the day.  Of course, we could have bought two at inflated prices (and maybe pay $10 instead of $6) from the numerous scalpers working the crowd but instead decided to take up the offer of a taxi driver who approached us -  60 Yuan ($8) per person for four people in the taxi to travel the 80 miles back to Beijing. 

Chinese drivers seem to drive their cars in the same type of free for all people ride bicycles.  They treat lines in the road and street signs more like suggestions than rules as they weave all over the road, overtake into oncoming traffic or use the right shoulder to pass, and alternate between top speed whenever there's an opportunity between the periods of slow going when surrounded by vehicle, bike, and foot traffic.  I never expected we'd be in for such a wild ride, swerving around bicycles and motorcycles at top speed, passing through red lights at intersections, hitting 160 km/hr on an open stretch of expressway, and passing trucks on the right shoulder at 120 km/hr.  I think I used up another one of my nine lives that evening on the way back to Beijing.
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