Before & After: Tianjin’s transformation at ground level

The Olympics are coming. The world will focus it’s media on Beijing, Tianjin, and Qingdao. You can’t walk these streets and forget these facts. It seems like the city skyline is changing overnight. Construction literally goes around the clock, and it seems like there are half-built high-rises and cranes in every direction you look. But changes are happening on the ground as well, in the side-streets and alleys and street corners: street markets are on the way out.

These photos (above and below) were taken roughly a week apart, from the lane near the JHF office that used to be a market street. It’s the first clean up that we’ve personally witnessed since we’ve been here. The rubble was laid where people’s carts used to be. Now there’re only two or three bicycle repair guys left for the whole street. About a week after these photos, they started digging trenches and laying pipes. We don’t know for what yet (fire hydrants?), but while apartment hunting this last week we noticed legions of migrant workers digging trenches and laying pipes in several neighbourhoods in our district.

Street food vendors and street markets are some of the things we and a lot of other foreigners love about Tianjin. We loved that about Taipei, too. Aside from being so convenient and cheap, these things (to us) seem to give the city much of it’s character, much of it’s “Chinese-ness.” That may or may not be fair, and I know it’s a rather unrefined outsider’s perspective, but neighbourhood street markets and night markets are part of what many foreigners who live here love about China.

Maybe if we’d grown up with unregulated markets crowding the streets of our own neighbourhoods, and if we associated such things with the old, poorer way of life that we’re determined to leave behind as we rush headlong into the wanton consumerism enjoyed by the West, we’d feel differently. I don’t know.

But the Olympics are coming. So that, together with crime, traffic, and sanitation concerns, are why, we’re told by locals, that street markets are being cleared off.

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