I biked around Tianjin for about 6 hours with some fellow foreigners today. One of them had been on a bike tour of the city before, and she led us to a lot of interesting places. Tianjin has some important modern history, particularly as it involved Western powers. My favourites were the former residence of Eric Liddell (the Chariots of Fire guy), and a public park where on Saturdays with good weather a couple hundred parents post their child’s stats on papers hung on lines between branches and shop around for potential spouses-in-law. There was also an old abandoned church building with a very old woman outside making bricks (we guess). We didn’t get much information from her, but she says the church was in use in the 1960’s.
Eric Liddell’s house
If you’ve seen Chariots of Fire, then you know that Eric Liddell was the Olympic athlete from Scotland who gave up competing in his best event (100m) at the Paris Games in 1924 because the heats were held on a Sunday, which was his Sabbath. What the movie doesn’t tell you is that he was born in Tianjin, returned to Tianjin four years after breaking the world record to win gold (400m) and bronze (200m) in Paris, and died in a Japanese concentration camp after they took over the station where he was working among the poor. His story is worth a quick read, and a recent biography has been published about him in advance of the Beijing Olympics (you can read the forward here, provided by a site commemorating those who experienced the Weihsien Concentration Camp). Like many historical sites in Tianjin, this one is locked up and left to rot. There’s even some company’s giant (disused) neon advertising sign running down the front of the house. Still, for some reason visiting historical places like this matters to me. I’m not sure why.
This was amazing. We stopped at a park for lunch. There were crowds all over the park looking at pieces of paper hung from lines on trees, or on people’s bike baskets. The four of us went over to see what was up, and it turns out that each piece of paper was basically a description of an unmarried person’s health, education, etc. The place was crawling with parents and grandparents looking to find their child a spouse. The girls I was with have much better Chinese (one has three years of fulltime study), and a friendly crowd quickly formed when they started talking and asking questions. Someone asked me something about me looking for a wife, and I said (in Mandarin), “No, I still have a wife,” emphasis on the still. I meant to say, “I already have a wife,” but oh well! After a bit we excused ourselves to go have lunch in the shade under a tree, and had an interesting discussion trying to imagine how we’d feel if our parents tried that (I was the only married one of the bunch).
We saw a lot of other stuff – the old drum tower in the centre of the city, former foreign concession areas (each with their own distinct architecture), a bunch of old men in speedos swimming in the river, among other things. Speedo picture by request. Click here to see more photos from today.
Weekend Slogan #6
The workers who’ve lived in the big green tent below our window are finished installing some new water pipes, so our water pressure is increased slightly, their tent is packed up, and there are at least three new red banners outside our gate. Here’s one:
yíng ào yùn jiǎng wén míng, shù xīn fēng, ràng nín mǎn yì zài gòng shuǐ!
“Welcome the Olympic Games, pay attention to good behaviour, build a new atmosphere, be satisfied with the water (that the government gave you)!”
My teacher says the part about the government is implied, and the “good behaviour” part means no spitting or littering, etc.
Unfortunately, the work crew who posted these new banners (and their tent) was replaced by another one the next morning, which probably means weeks or months more construction under our window. But who knows, maybe we’ll get enough water pressure to make the gas water heater work!