Tianjin tourism slogans

Foreigners in China sometimes make lists to help them deal with living cross-culturally. Two fellow language students I knew in Tianjin had a funny CHiPs-inspired list of terms for the various bike riding maneuvers Tianjin traffic routinely required them to execute.

In one of the English classes I used to have to teach in Tianjin, students had to invent tourism slogans for China and Tianjin. One of theirs was “China — source of mystery.” I couldn’t disagree, though I’m guessing the China mysteries they were thinking of and the China mysteries I was routinely encountering weren’t necessarily the same.

So I thought I’d make some of my own tourism slogans. I may have been feeling a touch culture-stressed when I came up with these. :) Tianjin’s big tourism slogan at the time was, “Tianjin — Pearl of the Bohai Sea.”

Tianjin — Touch the sky.
Tianjin — Where the sky feels… lower.
Tianjin — Relax. It’s healthier not to jog.
Tianjin — Where the sun doesn’t hurt your eyes.
Tianjin — Biggest. Construction site. Ever.
Tianjin — 11 million people, one giant construction site.
Tianjin — Where you couldn’t buy a real DVD even if you wanted to.
China — More traffic; less internet.

I’m sure anyone who’s lived in the region can think of many more. What’ve you got?

Recent related stuff & Tianjin photo galleries:

Conspicuously Curvacious Tianjin, China

(Wrote this when we lived in Tianjin, saved it for a rainy day.)

Believe it or not, there actually is a cultural angle to this; it’s not just about ogling scandalous public depictions of women.

Earthquake Memorial
Behold! Tianjin’s public celebration of curvacious (foreign?) women in windswept, soaking wet, clingy dresses who like to pose as if they’re on the cover of trashy women’s fashion magazines– er, I mean– memorial to the Chinese mothers who suffered in the devastating Tangshan earthquake in 1976 that killed over 200,000 people:

I pass this earthquake memorial on Nanjing Rd. every day on my way to work. It’s one of three statues; the other two are what you’d expect: a baby-rescuing soldier and a worker. The exaggerated woman is conspicuously… not so historically accurate.

Ever since I first noticed this memorial I’ve been taking a second look at the public statues I come across. There are statues of women all over town, and except for a larger-than-life soft porn series of Rodin knock-off statues along the HÇŽihé near Liberation Bridge, exceptionally (read: unnaturally) proportioned nudes in the Italian concession area, and a random nude holding a hoolahoop in the middle of a roundabout (no idea what that’s about), most of them aren’t supposed to be sexual, or at least you wouldn’t expect them to be sexual. But– well, you be the judge.

Nankai University
What is the first thing this statue makes you think of?

And be honest; don’t say Moses and the 10 Commandments.

This not-Moses-and-the-10-Commandments statue is at Nankai University.

Tianjin University
This next statue is inside the main entrance of Tianjin University:

It commemorates the school’s centennial anniversary and I assume it’s supposed to be celebrating women’s education, but she’s not only exceptionally — oh what’s the Chinese word… 丰满, it’s also — how can I put this delicately… unnecessarily detailed?

This is the opposite of the Communist statue depictions of women, like at the memorial near Tianjin’s Liberation Bridge (right). Gender equality is part of the message, but equality in the traditional Communist images essentially means desexualization/masculinization, with short hair and form-obscuring army uniforms. Of course, masculinizing women in the name of gender equality certainly isn’t unique to China, and conflicting public images of women are found in Mao-era China, too. (For more about Mao-era depictions of women see: Iron Women and Foxy Ladies.)

Neighbourhood elementary school
Even across the street from our apartment complex, this elementary school teacher (right) has apparently just been swimming in the Haihe, in her clothes.

Sex in China
China sends extreme, conflicting signals about sexuality. I realize that the statues in these photos aren’t necessarily extreme (especially compared to the previously mentioned soft porn statues). But they are examples of sexualization/objectification where you don’t expect it: of earthquake victims, monuments to women’s education/advancement, primary school teachers. What I’m trying to highlight is Tianjin’s seemingly split-personality when it comes to sexuality. Many social norms are still far more conservative than what you’d see or hear in the average the U.S. or Canadian public space, yet at the same time in other areas public sexuality and sexual behaviour seem more liberal and tolerant. Depending on where you look, China can have less or more public sexuality than the post-Sexual Revolution, pornified West.

Our old apartment building had a “massage parlour” on one side and a kindergarten on the other, which was right next to a KTV bar and bathhouse — both with prostitutes — which was down the street from a sex toy shop. And we lived in a pretty nice part of town. It seems like every three or four block radius in residential areas will have at least one sex toy shop and no shortage of places hiding prostitution in plain sight. If I went to the top floor with a sling shot I could probably hit a trashy massage parlour.

But parents and teachers and young couples can’t talk about it. When sex is in the textbooks, teachers often tell the students to read it at home, and it’s never discussed in class. Even in Bright Future classes (the foreigner-led, explicit sex ed initiative at Tianjin University), we’ve seen students often switch to English for uncomfortable words when speaking or writing. (For more about Bright Future see: Sex, drugs, and Tianjin University students.) One of a few big reasons Chinese premarital pregnancy and abortion rates are so high that Chinese non-resident and new immigrant populations skew their host countries’ abortion rates is because old taboos against explicitly acknowledging sexuality and sexual behaviour hinder attempts to directly address or educate regarding those behaviours. In other words: people are kept dangerously ignorant about sexual basics, they aren’t called out on their flagrant, irresponsible behaviour, and (girls especially) lack options, skills and vocabulary for resisting when pressured for sex they don’t want to have.

It makes sense to me that these extremes of flagrant behaviour and non-acknowledgement — of sexualizing earthquake memorials and elementary school teachers but avoiding sex ed in the home and classroom — counter-intuitively exist side-by-side, but it’s still sometimes surprising to see them in close contrast.

More about sexuality in China:

The Great Chinese Airpocalypse of Jan. 2013

(I insist you play this song while viewing this post.)

Our super-fast train back to Qingdao slithers out of the white muck
at the Tianjin South Station on Monday around 2pm.

One of the reasons we left Tianjin for Qingdao was the air pollution. It’s not that Qingdao’s air is good — it’s just not as apocalyptic (though labeling 175 “lightly polluted” is borderline Orwellian).

But in a curious and unhealthy twist of fate, we were visiting friends in Tianjin (30min fast train ride from Beijing) on the weekend of China’s recent Airpocalypse, when the API clocked in at 755 in the Capitol. Previously the API always just maxed out at 500: “Beyond Index”.

On a bad pollution day in Qingdao (API in the 300s) the mountains in the distance are gone. On a bad day in Tianjin, the building across the street looks hazy and the ones down the road gone. API 300 is horrid by North American standards; they’d be canceling outdoor events. But it doesn’t necessarily elicit comments in China, even though you can see it out your window, smell it immediately when you open your door, and, if you spend any time outside, feel it in your throat. The worst we’ve seen so far in Qingdao is mid-400s.

Over 500, however, is just… dystopic. Here’s a shot I took from a Tianjin parking lot during the airpocalypse, around noon:

And here’s a regional API screenshot from the China Air Pollution app:

We’ve done plenty of crying on the blog about the air pollution in China, and the result is a handy collection of links, organized by topic below. My favourites in bold.

Extracting honest numbers from the Chinese government:

Photos & Visuals:

Chinese Air Pollution & Your Health:

Those aren’t Chinese New Year’s fireworks; they’re “recreational munitions”

From Nankai Rob’s Chinese New Year 2012 post “Spring Festival Time. . .Lock and Load“:
“…parties are held on a scale so massive that Caligula would have nodded in approval, and enough recreational munitions are set off to make the Battle of Waterloo feel like a suburban bar mitzvah. You’ll notice my careful word choice here: “recreational munitions” rather than “fireworks.” “Fireworks” as a term carries with it more celebratory, even innocent connotations, but you can’t define Chinese celebratory fireworks by the intent behind them. Certainly they’re set off with great excitement and joy, but you can, after all, also lob a grenade into a dumpster with great excitement and joy, and most of what is being set off these days qualifies for inclusion in the dumpster-grenade category. So: recreational munitions.”

For more about the genuinely stunning Chinese New Year fireworks phenomenon with photos and video, see:

Happy Chinese New Year!

The ChinaHopeLive.net 2011 China photo gallery is up!

Click any of the photos below to see the best of our 2011 China photos. Most were taken in Tianjin, but a few are from Qingdao/Huangdao and Guangzhou.

People, places, food, “food”, Chinglish, traditions, festivals, social issues… basically we took photos of anything we thought looked or represented something interesting.

Captions in the photo gallery provide info and links.

You can browse a list of all our photo galleries in the sidebar of any photo gallery page.

And here’s some beer-in-a-bag… Merry Christmas!

How the U.S. embassy in Beijing stuck it to the Chinese government over air pollution

Every year Beijing’s brutal air quality (and even brutal-er public reporting on it) makes international news. But this year Beijing finds itself with a domestic P.R. problem in which its own citizens are no longer willing to accept the gov’s Orwellian “blue sky days”, “fog” and “light” pollution levels. And a large amount of the credit goes to… the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

From Beijing Air Pollution Brouhaha:
“Since flights at Beijing’s airport have been canceled on any number of occasions over the past two decades because of pollution, why all the attention now?

“Several reasons… But the real catalyst for the current contretemps is the U.S. Embassy. If Beijing citizens were once resigned to living in this alternative state of reality, then that’s no longer the case. The U.S. Embassy has changed the way the game is played. On a daily basis, the embassy tweets data reflecting the real air quality for the area in which the embassy resides. Last Sunday, for example, as NPR reported, the pollution recorded by the embassy hit a level described as “beyond index.” The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection, in contrast, reported the air pollution as “light.””

We’ve got lots of our own stuff on pollution in the Beijing area, including comparison photos. See our Pollution category for everything.

Air with Chinese characteristics is in the news again

Beijing’s air quality is making news rounds again, partly because some Chinese bloggers discovered a company that claims to provide air purification equipment for the homes and offices of government officials, adding clean air to a long list of resented privileges. It’s long been known that Beijing and other local governments drastically downplay the pollution levels to their own populations (see our own comparisons here and here). If you aren’t familiar with the remarkable air pollution situation in Beijing, Tianjin and much of the rest of China, here are three recent articles to catch you up:

  • U.S. Embassy air quality data undercut China’s own assessments
    “Perched atop the U.S. Embassy in Beijing is a device about the size of a microwave oven that spits out hourly rebukes to the Chinese government. One day this month, the reading was so high compared with U.S. standards it was listed as ‘beyond index.’ But China’s own assessment that day was that Beijing’s air was merely ‘slightly polluted.'”
  • The Privileges of China’s Elite Include Purified Air
    “But even in their most addled moments of envy, ordinary Beijingers could take some comfort in the knowledge that the soupy air they breathe on especially polluted days also finds its way into the lungs of the privileged and pampered. Such assumptions, it seems, are not entirely accurate.”
  • ‘Time Is Not Ripe’ for Honest Air Pollution Readings
    “state-run media did little to suggest Beijing was prepared to tackle its air pollution levels, among the worst of the world’s major cities. The state-run Global Times newspaper early this week reported a dense “fog” had descended over the capital. The local government was reporting “slight” pollution levels even as readings by the U.S. Embassy described pollution as “hazardous.””

For more of our crying about how unbelievably brutal the air quality is, with pictures to help you believe (that’s right: we can photograph the air), see our Pollution category, or check out these selected bits: