Wednesday, April 3, 2013

[TIANJIN] The Little Italian Tourist Trap

Fine, let's not be unfair to Tianjin. I guess it was just wrong for me to imagine a romanticized afternoon enjoying pizza at a balcony in a make shift Venice. And so I suggest that you do not go to Little Italy with an empty stomach. You go there to take pictures of the place and yourself. You eat somewhere else. Plain and simple. Do not get me wrong though, as Tianjin, to me, is part of my cheat day. Hence, I did everything in a leisurely pace, because sometimes the best itinerary is not having one at all.

So, what cheat day are we talking about here? It is just that, when I visit a place like Datong, which was awesome by the way but still developing and not yet a metropolis, I tend to miss the convenience of city life and anything that reminds me of it. Skyscrapers. An extensive light rail system. Starbucks. Sometimes you just get used to those things and somehow they help alleviate your homesickness. That was exactly what Tianjin did, which is probably the only thing it could have done, for you see, Tianjin's main tourist draw are its colonial buildings. They are cool to look at, but my attention span is unfortunately short.

If you have been to Shanghai then you might be familiar with what they call the French Concession, a fancy district that makes it look as though you have entered the twilight zone and ended up in a little village in France. Well, surprise! Not to be outdone, Tianjin took it to the next level. Not only does it have a French concession. Oh no. It has one for most of the European colonial powers of the day: Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, Austro-Hungarian. Heck, even Belgian. If architecture is a passion of yours, Tianjin will kill you with bliss.

The mentioned European powers maintained their own sections of this big patch of land by the Bohai Sea and when it was time for them to be returned to China, what was left were the buildings following the style prevalent in their respective European owners' lands during that time. The French built many chateaux. The Russians splurged on domes. It's the Italians, though, who seemed to really passed the test of time, for their bit of land is now considered the prime attraction of the area, even meriting its own space in traffic destination billboards.

Known as Little Italy Town to some, the former Italian concession proves to be very popular nowadays for tourists and wedding pre-nuptial photo shoots alike. Those two groups are who you'll probably run into when you're in town for a visit. I wasn't able to ask around if the buildings are really from back then or if they're just capitalizing on past grandeur and just constructed those recently and pretended they were vintage. In any case, the main objective, which is to make you believe as if you were in Europe, is easily achieved. I must know because I badly wanted to hop on a plane to Rome after imbibing all the Italian vibe of the place.

But of course you mustn't forget that this isn't the real thing. The spell is quickly broken once the Chinese running the establishments reply to you with "Shenme?" and a matching puzzled expression on their faces after you greet them with "Si parla italiano quì?". Once you reach that point, you realize that you are hungry, if you have not eaten anything prior to that trip, that is. And then you also realize that a plate of carbonara will set you back almost a hundred renminbi. Suddenly, you also feel that you are in Europe because of the price.

Being the cheapskate that I am, well can you really blame me? I understand that the food here would be legit and true to Italian traditions, but so is the food at Amici, whose carbonara would only cost the equivalent of 30 yuan and tastes just as authentic, at least according to a friend who has had a taste of pasta in Italy for comparison's sake. But then again, Amici is in Manila. We are in Tianjin after all, lest I forget.

Aside from the establishments which are mostly selling food, you'll also find a small piazza, a church next to a tall bell tower, fountains here and there, and some oddballs thrown into the mix such as a Thai restaurant and a Mickey Mouse mascot, at least when I was there. What Mickey Mouse has to do with Italy, I have no clue. Once you get over your Italian fascination, it's time to take a stroll along the Haihe. Allot around two hours for this. As long as the temperature isn't freezing, every stroll you take along  the river is bound to be lovely.

It is a good thing that the river does not smell and it is teeming with activity, too. Locals fishing and chatting by the riverside is common. The banks of the Haihe have been converted into paved areas that serve as parks, meaning there really is no imminent danger of falling into it unless you intentionally do so. Your eyes will also be busy because you will be crossing streets connecting roads from one side of the river to the other. Circulation can be busy at times, and the last thing you want to do is get hit by a speeding car and fall into the river afterwards. No need for such masochism!

The building that really left an impression was what seemed to be a Gothic style church. And I dare use the term Gothic as if I knew what it meant in terms of architectural style! Well, let's just say that it looked scary enough as if a gargoyle would fly out anytime and attack you. The contrast developed with the peacefulness of the river makes a good match between the two. As it was quite windy that day, I also saw a couple flying a kite over the church. Cute.

There is more to see depending on how observant you are but everything will be dwarfed by Tianjin's Ferris wheel. The Tianjin Eye is said to be the only tourist attraction of its kind to be attached directly on a bridge. That is its claim to fame. Fine. They say it takes forty minutes to complete one revolution. The price is a bit steep, though. I forgot how much, but given how big a fan I am of doing nothing and not having a fixed itinerary for that day which meant a lot of free time, it must have been expensive for me to not even consider falling for that tourist trap.

My phone's batteries died right after taking a photo and a video clip of that thing. Come to think of it, perhaps that was the reason? No documentation, no fun? Anyway, I attempted to walk all the way back to the hostel for lack of better things to do but eventually succumbed to the temptation of riding a bus. And that was Tianjin for me. Short and sweet.

[TIANJIN] The Little Italian Tourist Trap

2 creature(s) gave a damn:

Unknown said...

So so true. I wonder if it's ever possible as a Tourist to get a sense of what it's truly like to live in a town, warts-and-all. I suspect not.

ihcahieh said...

@Jessica Gatto - Haha, you have a point.

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