Trade City

It’s very hard to explain what Tianjin is like, especially because using phrases like ‘a bewildering mix of new and old’ sounds like a line from a very cringey guidebook or a stuck-up gap year kid’s blog…

Saturday, I went on a 3 mile walk from where I live, along the river, up to the central train station. On the walk we walked past the main food market, the basic design and energy of which probably hasn’t changed for centuries, given this port city’s long history of trade. Next we walked past the former colonial concession areas, given to European countries after the second opium war, complete with embassies and churches. The war forcefully opened China up to foreign trade in 1860. The last European concession was abolished the same year communist revolution took place (1949). Although home grown, it used ideas imported from a German philosopher. Memories of this revolution stood in the middle of the colonial area in the form of a civil war memorial. Finally, the 21st century, with China’s mass trade with the rest of the world and the growth of Tianjin to the 4th biggest city in China was echoed in the final leg of the walk, nearing the centre of town, covered in sparkly skyscrapers.

Tianjin Foreign languages School

This is me. Tianjin Foreign Languages School. I teach about 350 of the 2000 students. The 13-14 year olds (hooray for puberty!).

The students are definitely much harder workers than in the UK, with a starting time of 7:30 am (yes, that means I start then too) and a finishing time of about 7 pm in the senior school. They also stop and bow every time they see a teacher in the corridor and say ‘Nihau Lau shi’, or ‘Hello teacher’, when it’s me. The chopsticks in the cafeteria are a bit of a novelty, and so is the pleasant orchestral theme that’s played instead of an obnoxiously loud bell at the start of every lesson. Finally, the mass synchronised exercises the students do (still working on getting a photo of this) during the breaks are very different from the games of ‘it’ that I’m used to.

Other than that, it looks, feels and sounds probably exactly like every other secondary school on the planet. The boys still refuse to sit next to the girls. Loud students still groan when you move them to sit apart from their friends. And the word homework is still met with a groan.


Every time I walk into town I walk over this bridge. Most days it looks like the first, but the odd day after a rain-storm you can actually see as far as the ‘Tianjin Eye’ from where I am (the circular thing in the middle of the photo, which is indeed a knock-off the London eye).

Smog isn’t just a problem in Beijing, which gets most of the media attention. 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China and only 1% of the country’s city dwellers consistently breathe air considered safe by the EU.

The air pollution is caused by a combination of: an over-reliance on coal, heavy industry in cities, vehicle emissions and sand storms from inner Mongolia. Coal, the main culprit, is the world’s cheapest and dirtiest fossil fuel. For China, it is also the most abundantly available locally, so obviously preferable to reliance on Russian or the Middle Eastern gas or oil.

Recent legislation has attempted to curb pollution. It is now compulsory to install desulphurising facilities at power plants, and there is some control of the amount of cars on the roads. However, from what I have seen and read, China is still a country where growth is the main priority, and definitely not the reduction of pollution.

If anyone fancies keeping up with the state of my, and everyone else in this city’s lungs this year, keep an eye on:

To Tianjin!

In a ceremony to rival that of Durham, I graduated (again) on Saturday. I walked to the front of a classroom, to a recorded tune of the magnificent 7, and was handed my TEFL certificate. The next morning, I got on my first bullet train and shot off to Tianjin. The train station we left from (Beijing South Train Station) was more reminiscent of an airport than a train station, probably because it ferries 200,000 people around per day, and 660,000 during Chinese New Year (for comparison, only 150,000 shuffle through King’s Cross a day). Here are a couple of photos of the journey.

The Great/Long Wall.

The Great Wall, as I recently discovered, is actually called the long wall by the Chinese. In fact, the long wall of ten-thousand li. A li is equivalent to about 500 meters (thank god for Wikipedia). They essentially call it the really really really really really long wall. There’s your titbit of the day!

Photos in full when you click on them.



We’ve been the students this week, taking a TEFL course in no3 school (they’re numbered here…I’ve yet to discover what the number signifies). Apart from bathroom cubicles without doors and the squatting toilets, the school is pretty similar to any secondary school. i.e. ‘I heart Justin Bieber’ is scratched into every other desk.

Taxi, Take-Off and Landing

A stroke of luck and an overfull flight meant that I was bumped up to business class! This meant I had a very grumpy Chinese businessman on my right, who stayed up all night tapping at his computer. On my left, however, was a man who trained the Netherlands Junior Olympic team and was heading to the junior Olympics in Nanjing You can see him peering out of the window on the descent into Beijing. The last time he was here, he explained, was for the Olympics in 2008, when he spent the opening ceremony peering down into the Birdsnest with the Dutch and Chinese junior team. When we walked off, he told me good luck and that Chinese students are much better than Dutch ones. Fingers crossed! (no offense Holland)

(click on the photos to see them full-size)