Beyond Beijing

Nicholas Quirke was breaking boundaries on 25 April 2020 as travel restrictions between Beijing’s closest municipal cities had now been lifted and this meant a day trip out of the now familiar environs. Heading to Tianjin by train did mean some organisation of documentation and as he left he made sure he was travelling with his usual paperwork, passport, police residency approval, health kit, Jinmenzhanyi to get into establishments in the city and Peng. The process at the Beijing South station to get his ticket was time consuming and it was undoubtedly made easier by the presence of Peng who took control of the situation when befuddled looks at the authorities questions prompted action. They got through the security, through the gates and onto the platform. It was exciting to finally be leaving the citie and nstart the exploration of China beyond Beijing. Lots of questions on arrival at the station, though he was already getting used to the level of scrutiny he had to endure but with all the right paperwork he got safety through. They immediately got on bikes and began to explore the city. Tiānjīn is a coastal city and functioned as a port. In its a past it was an international centre and much of the architecture is western, particularly in the the 1920s where a whole area was developed quite distinct from the historic buildings of its old centre which was where they headed first; crossing the river where a group of swimmers were braving the cold waters of the Hi river for a dip. It was a very unusual sight, and he tried to imagine seeing bathers in the Thames or other great rivers across the globe daring to brave the dirty water. The ancient cultural area felt very commercialised but the virus had seemed to stop tourism and the only visitors seemed to be the locals. It was an enjoyable experience and he got to try a number of authentic and local treats, including Mahua, a type of biscuit and Chatang soup made from the paste of various flours and topped with a variety of seeds which was delicious. Several of the shops advertised their wares with working models of people practising the skills of their trade. This was a strangely disquieting sight but one he could not resist capturing. He witnessed a candy maker at work, ate a deep fried glutinous rice cake with red bean pastwe in its centre and saw models clothed in ancient dress that he desired to be wafting around in. They followed up their nvisit with another whirlwind ride to the Cathedral and the Porcelain Musueam. Both were closed, but both with their external attractions, particularly the museum which looked like it would be completely at home in Gaudi’s Park Guell. They then visited the 5 Grand Avenues, which had been homes for the powerful and famous of China now, of course, having much more utalitarian use but still an area for tourists with some very neat and chic Teahousaes. one of which stopped at for refreshment. The green Tea, the environ, the company, the sun and calm made it a perfect spot to relax before setting off again to explore the historic area. Cycling round these streets where some of the buildings had been left to decay, while some of them, of historical relevance, cared for and turned into art. It was clearly a provincial city, despite its skyscrapers and apparent affluence as a business centre, and the major attractions, different to the mostly ancient historic sights of Beijing had been seen and absorbed. On the way back home there was a certain anxiety relating to having left Beijing and getting back in, but while it did take a bit longer due to the forensic examination of his paperwork it was an easy and friendly process. Nicholas was a very please with the day. He had made his first steps outside the city and now there would be more. It was a positive way to end the day with more dreams of what lay beyond Beijing.

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