Living Information  

An expat’s recommendation


By Christopher Boobier(博一夫)
Pronunciation: nǐ chī le mā
Direct translation: Have you eaten?
When in Rome...

Recommended Chinese Restaurants in downtown Tianjin:
Nobody enjoys exploring on an empty stomach, and so luckily for you, there are plenty of places in Tianjin to experience the wonders of Chinese cuisine.  In no particular order of preference, here is a list of some of the most pleasing, interesting, friendly and memorable independent eateries located in the downtown region.  And take it from someone who knows – there are many, many others…

-津菜典藏(jīn cài diǎn cáng) 
Local Tianjinese dishes served in a high-end, contemporary setting.
-鼎泰豐(dǐng tài fēng)
A classy taste of Taiwan, known across the world for their Xiao Long Bao (小笼包).
-庆王府(qìng wáng fǔ)
Luxury food in a unique environment, located in the former British Concession (五大道).
-砂锅李(shā guō lǐ)
Local Tianjin food, with the best pork ribs (排骨肉) in the city.
-新疆风味餐厅(xīn jiāng fēng wèi cān tīng)
Dishes from Xinjiang.  Recommended to all lamb lovers.
-一坐一忘(yī zuò yī wàng)
The most authentic Yunnan cuisine to be found this side of the Yangtze.
-百饺园(bǎi jiǎo yuán)
A hundred dumpling heaven – need more be said.  Famous for 猪肉三鲜, or Pork and Shrimp dumplings.
-青年餐厅(qīng nián cān tīng)
Plenty of tasty dishes with friendly service.  Perfect after a long stroll down the river.
-来顺成饭庄(lái shùn chéng fàn zhuāng) 
Traditional Tianjin hot pot, with home brewed beer.  A rowdy option if you are in the mood for real Tianjin.

举头望明月,低头思故乡 (李白)
Lift your head and gaze and the bright moon, look down and think of home(Li Bai, Tang Dynasty poet)
Recommended Foreign Restaurants in downtown Tianjin

For those days that Chinese cuisine simply does not float your boat, however, the following locations offering foreign cuisines come with my personal recommendation also.  Pop their name in on Baidu to access the address in Chinese and English.

-Kitchen Igosso
-Oscar House
-Gang Gangs
-YY Beer House
-Brasserie Flo
-Drei Kronen
-Blue Frog Burger
-Kiessling Restaurant
-Pizza Bianca 

Drink today while ye may…

Bar culture in Tianjin takes a slightly different form to what is on offer for our friends in Beijing, but professional mixologists and imported beverages lurk in the many nooks and crannies that are scattered all around the inner city area of the Ford of Heaven.  Listed below are a few places where one might whet one’s whistle, and have a few swift drinks:

-Le Precope Lounge
-Happy Bar
-Bed Bar
-The Live Show
-Texas BBQ Sports Bar
-YY Beer House
-Harley Davidson Bar and Restaurant
-Dublin Irish Pub

The Luxury Option

Residents in Tianjin are truly spoilt with quite exceptional and diverse five-star hotels that boast splendid eateries and exuberant surroundings for that elusive date night you promised your better half, or indeed for that coziness that you might from time to time crave during the winter chill or the summer scorch.  Here are some of my recommendations of downtown hotels that would cater for your every need and whim, allowing a momentary escape from the concrete jungle outside…

-The Ritz- Carlton Hotel
-Shangri-La Hotel
-The Astor Hotel
-The Westin Hotel
-The St. Regis Hotel
-Hotel Indigo
-Renaissance Tianjin Lakeview
-Sheraton Tianjin
-Hotel Nikko
-Tangla Hotel

Top 10 tips for Tianjinese tasting sessions:

-Take your Chinese friends and colleagues out to eat, on their recommendation.
-Start early, finish late.  Kitchens close at 9pm in many local eateries.
-Use your chopsticks with confidence, but feel free to ask for a knife and fork. 
-If you are a lefty, don’t sit next to a righty.  Take it from one who knows!
-Meat and/or vegetables first, rice and soup second.
-Tipping tends to cause confusion and occasionally embarrassment – out of courtesy, be subtle.
-The host sits in the seat facing the door, as does the one who foots the bill.  You have been warned.
-Shouting “Fu Wu Yuan” (服务员) is neither big nor clever.  Wherever possible, try to avoid it.
-“Cheers” in Chinese, “GanBei” quite literally means “empty glass” (干杯)–drink sensibly.
-Pick up a business card on your departure, for your return journey.

Impress your Chinese hosts with a few choice phrases during dinner:

Pronounced “Fan Hou Bai Bu Zou, Huo Dao Jiu Shi Jiu”, meaning “After eating, walk one hundred steps and you will live until you’re 99 years old.”  This can be said after finishing dinner, discussing how walking home might be a good idea…

Pronounced “Chi Bu Liao Dou Zhe Zou,” meaning “Whatever you do not finish, you must carry home with you.”  This can be said if you have not finished everything on the table.  Be careful with this phrase, as it can alternatively refer to someone getting more than they have bargained for.

Pronounced “Yan Da Du Zi Xiao,” meaning “Eyes bigger than stomach.” This can be said if you have accidentally ordered too much food. In which case, you might consider using 吃不了兜着走.

Bon appetit!

Western literature on China

There really is no shortage of foreign accounts of China – both ancient and modern. But here is a few – listed in no particular order or with no specific categorization, that might prove insightful, entertaining, or both.

- The Ford of Heaven by Brian Power

Dedicated to the people of Tianjin, this beautifully written memoir of a childhood spent in Tianjin during the early twentieth century reflects “a real place and a real past” of Chinese friends and Chinese stories. Highly recommended!

- The Siege at Peking by Peter Fleming

Containing many references to the Foreign Concessions in Tianjin, this book brings to light a transformative time in China’s modern history.

- The Jews in Tianjin by Anna Song

A beautifully produced book that sheds light on a very important chapter of Tianjin history. Full of photographs and images, this book paints a moving record of the history of Jews in Tianjin.

- The Workers of Tianjin, 1900-1949 by Gail Hershatter

As today we are surrounded by migrant workers working manual jobs, this is an account that documents the laborers that helped shape the identity of Tianjin as one of the major industrial centres of North China.

- Twilight in the Forbidden City by Reginald Johnston.

Written by the tutor to Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, this book was the basis to the movie ‘The Last Emperor’.

- Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire by Robert Bickers

Written by a prominent British historian, this book attempts to analyse the attitudes and approaches to China adopted by various foreign powers, which ultimately resulted in the Opium Wars. Tianjin features often in this well-sculpted and superbly written historical account.

- Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham and the Great Secrets of China by Simon Winchester

The story of how one man’s interest developed into one of the greatest investigations into the development of Chinese invention and innovation throughout the ages. Known as “the man who loved China,” this biographical portrait of the life of Joseph Needham paints an astounding picture of the diversity and technological advancement of an ancient civilisation. A must-read for all scientists!

- The Immobile Empire by Alain Peyrefitte

This widely debated account of the first British diplomatic mission to China – Sir George Macartney’s meeting with Emperor Qianlong during the Qing dynasty, which chooses to highlight cultural misconception and miscommunication as having set the precedent for the diplomatic relations that lasted for the subsequent two hundred years.

- The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave

Another contentious text, Seagrave’s account documents the importance of the Soong family in the forming of US-Asia and Chinese policy during the 20th century.

- On China by Henry Kissinger

Kissinger’s book provides us with historical perspective on Chinese foreign affairs from the first statesmen to the present day. A must-read for all aspiring diplomats!

- Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

A must-read for all educators among us – a fascinating perspective on parenting.

- The Good Woman of China by Xinran

A heartrending and inspiring account written by the former host of a state-run radio station, this book is a document of how one woman helped improve the life of so many others in a rapidly changing country.

- Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang

Written by a former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Beijing, this is a look into the everyday lives of female migrant workers in a modern, industrial China.

- The Search for Modern China by Jonathon Spence

For those seeking an introduction to the modern history of China as a whole.

- The Penguin History of Modern China by Jonathon Fenby

A guide to one of the most remarkable transformations of a country the world has seen in the modern era. This book concentrates on the last 150 years of Chinese history.

- River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler

Another must-read for all working in the education sector. This book documents the experiences of a young teacher living in the heart of rural China.

- China Road by Rob Gifford

The story of one man’s journey along the Chinese Route 66 from Shanghai to the far west of China, this wonderful book looks at the rich mosaic that is today’s China.

- Mr. China by Tim Clissold

A hugely entertaining account of how to lose loads of money in a rising China.

- Pearl Buck in China: Journey to the Good Earth by Hilary Spurling

One of the most important figures, Buck was one of the first figures in the modern era to make China accessible to the West. Frankly, any of Pearl Buck’s books are definitely worth a read.

- Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron

Covering seven thousand miles in eight months, this is an epic account of travel writing along one of the most ancient trade routes on the planet.

- Red Star over China by Edgar Snow

Written by the first Western man to meet with Mao Zedong, this is a story of the men and woman responsible for China’s revolution.

- Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk

A historical account of how ‘foreign devils’ travelling on the Silk Road provided the rest of the world with the ancient treasures of the Chinese civilization. A must-read for anyone who enjoys a good museum!

- The Opium War by Julia Lovell

Discussing the causes and consequences of the events that resulted in the Opium Wars, Lovell’s novel talks about how this pivotal time in history still plays such a major part in contemporary Chinese attitude towards the West.

- The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo

One of the classics. Sit back and drift off into a bygone era of camel trains and Khans, and listen to the story of one of the most famous explorers of all time.

- Genghis Khan: life, death and resurrection by John Man

One of the better accounts of a man whose legend still lives on, who is known across the world as a tyrant, a hero and a great leader. Man writes a brilliant narrative that explores areas of China and Mongolia, searching for the real story behind this now immortal figure.

Chinese literature - a VERY brief introduction and a few recommendations

For those of you with a deeper interest in China as a nation, here are some recommendations of excellent Chinese books and authors – some old, some new, all relevant, all insightful. There are so, so many of great writers all throughout Chinese history, but here are the ones that I have been recommended by my Chinese friends, my former professors and teachers, and also that I have picked up off the shelf myself. If you can read them in Chinese, then please feel free to give yourself a big pat on the back!

- Lu Xun(鲁迅)

One of the most revered writers in contemporary China, ‘The Diary of a Madman’ (狂人日记), ‘Kong Yiji’ (孔乙己)and ‘The Story of Ah-Q’ (阿Q正传) are some of his more well-known short stories. ‘Wild Grass’ (野草)and ‘A Call to Arms’ (呐喊) are two more well-known collections of his short stories, known all across China.

- Lao She (老舍)

One of the most significant figures of 20th century Chinese literature, Lao She is most well-known internationally for his novels ‘Rickshaw Boy’(骆驼祥子), the witty ‘Mr. Ma and Son’ (二马) and the dystopian ‘Cat Country’ (猫城记). His play ‘Teahouse’ (茶馆)documents a changing China at the turn of the century, and when not being performed at theatres in Beijing or Tianjin, can be found on DVD with subtitles.

- Yu Hua (余华)

‘Brothers’ (兄弟) and ‘To Live’ (活着)are two of the most noteworthy novels written by a man who grew up during some tough times in China. Not bad for a former dentist!

- Qian Zhong Shu (钱钟书)

Best known for his novel ‘Fortress Beseiged’ (围城), this former Oxford and Paris University scholar has gained worldwide fame for his satirical and poignant writing. ‘Men, Beasts and Ghosts’ (人兽鬼)is one of his other books that I would suggest that you take a look at.

- Ba Jin(巴金)

One of the most significant writers of the 20th century, I recommend a read through his novel, ‘The Family’ (家). The short story ‘Dog’ (狗)is also worth a mention, but anyone with a growing interest in Chinese literature really should pay close attention to this chap.

- Mo Yan(莫言)

Merging notions of folk, history and the contemporary, Mo Yan was the former recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. His novels‘Red Sorghum’ (红高粱家族), ‘The Garlic Ballads’ (天堂蒜薹之歌), ‘Big Breasts & Wide Hips’(丰乳肥臀) and ‘The Republic of Wine’ (酒国), among many others, come highly recommended.

- Wang Xiao Bo(王小波)

A renowned contemporary essayist and novelist, ‘Wang in Love and Bondage: Three Novellas by Wang Xiaobo,’ was his first work translated into English.

- Lu Yao(路遥)

His novels ‘Life’ (人生) and ‘Ordinary Life’ (平凡的世界)are Lu’s most well-known novels, with the latter thought to be one of the most influential novels written in modern times.

- Mao Dun(茅盾)

Originally with a pen name that quite literally meant ‘contradiction,’ Mao Dun most famously wrote ‘Spring Silkworms’ (春蚕) and ‘Midnight’ (子夜), and throughout his life had over one hundred publications. The Mao Dun Literature Prize is one of the most prestigious awards for literature in China.

- Sanmao(三毛)

Being known predominantly as a travel writer, the very international Sanmao is best known for her autobiographical work ‘The Stories of the Sahara’ (撒哈拉的故事), which documents her time spent living in the Sahara desert with her Spanish husband. This former German teacher and philosophy major is well known across the female community of China.

- Eileen Chang (张爱玲)

Known predominantly for writings that deal with the tensions between men and woman in love, Chang is known to be one of the most important writers of her time. Many of her works exist authentically in English translation, with ‘Love in a Fallen City’ being one of the most widely read.

- Xiao Hong (萧红)

Xiao Hong is most widely known for her novel ‘Tales of Hulan River’ (呼兰河传) written in 1942, later translated into English by Howard Goldblatt. Goldblatt also deserves a mention here for being one of the modern greats of translation, with his most recent translations being for Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan.

- Blogging and the Internet

As is the case outside of China, blogging and online publications has become the new norm also, with authors and bloggers gaining worldwide recognition for their poetry, essays, short stories and novels. Han Han(韩寒)has over the last decade risen to fame, particularly throughout China’s youth, and besides racing cars and writing songs, he has published a number of very popular novels and essays – I enjoyed ‘One Degree Below Freezing’ (零下一度), ‘Press Release 2003’ (通稿 2003), ‘Three Doors’ (三重门) and ‘Riot in Chang’An City’ (长安乱), but there are many, many more.

- Ancient Literature – philosophers and poets

Great Chinese poets are also not a rarity. In reference to the ancients, Li Bai (sometimes known as Li Po) and Du Fu are two of the most widely read across China. In reference to modern poets, Hai Zi and Ai Qing are two that immediately spring to mind. Compilations of poetry are available in English translation at many major bookshops across Tianjin, as well as online. With poetry being such a major part of imperial China, the resources are truly huge in volume.

- Some of the most famous thinkers and philosophers in China – many of whom will no doubt already be known to you, are Confucius (孔子), Mencius (孟子), Zhuangzi (庄子) and Laozi (老子). Of course, Sun Zi’s The Art of War (孙子兵法) is one of the most famous texts ever written, for very good reason. A set of classical books – all produced in Chinese, has been published in a series (entitled中华经典藏书) for those of you who have a really keen interest in ancient Chinese literatures and texts.

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