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August 16, 2008

Day Trip: Tianjin by Train

A new high-speed train opened this month, linking Beijing with the coastal city of Tianjin. With a top speed of 350 km/h, the 120 km journey was cut from 70 minutes to just under 30. But a day in Tianjin will require far more than an hour of travel time, as the newly constructed train stations that serve the Beijing/Tianjin route are far from major attractions in either city.

Last night marked the end of Olympic football events at Tianjin stadium, but a visit to the Pacific coastline or seafood restaurants can still justify a day trip. Photographer Kevin German and I made our way to the city yesterday afternoon. The coastline, although far from attractive, is a great place to visit for photographers wanting to escape the tourist traps of Beijing in search of a more authentic Chinese experience. Locals travel to the coast, accessible only by car, to enjoy a day by the sea -- but sand and clear waters are nowhere to be found.

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The waterfront is lined with litter, and the water is a light shade of brown -- but the Chinese I saw were still having a good time, swimming in the arguably unsafe water and riding on small boats.

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There was also plenty of patriotism along the coast, with cars and flagpoles alike bearing the Chinese flag.

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Our 30-minute trip to the shore at Haibin Avenue cost 150-Yuan roundtrip (about $22) from the Tanggu light rail station -- about 45 minutes from the city center. The cost of the 15-minute trip from the train station to the light rail was 20 Yuan (about $3). Our Tianjin excursion was motivated by an opportunity to see the Chinese women’s football team play Japan, but I mixed up the venues -- the Chinese team did play last night, but in Qinhuangdao, another coastal city near Beijing. Instead, we watched Brazil beat Norway, in a venue filled to a generously estimated 40% capacity.

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We had a great day in the city -- and witnessed one of the highlights just before our return trip to Beijing. Hundreds of locals packed the brand new Tianjin train station, sitting on the floor with their eyes glued to two huge television screens as they watched China vs. USA women’s volleyball. Even as the final trains of the evening began to board, the spectators didn’t budge -- they were there only to watch the competition, with no plans to travel.

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