Tianjin has recently re-developed its old Italian concession into the ‘Italian Style street’, an ‘entertainment precinct’ with a range of shops, cafes and restaurants – most of them in Western style.
In the ‘Italian style town’ of Tianjin, coffee comes at about 20 to 30 yuan a cup; food is 60 to 200 per person – and the gastronomic menu at Flo, recently opened French restaurant, goes up to 488 yuan.
A few streets from there, I find traditional hutong-style streets alleys, with the silhouette of high-rise buildings old and new on the horizon.
In one of these hutongs, I find a very nice little market, in the shade, with fruit stands and various ‘snacks’ available. I stop next to a stand where a woman is cutting big white crepe-like things into straps, puts them in a plastic bag, then adds slices of cucumber, tofu, and a spoon of peanut sauce. I ask for a bag of the same – 4 kuai. I walk to the riverside and I have a quiet lunch, in the shade, sitting on a bench, next to a church.
Weirdly, I’m one of the only people here, although the spot is beautiful. I have the old-new Chinese town is in front of me; I can see another church on my right, and, in the river, people are having a bath.
But it is really hot, and humid, and I feel that I need something familiar, so I return to the Italian style town, and I sit inside the ‘Rhine’ Switzerland Cafe
There, I order a macchiato for 28 kuai, and receive a tall glass of something cold and sweet, covered with whipped cream. At another table, an expat is looking at his laptop, writing emais probably. We exchange a few glances, but never start a conversation. Out of his open bag, I can see a pair of ‘Calvin Kleins’. He leaves, soon after, with a slight nod. I stay in the air-con a bit longer, with my book.