Next to XiaoBaiLou station, the ‘1902’ Western style street has a Spanish food shop, a New Zealand cosmetics shop (organic), and a string of posh bars and cafes.
But behind the polished ‘European’ facade is a traditional-style Chinese hutong, with cheap food stalls, clothes on hangers, and electric cables – perfectly visible from the posh street.
I was a bit surprised at how visible the hutong is – and how much of a contrast it makes with the main street. But it’s quite common in Tianjin.
The street display is like a theatre stage. Just a few details are enough for the imagination to make up a world of wealth and luxury. Maybe that’s why the city really comes alive at night, when the fairy lights create a theatrical atmosphere, and shade swallows the backstage.
Why make the effort of actually cleaning the city? Why make it really pristine and beautiful, when you can just imagine it this way. Why not set it up so people can believe it’s an elegant, clean, posh European city, for a while. But actually keep the mess which is more convenient to live in – because if everything had to be constantly clean and perfect, it would be way too tiring, and there wouldn’t be time to chat and play cards.
Maybe people here have more imagination, and they don’t need everything perfect to be satisfied? Or maybe the contrast between clean and dirty, polished and rough, is crucial to their enjoyment of city life? These could be more relevant ways to understand Chinese urban aesthetics than simply to say – it’s actually dirty there – but then it’s not really developed either.