The Weird, Wild World of Tianjin, China. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio

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Above: A smattering of discerning tourists at the bizarre China House during the week-long October holiday

Dear Shaded Viewers,

While I was in Beijing a few weeks ago, my friend Nancy somehow convinced my friend Jeffrey Ying and I to take the Bullet Train south to visit the strange city of Tianjin. I'm always up for a lark so it didn't take much prodding, and the odd rewards were numerous.

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 Eerie view from my train window of one of China's many pop-up cities in the process of being built. As most readers probably know, the Bullet Train gained instant notoriety several weeks ago when it crashed, leaving hundreds dead. The government responded with a news black out and quickly tried to bury the wrecked train in a wacky attempt to hide the evidence. I expected a super-fast ride that would cause the skin of my face to flutter back in folds, like those of sci-fi astronauts in spaceships hitting light speed. Instead, it was a smooth ride that did not feel fast at all–but we reached our destination in only 30 minutes. (The journey used to take 2 1/2 hours!)

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 When we emerged from the station, my first instinct was to turn around and dash for the first train back to Beijing. The toxic smog-drenched plaza was excessively muggy and exuded post-apocalyptic dread. For a moment I thought we had gotten on the wrong train and arrived in Pyongyang, North Korea instead. (Although in defense of Pyongyang, there wouldn't be any smog–there's no industry there.)

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 The clock tower in the foreboding plaza reminded me of Bender on "Futurama."

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 This kooky clock eschewed the Chinese zodiac and paid homage to the Western version instead.

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Despite having no map and no idea where the hell we were (the train station is on the outskirts of the city) we managed to stumble upon Tianjin's #1 tourist sight: The "world-famous" China House! 

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According to our ticket stub, the China House was designed by Zhang Lianzhi, who turned this formally desolate French-style building into "a showcase of porcelain with more than 700 million porcelain pieces dating from Tang (AD 618-907) to Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, 13,000 porcelain vases and dishes, 300 stone lions, 300 marble sculptures….After 10 years' refurnishing, China House Museum has become a landmark and the most facinating architecture in TianJin Municipality."

Well, I don't know about "300 stone lions" (I only remember seeing a few) and one can't help feeling skeptical about the authenticity claims of the porcelain. (How did he get his hands on thousands of ancient vases and plates?!) But the house certainly has that "explosion in a Chinese shingle factory" (to paraphrase the famous review of Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase") type of charm. Or rather, a Canal Street knock-off of a Gaudi structure. (In fact, much of this is a blatant ripoff of Park G

Glenn Belverio

Glenn Belverio is a writer and New Yorker. He has been reporting for ASVOF since 2005 and currently works at The Museum of Modern Art as the Content Manager for MoMA Design Store.

  • WOW! I always love to check your articles! All the images are so interesting and I write down the places cos u make me feel I must pay visit! Great job!

  • DP

    Beyond amazing. xxx

  • Super Duper! I’ve never seen so many sausages!

  • This was super fun to read, i wish I had known about this before my trip to china!

  • Great story except that Polizei (as written on the car) is German, not Italian. The mannequins look very very scary and so does that house covered in plates. Hero!