Emma, Lizzie and I decided to go on a day trip to Tianjin, the neighboring municipality. We tried to plan a trip to Nanjing, but were thwarted when train tickets were sold out when we went to buy them. I'm much better at planning for just myself--that is, not planning at all.
We managed to buy tickets for the slow train to Tianjin, though, and arrived without incident. In my opinion, the funnest part of traveling is that your Chinese naturally gets better. Emma is in A+, and Lizzie is in B, so they have a lot of travel to do. Emma has been feeling discouraged that she's been in China six weeks and she feels like she's only gotten worse. At first she boldly tried to talk to people, but now that she knows she knows nothing she feels too overwhelmed. When you can't even pronounce the name of your apartment complex so that taxi drivers can understand you, it's no wonder.
I think when I came to China I'd already crossed that phase, so it wasn't bad for me. I'm still prone to disappointment, obviously, but it's on a different level.
There were no must-sees in Tianjin. I mostly wanted to go because I've been itching for travel and I knew my language partners back home came from there and thought it would be cool to say I'd traveled to their home town (if you can call a city of 10 million a town).
First we wandered down a street of tourist-y shops. I finally found a stone master to buy a stamp with my name in Chinese from. He explained how he went to the quarry himself to get stones. He carves them, and polishes them, and knows way more than I do about why one costs 30 kuai and another one that looks almost the same costs 300. I settled on a really cool big one for 50 kuai, and seeing my excitement Emma and Lizzie decided to buy one too. Their "How much is this?" was getting better the more we walked around. What use are we going to have for a stamp in Chinese? Probably none, but for about $8 (after the engraving fee, by the stone guy's "famous brother") it's a really cool symbol of China. Just wait till you see my name in red ink: 潘伟.
After lunch, we went to a park. When we entered, we realized that it doubled as a low-grade amusement park. The bumper cars were 8 kuai, which made them a must. I felt quite at home using all the driving techniques I've learned from taking taxis on small Chinese kids.
Then we saw the ferris wheel. It was huge, and was moving really slowly. We bought snacks before we boarded in case it broke halfway.
We couldn't hear it creaking until we got on, but it sounded like something was horribly wrong. The noise increased the higher up we went, until I was honestly a little nervous. I couldn't tell what the noise was either: it sounded like a leaf-blower that would turn on and off. I've found Chinese has relatively few obscenities, so I couldn't practice my Chinese by translating Emma's comments.
We had a fantastic, expensive dinner at T.G.I. Friday's before we boarded the super-fast train back to Beijing. It topped out at over 340 kilometers/hour, which is 200 mph. I felt like I was in an industrialized country. All three of us agreed that we like Tianjin more than Beijing, but maybe it was just the freedom that a day out of town can do to you.