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Tianjin Economic Development Area (TEDA), coloquially known as Tai Da or Kai Fa Qu, is in the Tanggu district of Tianjin city. Although technically part of greater Tianjin, it's around thirty miles from the downtown area, and is a distinct urban area with a population of around two million. TEDA was set up as one of China's Special Economic Zones in 1984 with different economic policies from the bulk of the country, allowing more foreign businesses to easily operate within these areas. As well as the major banks and oil companies, there are enormous Toyota, Yamaha and Airbus plants in the area.

I worked in TEDA for a year over 2008-2009, staying local to the office and having a generally very Chinese experience. TEDA is a city for working, not tourism, but it's conveniently located for Tianjin airport and only an hour by bullet train from Beijing. During the winter it was extremely cold, and during the summer it was very hot. It was however not too busy compared to other Chinese cities, perhaps because much of it was still being built, and the relative absence of spoken English on the street really encouraged my learning of Chinese.

TEDA International Apartment

TEDA International Apartments or Tai Da guoji gongyu as they were referred to locally - my base for the year. They were pretty nice, although it was clear that they'd been built in a hurry and parts of my flat were beginning to fall apart already.

The spiky Holiday Inn hotel at Citizens' Square, with the only churrascaria in town! The shopping centre built under the hotel was huge, and mostly empty.

TEDA Holiday Inn


Behind these fancy greenhouses the apartment buildings stand empty. China firmly believes in the "if you build it, they will come" maxim. They built an entire convention centre just down the road, which on completion was immediately mothballed, having seen not a single convention.

Large areas of TEDA are still mud. This is the view from the Holiday Inn looking towards the sea. The whole area was previously salt pans.


Ammonia Lake

In front of yet more empty blocks, I found that I suddenly had trouble breathing once downwind of this lake of steaming ammonia. I had to run to get away.

Fortunately there was fresher air at the local caustic soda plant, which was merrily discharging effluent into the Hai He river.



The older parts of TEDA and Tanggu have been built with overhead water mains, making certain areas of town look not unlike a refinery. Each block (old and new) has its own central heating, hot water and air conditioning plant, the use of which is controlled by local government. You don't get heating until they say so.

Things are a bit more pleasant down at the Tanggu riverside area, where I'm told the cruise ships pull in (although I never saw any).


Exotic what...?

Tanggu's Yang Hua market of exotic goods, mostly belts, bags and watches, although I did pick up a great electric helicopter here.

Tanggu's own Wall Street Bull greets the punters on Walking Street, the pedestrianised area in downtown Tanggu.

Walking Street Bull


Large and ubiquitous electronics store, although I was surprised to find that consumer electronics were not as cheap here as in the UK.

Back in TEDA, and the view across Huang Hai Lu from the TEDA International to the TEDA Central Hotel. I never did make it to the revolving restaurant.

Huanghai Lu monument

LED trees and flying saucer restaurant

At night, the shimmering TEDA Central Hotel hovers like a flying saucer, over the red LED trees of Third Avenue. You couldn't make this stuff up.

Winter came quickly, and the sun was just a dull disk in the sky, doing its best to penetrate the smog.

Fountain and smog


There was no rain for months during the winter of 2009, and all the green was sucked from the city. This was my usual walk home from the office.

Eventually the government launched rockets to seed clouds and alleviate the drought. My office buildings got a good dose of snow.

TEDA finance district


Part of the city used as a dumping ground for swept-up snow. As the temperature wouldn't rise above freezing again until March, they had to put it somewhere. I'd often see industrious snow sweepers opening manhole covers and tipping it into the sewers.

No visit to Tesco was complete without paying my respects to the frogs. They never looked very happy in their tank, occasionally wriggling over each other, but then would you be happy at 5RMB per pound?

It's a frog's life...


Bizzare statue perhaps representing the stresses of motherhood, which stood outside one of the local bars.

A short drive north of town takes you to the Binhai Aircraft Carrier Theme Park - a park like no other I'd ever borne witness to. The Chinese bought the good ship "Kiev" from the Soviet Union, presumably with a mind to maintaining her in active service, but she was in such a bad state that they gave up and opened her to tourists instead. The most interesting parts were getting into the un-sanitised areas which I definitely wasn't supposed to see.

The good ship Kiev

Binhai Aircraft Carrier Theme Park

Although the carrier is genuine USSR, little else in the park was. The helicopters and planes were all life-size polystyrene and plywood models. I really enjoyed the complete strangeness of it all.

The port of Tianjin at TEDA/Tanggu is being extended out into the Bohai see by multiple square kilometres of reclaimed land. By extension, this is the port of Beijing, and it's rapidly ramping up.

Tianjin port cargo boats

Hai He bridge

Bridge over the Hai He river, looking upstream towards Donggu, Tanggu's slightly scruffier sibling. The bridge requires a 10RMB toll, but you can cross by a series of tracks and bridges underneath it for free.

Two days after I arrived, the bullet train conveniently began direct service to Beijing. In 55 minutes I would be whisked to civilization at 210 mph, on what was at the time the world's second fastest train, pipped only by the Maglev in Shanghai.

Bullet train

Summer 2009 solar eclipse

During my last few weeks in Tanggu there was a total solar eclipse in China, which passed over Xi'an and Shanghai. In TEDA we were treated to a pretty good partial eclipse.

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2010