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LAST WORDS: Tribute to Tianjin (Part II)
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Tribute to Tianjin (Part II)

By Leoni Botha

BT 201911 LAST 03Winter was fast approaching, something that filled me with dread and excitement at the same time. Coming from South Africa, we do not know what real cold is and I have read that Tianjin experiences icy winters and snow, so much that parks are transformed into skating grounds. The river slowly freezes until it is a solid sheet of ice and you can see people skating and fishing. Though it was bitterly cold in the evenings, I forced myself to go for walks to escape the enclosing loneliness of my apartment. I took delight in the crispness of the air, the icy prickles on my skin and the throngs of people around me. I not only survived my first winter in Tianjin, but was awarded this year, shortly after I returned from my holiday, when I woke up to a white winter land of snow – the very first for me.

冬天快到了,同时让我感到恐惧和兴奋。我来自南非,不知道冬天会有那么冷,我在天津经历了冰冷的冬天和大雪,看到了公园都变成了滑冰场。河流缓缓地冻结,直到结冰,人们可以在上面滑冰和钓鱼。虽然晚上天气很冷,但我强迫自己去散步,以逃避我公寓周围的寂寞。我喜欢这清澈的空气。我不仅在天津的第一个冬天幸存下来,而且今年在我度假回来后当我在一个早晨醒来时看到了白雪皑皑的冬天 - 这对我来说是第一次。

I remember coming back from school and there was a full moon visible between two of the apartment buildings in my compound. I wanted to hang myself onto it and let it carry me home…. I comforted myself that it was the same moon that was going to light up the night sky in South Africa a few hours later.


BT 201911 LAST 05The first time I went back home is quite a story, which I may tell later. I did not want to get on the plane to come back. But I did. I used the time back home to heal myself in many ways. I soaked up the clear sky, the sun, my family and friends, the languages and people and quirky ways of my country. This time, back in Tianjin, I made a concerted effort to find people in the same situation I was in. I joined the Tianjin Expat Facebook group and quickly found fellow South Africans – as it turned out they lived only blocks from me and also spent their Christmas and New Year totally alone. We became good friends and through them I met other South Africans. Even though we do not see one another all the time, it is comforting to know they are here. Since then, I have met and became friends with people from all over the world. I also joined a WeChat group that gives information about good restaurants, events that are taking place and other important information for expats.

这一次回到天津,我竭力找到了和我一样的人。我加入了天津外国人Facebook小组,并迅速找到了南非同胞 - 事实证明他们就住在我附近的社区,并且他们圣诞节和新年完全独自度过。我们成了好朋友,通过他们我遇到了其他南非人。虽然我们不会一直看到对方,但知道他们在这里是令人欣慰的。从那时起,我遇到了来自世界各地的人并成为了朋友。我还加入了一个微信小组,该小组提供有关好吃的餐馆,重要的活动或外籍人士相关的信息。

BT 201911 LAST 06Coming back after holidays became easier every time. The smiles on the guards’ faces at my compound when I return in the middle of the night, lugging my suitcases behind me, make me feel welcome. At least now I know my way and where I’m going. I also know what I am doing here. For the first months, it was my work that carried me through. I just love my job, my students and colleagues. I love the school where I teach. I know that I am here with a purpose. I have a job to do. I can make a difference. That makes the sacrifices and difficulties I had to overcome all worthwhile.



I saw a young foreign woman in the supermarket one day. She seemed so lost and I approached her. She was from America, teaching at a nearby school. She did not know how the subway worked, what to do, where to go. I took her under my wing, remembering all too well how lost I was a few months before. She called me all the time and I could tell she was struggling to cope with living here. Sadly, she couldn’t see it through and left after only a few months.


BT 201911 LAST 07After a year living in the Big City, I decided to move closer to school. Looking for a new apartment, with my colleagues’ help, was a lot of fun and I got to know another part of the city. I was so lucky to find a brand new apartment in a new development, right on the river bank. Moving in was exciting and I even ventured out to Ikea by myself. Since then, I have grown so much in so many ways. Learning the language is still a huge challenge, but I get by with hand signs and the few words I know. The shop owners of the shops I frequently visit have become friends and now I am offered tea when I go in - I regard this as a huge compliment.

在大城市生活了一年之后,我决定搬到学校附近。在同事的帮助下寻找新公寓非常有趣,我开始了解这座城市的另一部分。我很幸运能够在河岸边的新开发项目中找到一个全新的公寓。搬进去很令人兴奋,我甚至独自冒险去了宜家。从那以后,我在很多方面都发展得迅速。学习语言仍然是一个巨大的挑战,但我用手势和我所知道的几句话完全可以应对日常生活。我经常光顾的商店的店主已经和我成为了朋友,现在我去的时候可以一起喝茶 - 我认为这是一种巨大的荣誉。

The two years I have lived in this beautiful city, and being in China, have taught me so much. Not only about a different part of the world and a history almost as old as the world itself, I have learnt that children are the same everywhere – they have the same fun and games, tricks and also the same needs. I have learnt so much about myself. I have learnt that I am not always as strong as I thought I was. I have learnt that I need people in my life. I need my children, family and friends more than they need me. I have realized how much I really love my country and its people. Things I just took for granted became very precious.

我在这个美丽的城市居住了两年,在中国生活,教会了我很多。中国不仅是世界的不同部分,而且历史几乎与世界本身一样古老。我了解到孩子们到处都是一样的 - 他们有同样的乐趣,游戏,技巧和相同的需求。我学到了很多东西。我了解到我并不像我想象的那样强壮。我了解到我需要生活。我需要我的孩子,家人和朋友,而不是他们需要我。我已经意识到我真的爱我的国家和人民。我原来认为理所当然的事情现在变得非常宝贵。

What makes a city, are its people.


Erduoyan fried rice cakeErduoyan fried rice cake

I marvel at the children’s laughter that drifts into my apartment on late summer nights. I enjoy the greetings and smiles I get on my way to school. I understand now that though it is a huge city with millions of people, each area is a community on its own. Where you live, work and walk becomes home and people become friends, even if you cannot speak their language. Friendliness and smiles reach beyond any language barrier. This summer I decided I am going to become one of the millions of people using the brilliant concept of rent-a-bike, by cycling to school. App downloaded and bicycle unlocked, I pedalled, very unsure of myself on a bicycle at my age, past the school guards. The huge grins on their faces and waves at me told me that they not only enjoyed this spectacle, but that they regarded me as a part of the community now. People can make all the difference. I have found the people of Tianjin to be welcoming, helpful and friendly.


Although Tianjin is a huge city, it does not feel that big. It has a relaxed atmosphere, the subway and bus systems are easy to use and it does not take forever to go from one point to the other. The speed bullet, now connecting Tianjin with most of the major cities, is convenient and affordable. It is also much cheaper to live here than in some of the other big cities. Many people who work in Beijing choose to live in Tianjin for these reasons.


I have come to love this city with its magnificent buildings, interesting architecture and, of course, the ever-gliding river. During the last week of my recent holiday in South Africa, I was already beginning to work out lessons in my head and looking forward to see my students again. I was ready to come back. Back in Tianjin, I was speaking to my fellow South African, who is also a teacher in Tianjin. I asked her when she was coming home. It was then, using that single word ‘home’, that I realized Tianjin has become my home. Perhaps my second home, but home nevertheless.


BT 201911 last 01

I want to dedicate this, my heart and feelings and experiences, to the city and its people. For welcoming me here and making me feel at home, for accepting a foreigner in their community.


As I sit here in my apartment, writing this, I look out over the river. Framed in the window is the slowly circling Tianjin Eye. The river is a kaleidoscope of colours reflected on the smooth surface. In the distance I can see the now familiar buildings of downtown, every one of them displaying a riot of coloured lights rippling over and across them.


Mahua fried dough twistMahua, fried dough twist

I am glad Tianjin has chosen me. I will cherish my time here and the people of Tianjin forever.


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