One of the major benefits of living overseas is the expatriate lifestyle. I have always found living and socialising amongst western communities in Asia to be rather fun. In Korea there was always Seoul’s raucous Itaewon area and in Beijing there are Chaoyang and Sanliturn, both chock full of western bars and restaurants. Even in the frozen reaches of Mongolia there was scope to get together for a beer or a bite to eat in Ulaan Baatar. Tianjin on the other hand, is slightly different. Despite being a city of over 9 million people with plenty of foreigners around, its expat community seems somewhat dislocated.
The first issue in the rather vague nature of the western community is probably caused most by the fact that much of Tianjin’s businesses are split between two disparate locations. There are several multinationals and major companies in the city centre, but many others are hovered in the economic development area fifty kilometres east of the city, just outside the international container port of Tanggu.
This split in the location of business around Tianjin works to ensure there is no definite bex-pat area in the city. For several weeks after I moved to the area my friends and I continually found ourselves nigh-on alone in countless western style bars and restaurants with only a spattering of Chinese businessmen for company wondering just just why we were so alone. It was by chance one evening when I was out with a Chinese friend that I managed to stumble upon what is almost a whole community within one room.
That one room is a bar/restaurant hidden away in the city's university area. The entrance is a large wooden door beneath an old sign that still hangs even though it represents the previous business that occupied the building. It is ensconced deep down a side street with minimal street lights, but a large population of bicycles.
Despite its anonymity, Alibaba's is not just the nucleus, but almost the entirety of Tinajin's expat community. The place has a rough and ready appearance with writing on the walls in the whole plethora of languages used by Tianjin's foreign community. Complementing this though, is the excellent valus the place offers. Tsingtao beer comes from the fridge chilled costing just 8RMB. On top of this the food is both excellent in quality and is outrageously cheap. The majority of the menu is western with excellent burgers and pizzas as well as a few tinglingly spicy curries.
The atmosphere at Babas is also a major plus point. To big screens play sports in the evening when things can get nice and raucous. During the football world cup a collage of nations were on show drinking, eating and watching the games.
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