The North Star Project, Summer Report Number One, Tianjin, China

The North Star Project, Summer Report Number One, Tianjin, China By Erin Monroe Update 1: First impressions


This past Sunday, on my second day in Tianjin, the program I am in provided a city tour. Much of it involved passing “concessions”, or areas of the city that the Chinese government ceded to various countries. Our bus passed the former Italian, German, Austria-Hungary, and Belgium concessions. Of course, by now, all of these countries have since relinquished their power to the Chinese government. Still, it was interesting to see blocks of buildings that follow a completely different architectural blueprint that the surrounding buildings in Tianjin.

I am studying and learning Chinese at a rapid pace. While I attend class with other Americans from my university at home, all my teachers and teaching assistants are Tianjin natives. This is incredibly helpful for navigating Tianjin and adapting to Chinese culture. For example, eating in a restaurant is a slightly different experience than in America. When my classmates and I enter into a restaurant, we are seated by the server and given one menu for the table. The server then waits at the table for us to order. Most of the restaurants have family-style dining–the table orders several dishes and shares them. Personally, I prefer this method of dining as it gives me the opportunity to try a variety of dishes. While I understand enough Chinese to get by, I am still unable to fully understand the menu, but pointing to dishes on the menu has proved to be effective. To my delight, the food is very cheap. I don’t think I’ve spent more than the equivalent of five dollars on any meal. Yesterday I bought a full breakfast of “bao zi”–dumplings with a doughy shell– for two yuan, or about thirty two cents. Although I have only been in China for a short time, one week so far, everything I’ve eaten has been delicious.

The noises in Tianjin are fascinating. The honking on the streets, the music playing from restaurants, the cars driving during rush hour traffic paired with birds I’ve never heard before creates a bustling atmosphere. What I find most surprising is the fireworks I hear multiple times a day. This morning I heard fireworks at seven o’clock. The other day fireworks exploded in the sky above a busy street right in the middle of the afternoon. Fireworks, I learned, are a common means of celebration. Fireworks are not simply used for holidays as in America, but also for weddings, birthdays and various other celebrations. In the mornings I have a class in a building near the hotel I live in. After about an hour into my first class on Monday, I hear a short piece of Chinese traditional music play–perhaps the equivalent of a “jingle”. I was told it is called “mo li hua” and signifies when a class ends and a class begins (the equivalent of a bell or buzzer in America). It is a much more pleasant way to end class than a sharp buzzer. The sounds of Tianjin tell me that I am in a completely new world that’s a great distance from Northern Minnesota.

For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see

The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We gratefully acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also warmly welcome Duluth East High School and Dodge Middle School to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2013-present, The Middle Ground Journal See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under Professor Hong-Ming Liang

10 responses to “The North Star Project, Summer Report Number One, Tianjin, China

  1. Katy Goerke

    Fireworks at 7 am in the US means that my neighbor’s 4th of July Party has gone on far too long. It’s cool that China uses them as part of everyday celebrations, since law suits aren’t a big thing there like they are here I’m sure that it contributes to their frequent use.

  2. Alayna McCawley

    I found this article extremely interesting; I had never heard of Tianjin previous to this, and know very little about Chinese culture. I found the section about fireworks fascinating– it is intriguing to hear about the customs other people have that may seem bizarre when compared to our own habits. I enjoyed reading about how they have dinners at restaurants as well– I think it would be nice to experience that at a restaurant sometime instead of the way we currently have dinner when we go out to eat. Overall, this report was a joy to read and I would be interested in learning more about Tianjin and China.

  3. Mindy Aubin

    I was really surprised at how cheap the food is. I always thought it would be cheaper then here (the US), but I never imagined it was as cheap as you said! That must have been nice getting more for your money! The fireworks also surprised me, but it’s cool that they do that! Having music as the “bell” for the beginning and ending of class periods is similar to what my high school did. My senior year the office faculty tried something out where the students could request any amount of songs they wanted to hear and then they would play it over the loud speakers as the bell! It was fun and I always caught myself jamming out to the music on my way to class!

  4. Kyle Hellmann

    I don’t think I would enjoy the fireworks happening all the time, but it sounds like an amazing place to visit! With food so cheap there, I know I would be full all the time, because I love trying new food! I do wish here in the U.S. that more restaurants would serve a family style meal, like the one you described. It brings everyone together!

  5. Jonia G.

    This experience sounds wonderful. I would definitely have preferred to have a calming ‘jingle’ over the screeching alarm in my high school. I was very surprised at just how cheap the food is; hopefully you took advantage and tried many dishes, treats, and snacks! I also hope that you were able to eat meals together with other people and form lasting friendships. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Kendra Johnson

    This article was very interesting to read and learning about a culture like this one is fascinating. I think it’s great that people share their experiences, such as this one, because it gives people a chance to experience life in various parts of the world if they are unable to go places like this themselves. I like the idea they have for the “jingle” for classes to begin and start as well. It makes it seem more peaceful and like there’s less of a rush to get to from classes.

  7. Mackenzie Sherrill

    I really was drawn into the article by all the sensory things you describe within the reading. I liked seeing how you dug deeper than the surface things you were experiencing and actually took some time to notice the little details about this new place. It also amazes me how relatively cheap the food was!

  8. Daniela Rojas

    I like how you described the things in your article. It is nice that you are opening yourself to a new culture and experience. It looks like you are having a great time, and that you are really using this time for learning a different culture, but mostly for having fun.

  9. Tommy Traaholt

    It’s so interesting how much different two culture styles are. The fireworks part was so intriguing to me, and i don’t know how i would react to fireworks going off at 7 a.m.. The restaurant style seems neat too. I think that it is interesting being able to try different types of food, instead of just order one dish, that you might not even like. Great article!

  10. Kaitlyn Young

    I loved your descriptions of the different culture you were experiencing. It’s interesting to see how another culture does things, especially when they do things slightly differently than we are used to. The school buzzer jingle sounds like a much more pleasant way to signal the start of classes than a loud bell. Great article!

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