The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Seventeen, Tianjin, China, The Tianjin Zoo and Water Park

The North Star Project, Summer Report Number Seventeen, Tianjin, China, The Tianjin Zoo and Water Park

Erin Monroe, Update 6: The Tianjin Zoo and Water Park

I had no expectations when I made a trip to the zoo and the water park. I went on a Friday afternoon and I had just finished my final for the semester that morning. My mind was exhausted and I needed to celebrate the weekend with something completely non-school related. I ventured out to explore Tianjin.


My friend Tim and I took the subway two stops over to the Tianjin Zoo and Water Park which are almost melded together. The water park is not what we would consider a water park to be in America, but literally a park with water in it. The park was built around a series of small lakes and there are pathways and sculptures around the lake and lotus plants with big green leaves floating in the water. Although there are no rolling hills or grass, and only a few trees planted here and there, this little bit of nature came as a welcome relief. I didn’t even realize that I needed to relax and de-stress from the previous week until I walked into a tranquil area. I think being around lakes reminds me of home, living next to Lake Superior, and I felt a little pinch of homesickness.

When we entered through the gate, we saw so few people walking around that the zoo felt almost deserted. Despite the attempt at creating a natural atmosphere, the brick and cement ground and buildings make the zoo feel constrained. It reminded me a little of a zombie apocalypse movie where there are only a few humans left fighting to survive against the zombies and the sky is gray and foggy.


I must admit, the zoo was a bit run-down. The paint was not kept up and the litter was scattered on the ground here and there. Just as in a zoo in the U.S., we headed from one exhibit to another. Friday afternoon must be a quiet time for the zoo, because there were just as few animals out and about as there were people. We walked through the mouth of a humongous plastic tiger’s head to get to the tiger and lion exhibits. This exhibit was comprised of a square room where you could look through the glass to see small rooms with walls separating each individual animal. There were three lions and approximately a dozen tigers, and in each room the ceiling, floor, and walls are completely cement. There was no nature of any kind in these exhibits, but some had palm trees painted on the walls. I noticed each exhibit had a back entrance for the animals to go into a private field so perhaps I just received a bad impression of their living conditions. Still, from my point of view, their lifestyle looked dismal.

It’s surprising to see what animals are housed in a zoo because it’s an indication of what people are unaccustomed to and interested in seeing. Both red and giant pandas were in the zoo as well as zebras, rhinoceroses, alligators and other reptiles, deer and even moose. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the “common squirrel” being exhibited when squirrels are an everyday sight back home. I took a picture of the sign and went to take a picture of the squirrel when I stopped myself. Why am I taking a picture of a squirrel here when I could see one in my backyard at home?

The last stop in the zoo was to see the Asiatic elephants. There were two rooms, each housing one elephant. The walls were dirty and feces covered the ground. Like with the tiger and lion rooms, there was no nature of any kind, no attempt at comfort. The elephant had enough room to turn around and walk maybe three steps at most to the other side of the room but little more than that. Had both elephants been in the same room, they wouldn’t have been able to move. The elephants stood still except for their heads, which were bent down and swaying rhythmically back and forth. Their eyes stared blankly at the ground and they appeared to be in a daze. The room was nearly dark even in the middle of the day. There was nothing for the elephants to do, nothing to occupy their time but their own isolation.

I don’t know how to summarize my trip to the zoo. I would like to say the nature of the water park or the dismal conditions of the zoo represented something, but I couldn’t tell you what. From a distance, I drew a parallel to American zoos until I looked a little closer and realized that what I thought was familiar was actually utterly unknown to me. Many things are like that here—malls, street, traffic, restaurants — they are reminiscent of home until you sharpen your vision and realize these aspects of life are completely different. When you put them all together, it smacks you in the face and you realize you are truly in a different world, a foreign land.

The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, 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:

This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer 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 throughout the summer, 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, June, 2013

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.

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Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

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