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"I'm mad about Tianjin," says former Sydney-native and long-term resident of Tianjin, Michael Bateman. "Even if this is an industrial town, there's a lot to see and do here. We've got our own section of the Great Wall, and the Qing Tombs here are better than Beijing's Ming Tombs. There are more than 70,000 restaurants and the food is wonderful!
"What's more, I've worked everywhere from Fiji to Thailand, but this is one of the safest cities I've ever been in--I have to readjust my thinking whenever I travel anywhere else."
Bateman, who settled in Tianjin 11 years ago and married a local girl, isn't the first foreigner to have succumbed to its varied charms. Forced by British and French gunboats to open up to foreign commerce (including the opium trade) in the mid-1800s, this port city subsequently acquired more foreign concessions than other entrepots elsewhere in China--it had nine while Shanghai had three--covering vast areas in plum locations by the river Haihe. Each was like a self-contained town with its own waterfront warehouses, town halls, churches, schools and elegant houses and gardens, designed according to the unique architectural style of the residents, which included the British, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Austro-Hungarian, Belgian, Americans (who later merged with the British in 1902) and the Italians (this was their only political settlement in China).
Past accounts reveal that the British, French and Italians spared no efforts in beautifying their sections, parts of which can still be viewed today, having escaped developers' hungry bulldozers. Wall plaques on some of the villas shed light on their former occupants, ranging from local warlords who felt they gained 'face' by living in such genteel …