For all the joking about Canadian winters, the one thing I’m not used to seeing in the Vancouver region is waterways freezing over like that in Tianjin. The river passes through many parts of town and is covered with a reasonably thick-looking sheet. Two blocks from TUT is a bend in one waterway where there is a fantastic rock facade beside a hospital. The wide part of the bend is a popular spot for locals to enjoy ice skating. Another popular spot is the (what I assume to be man-made) lake by the Tianjin TV and Radio tower. Tonight, while walking and shopping with my friend I tried to capture a glimpse of a daily ritual for many local men: ice fishing on the river.
Some of the smog subsided for the day giving us a much-needed glimpse of a blue-tinted sky and some of the lovely warmth from the sun. For the last few weeks the air pollution has been so thick that the bright afternoon sun has been diminished to the point one might think it had found a more interesting solar system to shed light upon. We’re glad to know its still hanging around and giving our little rock in the universe something to orbit around.
Speaking of interesting discoveries, I went to dinner tonight with a friend. En route to the restaurant we walked by a fence that I’ve walked by countless times. At first glance, or any countless number of glances I’ve given it passing by, it appears like any other perimeter fence meant to keep trespassers away. In mid-sentence of our conversation I came to a full-stop and wondered: “What the heck did I just see?” Taking a few steps back a closer look revealed that I had indeed noticed a buzzer that had apparently been fixed to this fence for longer than I’ve been in the neighbourhood.
My friend kindly explained that it’s the equivalent of a convenience store open 24-hours. If the local stores are closed, just hit the button and wait for service. Seems simple enough, but it wasn’t clear who or where this mystery-shopkeeper would appear from to quell your late night needs. It would be tempting to press the mystery buzzer and see whether a time-space vortex opens up to reveal a well-stocked magical supermarket, or if some noisemaker startles a tired shopkeeper out of bed to open up the 1.5-storey window and ask you what you need. Knowing my luck, the button is really a trap for overly curious and easily confused foreigners. As I’d depress the button the sidewalk might swallow me into a pit where urban hunters would creep out in the night to inspect their catch. More likely, I’d be caught on a hidden-camera game show where millions of viewers around the nation could laugh at a perplexed Canadian student with an over-active imagination pressing an unconnected button expecting implausible results.
After all this speculation I couldn’t dare press it for fear of taking away the fun of wondering how things work around me. When one can’t read signs, and things one takes for granted are wrought with unexpected surprises, a button like that can mean anything you want it to.