Walk into History in Tianjin
Somerset International Building’s Residence Manager, John Jin introduces the gems of Tianjin for busy residents to easily explore on foot from the apartment
Issue: Feb 2011
European architecture in Wudadao have been carefully preserved to retain Tianjin’s old city charm
Tianjin is often overlooked by travellers as a city worth exploring due to its proximity to Beijing. Besides, vast swathes of the city have made way for new developments over the years making it a metropolis like any other. However, amidst the modern pockets are historical enclaves that have been preserved to reflect its concession-era.
My work as a residence manager with The Ascott Limited in China for seven years takes me to different cities in the country. For the last four months, I have been living in Tianjin city and managing Somerset International Building, our serviced residence on Nanjing Road. Living here, I have developed a real appreciation for the city – its culture, tradition and the treasured historical site, Wudadao or Five Avenue District.
European charm of the early 20th century
Somerset International Building is ideally located on Nanjing road, Tianjin’s main commercial street right in the middle of the central business district. The buzz from being in a business hub is exhilarating. But there is also a lot of privacy because our residential floors occupy the 27th to 36th floors of the landmark 37-storey Tianjin International Building, a building famous for its prime real estate Grade A office and retail space.
A ten-minute walk from the serviced residence is this historical enclave Wudadao, an area rich in European-style villas and the former residences of the well-to-do of the early 20th century - a must-visit for our residents.
Sightseeing in Wudadao is done by horse-drawn carts! Widely reputed as the “World Building Exposition”, it has become an attractive humanities tourism destination that showcases Tianjin’s old city charisma, which stems from an extraordinary period when nine foreign countries opened concessions in the Wudadao streets.
After four good months in Tianjin, I have learnt that Wudadao was so named because of its five main streets: Machang Dao, Munan Dao, Dali Dao, Changde Dao and Chongqing Dao from east to west. In this area, there are 22 roads which span a length of 17 kilometres and measure all of 1.28 square metres wide.
The district features more than 230 western buildings of various European architectural styles designed and constructed in the early part of the last century, all carefully preserved to retain the allure of the past. They include 89 English-style buildings, 41 buildings with Italian origin, six French classics, four typically German ones, three Espanola-style buildings as well as 46 courtyard-style ones, 40 apartment-designed, five western kinds and three with a mixed Chinese-Western architecture.
As residence manager of Somerset International Building, I wholeheartedly encourage our residents to visit Wudadao to sample international architecture and rich history of the area. Two presidents of the Republic of China and seven Premiers or acting Prime Ministers have once resided there in the 1920s and 1930s. Several celebrities from varying fields have similarly left their mark in Wudadao, some of them famous educators such as Yan Xiu and Zhang Boling and others, renowned industrialists like Zhou Xuexi, Li Zhuchen and Song Peiqing.
Historical depth and richness of culture make Wudadao a treasured place of interest in Tianjin
International gourmet pleasures
Besides its architectural gem, there are many restaurants and private kitchens hidden in this area, which are all well-known but not easy to find. At the junction of Munan Dao and Hebei Road is a very distinguished Cantonese cuisine restaurant, Yue Wei Xian, with a well-earned reputation of being “the museum you can dine in”.
Yue Wei Xian, a Cantonese restaurant dubbed the “the museum you can dine in” in the Five Avenue District in Tianjin
Photo Credit: Allison Wong
Yue Wei Xian is housed within a four-storey building designed in 1936 by Italian architect Paul Bonetti. The exterior walls are decorated with knot-shaped bricks; hence the local nickname, “KnotBuilding.” This construction was once the residence of the late Ma Lianliang, a renowned master of Peking Opera.
The entire premise is now modeled after a museum. Enter Yue Wei Xian and you will be struck by an elegant atmosphere devoted to traditional Chinese culture. Arrayed around the dining area and its VIP rooms are more than 3,000 cultural relics of various dynasties, including bronze ware, sculptures, stone carvings and decorative screens. The Cantonese delicacies and its attentive staff at Yue Wei Xian are also as alluring as its ambience. You have to try this unique mix of cuisine and culture all in one location to appreciate the multi-sensory experience offered.
For visitors who would like to step out of history into the present, I recommend the YY Beer House right behind the Tianjin International Building. It is said to be the best Thai restaurant in Tianjin. We also have the Chateau 35 Wine Bar & Bistro, known to be the number one tourist destination to relax and feast in, right here in our backyard.
Somerset International Building serviced residence provides the comfort and pleasures of a real home living environment
After a day about town, it’s always nice to come home to the serviced apartment and this, I am sure, is a sentiment shared by all our residents. Few other places offer the living pleasures of home with the conveniences of treasured historical sites and places of interest close by. It’s the best of old and new.
Stay with us in Tianjin at…
Somerset International Building, Tianjin
75 Nanjing Road, Heping District
Tianjin 300050, China
Tel: (86-22) 2330 6666