By Erik Nilsson
Unlike many Chinese cities, Tianjin does not conjure images of ancient history. Instead, locals brag about as a "gateway to China's modernity". Even the city's Ancient Culture Street is a misnomer; it was opened in 1986.
Tianjin is also a short distance from Beijing, just a 28-minute trip on the new bullet train that opened on Aug 1. This makes the city, located 115 km from the capital, a perfect destination for quick getaways.
A good starting point to get a sense of the municipality's timeline is the admission-free Tianjin Museum, a hyper-futuristic, glass-encased, crescent-shaped structure.
The museum anchors the north side of the ultramodern Galaxy Square.
Fleets of stunt kites keep aerial patrol over the plaza, which is centered on a large reflecting pool. A covered walkway extending from the museum.
Terminates at the 52-m-tall Full Moon Tower - a cylindrical column containing a spiral staircase and outfitted with flashing multicolored LED lights.
East of the plaza, visitors can see the Tianjin Amusement Park, which features 61 sites and attractions, some of which have amusing names like "The Granny Bug", "Jungle Mouse" and "The Brave Ride".
After the roller-coaster, the most popular rides are "The Challenger" - a massive spinning pendulum - and "The Wave Urge," which spins, swings and flips riders sitting in a box attached to two giant swiveling arms. (Admission costs 5 yuan (S$1), and ride tickets average 8 (S$1.60).)
Another big draw is Tianjin Zoo, which compensates for its relatively small size with several unique, even odd, features.
The zoo covers more than 54 hectares and is home to more than 200 species, housed in three whimsically named "districts": Dinosaur Plaza, Paddle Plaza and Herbivore Theme Plaza. Some of the rare animals are under Level 1 State protection, including the giant panda - named Zhen Ru - Manchurian tigers, golden monkeys and red-crowned cranes.
Visitors can also rent electric carts for 60 yuan (S$12.50) to cruise around outside the animal enclosures. In keeping with the theme, the carts are shaped like cartoonish plastic animals.
The zoo also features two daily animal shows, in which big cats are the main stars. Visitors can feed alligators chunks of meat dangled from poles and ride camelback along wooded trails.
For party animals of a different sort, Tianjin is also host to an emergent nightlife scene, which is centered on Youyi Lu, colloquially known among locals simply as "Bar Street".
American-themed bars are popular here, among them the motorcycle-oriented Scooters and Broadies' Tavern, a sort of Cheers with a foosball table.
Locals enjoy frequenting nightclubs like Snow, a neon-bathed establishment where patrons pack into private booths to rattle dice and sway to hip-hop beats.
The most popular expat haunt is Alibaba's, a notoriously hard-to-find nightspot in an inconspicuous apartment building, located down a dark alley across from Bengon restaurant on Tongan Dao.
Alibaba's offers a no-frills array of canteen-styled tables and chairs and seems to have been "decorated" by its international clientele. Multilingual graffiti covers every visible surface, and national flags and posters of world leaders hang on the walls alongside, oddly enough, a mounted BBQ grill.
With all the trappings of a modern metropolis - including easy transport from Beijing - Tianjin is a worthwhile port of call for those looking for a hassle-free getaway during the National Day golden week.
Trains depart every 15 minutes from Beijing South Railway Station.