Today is our first day in Tianjin.  Eger to explore, I bug Chris as she unpacks her suitcase to leave everything in reckless abandon and walk around the city in search of adventure.  For the first half an hour or so after the hotel staff hands us our room key, Chris likes to organize her toiletries in the bathroom, arrange her snacks on top of the TV and acquaint herself with the little room we’ll call home for the next week. 

I, on the other hand, consider myself domesticated if I decide exactly where to leave a rectangle imprint of my suitcase in the hotel carpet for the next week before sprinting out of the room.  Although, I have been picking up some of Chris’s habits.  I did manage to unpack my toothbrush and give my mouth a clean sweep before gathering up my camera and purse and planting myself at the foot of the bed in anticipation.    

After a call to our buddy, Dennis, asking him to meet us in the lobby, and a few quick glances at a map of the area, we head out the door. 

From the front door of the hotel, we can see the turret of a building piercing the skyline to the east, and decide to follow a river on the opposite side of the street to see if it leads to the tower.  As we wander further into the city, the river widens into a lake, and in the center of the water, we see the bottom of the building, seemingly floating atop the lake.  

“The Tianjin TV Tower was built in 1991 and has a height of 415.2 meters,” we read from a large sign at the entrance.  It boasts that the tower is the tallest of it’s kind in Asia, but to be fair, the sign looks as though it hasn’t been updated since the tower’s creation, plus I’m pretty sure I saw sign with the same claim on several of the buildings we visited while in Shanghai and Beijing.  Not that it really matters to us, all we see is “revolving restaurant with spectacular views.”  No matter were we were or what we were doing in China, I was always in the mood to eat.  Not really because I love the food here, actually more because it’s hard to find food that I feel like eating until I’m full, so I’m usually always a little hungry.  

Except for a few men lounging motionlessly, or possibly dead after an opium binge in a nearby, parked van and a cranky woman, clearly in need of a break, selling tickets to the tower, the area is deserted.  After paying our 58 ding dongs to climb to the top, Miss. Personality hands us three tickets each.  At the first door, one of our tickets is ripped, and a worker points us in the direction of the security checkpoint.  Either the guards hadn’t seen much action that day or two blondes and a Venezuelan seem suspicious because the guards perform a very through security check, including a extensive probing of the tampons in Chris’s purse.  Finally, the guards deem us non-threatening, and we ride the elevator to the top floor, yawning and swallowing along the way to pop our ears. 

After what seems like an eternal ride on Disney World’s The Tower of Terror, the elevator doors open to the observation floor.  Another enthused worker is there to greet us, and rip another one of our tickets.  We appear to be the only guests on this level as well, but the silence adds wonder to the beautiful view, and we circle the tower taking in every inch of the city bathed in the melting reds and oranges of sunset.  Later we wander down a flight of stairs to the revolving restaurant.  Once I step onto the orbiting floor, I’m instantly nauseous.  I plant myself on a couch and permanently close my eyes as Dennis and Chris order items off the menu that the waitress points out moments later are “for consideration only.”  Eventually, we saunter back to the elevator.  As we creep back down to solid ground, I inspect the final ticket we were given upon entry.  The words “Gift Certificate” cover the front in large, elaborate letters. I wonder aloud what sort of gift we are in store for and Dennis asks the first worker we see once we reach the ground floor.

“Mayo, no,” she responds. 

“Well, what is it,” Dennis asks.  “Just a piece of paper?”

“Yes, piece of paper,” the woman confirms. 

We give our much practiced “this is China,” faces and head toward the door where another woman stops us and grabs Dennis’s hand holding the “gift certificate.” 

“Free surprise,” she says urgently. 

We follow her to a gift shop where a lady stands behind the counter, a large wooden grab box in front of her.  She motions to us to pick a ticket out of the box.  Dennis goes first.

“Oh you are very lucky,” the woman exclaims as she unfolds and reads the ticket.  “You win three surprise.”

Chris and I both smile and congratulate Dennis.  Then Chris and I both draw tickets.

“Nothing,” the lady says revealing to us blank tickets.

Well, it’s a good thing Dennis got three surprises.  He can share with us, we thought.

“You can pick any three paintings,” the lady says to Dennis as she motions with her hand across the room.

Suspicion totally sets in.  These are really nice paintings on scrolls of silk.  The fact that this lady was about to hand off three of these paintings for nothing at all was a bit unbelievable. 

Dennis begins to look at the paintings in confusion, and the lady points to the price sticker, on which there are two numbers.

“This price is actual price,” the lady says pointing at the figure 4000 ding dongs.  “This is special surprise price,” she says pointing to the figure 3500 ding dongs.

“What!” Dennis exclaims angrily.  “That’s not a surprise, that’s a discount!”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        On our walk back to the hotel, it finally dons on us that the entire set up was a scam, from Dennis (the man) winning exactly three prizes, one for each of us, to our tickets not having anything written on them.

“There wasn’t anything written on any of those tickets,” Chris reasons.  We all laugh at our own naivety, and retell the story, through fits of laughter to our friends later that night over a beer.