A Weekend in Ningbo

Our school just had another extra long weekend to celebrate the beginning of May, and we used the opportunity to travel to Ningbo, a fishing wharf town about three hours away from Huzhou. We got mixed reviews from everyone at school when we asked them about Ningbo. The students who are from there raved about it, of course, and told us that it was a must-see city in China, especially if we wanted to try some great seafood. The students who do not hail from Ningbo told us that it was a waste of our time, as there are many cities in China that are “more beautiful.” One teacher told us that Ningbo was a business district and nothing more; he thought there really wouldn’t be much for foreigners to do there. However, we decided to try our luck anyways. We really only had three major goals for our trip to Ningbo (and I bet you can guess what one of them is!).

1. We wanted to eat some western food. I know you saw that coming. After visiting our favorite website, www.wikitravel.org, we discovered that there was quite a long list of western restaurants for us to try! Ningbo plays host to restaurants serving Mexican food, Italian food, Irish food, Greek food, and Turkish food! And many of those restaurants ended up being all in the same small district of town. It was very interesting…

You’ve seen small communities of foreigners in the United States before I’m sure–places like “Chinatown” or “Little Italy.” You walk the streets of those communities and you feel like you’ve left America and traveled overseas. Well, Ningbo has its own version–a small western village full of foreigners and restaurants catering to foreigners. From the architecture style to the cobblestone roads winding through cute little patio bistro tables, we almost felt like we were back home. In the words of my British ex-pat friend (and travel buddy) Connie, “If you can forget that you’re in China, then it’s a REAL holiday!”

I was surprised that Kasia (who lives in England but was actually born in Poland) had never tasted Mexican food. Justin and I actually ended up eating at the Mexican restaurant two nights in a row–yum! But I always forget that just because we share the same language does not mean that we share the exact same culture or eat the same comfort foods. I had a funny conversation with Kasia and Connie awhile back in which they were talking about foods from home–things that I’ve heard of but never tasted, like kidney pie or bangers and mash–that they were missing. They asked me to describe some uniquely American food, and I had trouble thinking of anything that we hadn’t stolen and adapted from other countries. Connie helped me out by asking, “Tell me, what is a ‘corn dog’? I’ve heard them mentioned in the American television shows, but I’ve got no idea what it is. Is it made of corn?” I laughed, thinking of course the typical American food would be something completely unhealthy that’s served in a ballpark. But I described a corn dog to her–basically a hotdog on a stick with some corn bread wrapped around it. But then Connie asked, “And what is corn bread?” Hmm…maybe we have more uniquely American food than I realized…

Connie and Kasia drinking coffee from a shop that completely ripped off the Starbucks logo

2. We were on a mission to buy some shoes. Shoe shopping in Huzhou is nothing but a big tease. Every time I go shopping I happen across very cute (and ridiculously inexpensive) shoes, only to ask the store owner for my size and get a laugh in return. “Hun da!” (“That’s big!”) they’ll say to me, and shake their heads at the sheer enormity of my feet. I try to take it all in stride. I have a Chinese friend who is living in America, and she has a similar problem. She can never find shoes small enough for her tiny Chinese feet (unless she wants to shop in the children’s department). My hope was that since Ningbo did so well catering to westerners’ tastes in food, they would do just as well in their shoe stores.

I was not able to bring even one quarter of my wardrobe with me to China due to issues with suitcase space (which was really heartbreaking when I was trying to pack), but after arriving and seeing our very tiny wardrobe meant to accomodate all of our clothes, I was a little relieved that I’d left so many things at home. The same does not go for shoes, however. I brought every single pair of shoes that I own (with the exception of some expensive red high heel shoes that I couldn’t imagine wearing on the streets of China). In hindsight, that was a mistake. The streets of China are very dusty and dirty. I’ve gotten used to looking where I step, because I never know what kind of trash or excrement (or an open man hole–I’ve almost stepped into those a few times) is lying in wait for me on the street. I realized almost immediately that flip-flops and sandals are a poor choice in this city. Between getting my toes stepped on in overcrowded buses and getting my bare feet splashed with mystery liquid on the street, I’ve learned my lesson the hard way.

That being said, Justin and I both own shoes that were really nice (or even brand new) when we brought them in September, and are now so dirty and ruined that we don’t want to take them back home. We decided that we would shop in Ningbo for some replacement shoes, but we will not actually wear them until we are back in America.

Hmm…I’m torn between the winged shoes and the panda bear shoes in the upper right corner.

We had a pretty successful shopping trip in Ningbo. We found fancy shopping malls that had high end shoe brands (with price tags to match), and also some hole-in-the-wall stores selling some realistic looking fakes. I picked up some Chuck Taylors (that are possibly fake but look very real) for the equivalent of $20 USD–in America they are usually double or triple that price. Justin found some very colorful kicks that he will be impressing people with back at home, for about $14 USD:

3. We wanted to swim at the beach. Justin and I packed our swimsuits, and we convinced Kasia and Connie to do the same. We were really looking foward to experiencing a beach on the other side of the world, though we suspected that it might not be as nice as a Florida beach. How right we were!

Even though it had been sweltering hot during our time in Ningbo (and none of the shops or restaurants we visited were making use of their air conditioners! “It is still spring,” they would say, with bullets of sweat dripping down their foreheads. “We must wait until summer to turn on the cold air.” How ridiculous!) it felt about twenty degrees cooler at the beach. I’ve heard of sea breezes before, but we just about had a wind hurricane when we stepped off of the bus at the port. It definitely felt a little bit too chilly for swimming weather.

The advertisements for Putuoshan (the mountainous island we planned to visit) looked like this:

 

A little windy, eh?

 

The water was the consistency of chocolate milk, with trash and debris washing up along the coastline. There was an unavoidable stench of fish in the air, but we could not seem to find a seafood restaurant anywhere. I saw military soldiers marching in formation across the parking lot and planes kept noisily passing low overhead, but we could not find anyone to consult about getting to Putuoshan. (Other than the vendors, but they were only concerned with keeping us at their booths and convincing us to buy their tacky seashell panda bears and other beachy souvenirs). It was obvious that we would need to travel by boat to get to anywhere really scenic, but because the line to board the boats resembled something out of Ellis Island, our group decided to retreat back to town. I was a little bit disappointed, but I always have Florida beaches to look forward to.

Uh oh…I guess this spoils the surprise for Mom and Dad’s souvenirs! (Just Kidding)

It’s hard to believe that we will only have nine more weekends to explore China! The time passes so quickly!

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