Roughly a year ago, I started taking Mandarin lessons. When I was teaching English in China, our contract required us to take weekly lessons. To cut a long story short, I missed learning the language and so found myself an online Skype tutor when I was back in Britain in late 2015.
When I told my teacher, Linda, that I was returning to China, we agreed to meet up. She lives in Ningbo, a city that’s only a couple of hours away from Shanghai by train. Whilst Ningbo is quite an industrial city, it sits by Hangzhou bay, so it also has a very important port, too.
I met her and her husband at the train station. We caught a ‘DiDi’ (the Chinese version of Uber- DiDi is the onomatopoeia for a car beeping its horn) to a restaurant in town. I tried a cooked aubergine, which was split open down the middle and stuffed with thin noodles, spring onions, and a delicious meat and sauce. I also tried a ‘Xi’an pancake’- I’m not sure if this is it’s official title! It was a firm, thin, bun-like bread with dry beef and spring onions inside. Absolutely delicious! All washed down with a Tsingtao (what else?), next we went for a walk through the main streets and crossed the bridge. It was such a bright day, so although the sun wasn’t out, I still needed my sunglasses!
We stopped off at Starbucks on Laowai Street (foreigner street) which had a European-looking feel to it in the design of the buildings. It’s also a popular choice for wedding photos, too, with the odd Eiffel Tower dotted around. We continued walking, and then caught another Didi back over the bridge. We visited a small shopping street styled in traditional Chinese architecture; narrow streets with curved roofs selling anything and everything in the shops underneath. Red paper lanterns rocked in the gentle breeze, whilst brightly coloured circular lanterns zig-zagged their way overhead. There were some charming canals that we walked by, and we managed to spot a couple of cranes! On the other side of the canal were huge, ugly looking tower blocks; some were dirty, some had washing hanging out to dry, and it really showed two different sides of China, just from either side of the canal.
I had to head back to Shanghai that evening, so we said our goodbyes and I took the train back. The sun was setting, and the route passed through some beautiful rice fields and silhouetted mountains. I started to take photographs, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. The man next to me started to show me photos he’d taken of various sunsets, which were all very lovely. We began chatting, through body gestures and nods and shaking heads, and then I decided to practice my Chinese on him; and I mean, all my Chinese. I’d brought my notes with me, so I got them out and I literally spent the entire train journey with him going through what I’d learnt. He said, at the end of it, that my Chinese was actually okay!
He didn’t know a word of English, and so if we absolutely couldn’t work out what I was trying to say to him or vice versa, he WeChatted his daughter, who would send an audio clip back in English translating what he’d said to me! From our little train ride back, I managed to learn that he was a buddhist and was extremely proud of it. When we eventually said our goodbyes to each other back at Shanghai, I felt really happy that I’d had that experience, and hoped he’d enjoyed it, too.
So, that was my China visit; Beijing, Shanghai, and Ningbo. My visa is still valid for two more years, though, so let’s see how that goes! Japan was incredible, too, though. I’ll write about that in a little while!