Beach 2, August 2009. Welcome to the sleepy port city of Yantai in Shandong Province. I’d been travelling around Shandong for several weeks when someone recommended Yantai as a pleasant place to head purely for a spell of beach lazing. “The beach isn’t actually up to much,” he admitted with a wry smile. “And the city centre doesn’t have anything going on”. It was quite the sales pitch, but nevertheless I felt fascinated by this seemingly unloved coastal outpost. Most of the visit was spent here on Beach 2 reading; sleeping, swimming and watching people build sandcastles.
Tianfeng Pagoda, August 2017. Any self-guided walking tour of downtown Ningbo should include a stop at this cool hexagonal tower; the city’s tallest ancient structure at 167 feet. Built in 695 during The Tang Dynasty, the original structure has been destroyed and restored a million and one times over, with the latest renovation coming as recently as 1989.
Tianyi Square, August 2017. If you’re into branded clothing, luxury accessories and being followed around by fussy over-attentive sales clerks who desperately want your money, then no doubt Tianyi Square will be pushing for top spot on your Ningbo to-do list. I couldn’t give a crap about any of these things, but I still wanted to swing by to see what kind of vibe lay within the city’s largest and most famous square.
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Zhongshan Square, August 2017. It’s amazing to think we weren’t even going to bother with Zhongshan Square. After all, we only had a day to take in Ningbo’s delights and I hadn’t read anything to suggest it was a must see. But then somehow our walk down the atmospheric Gongyuan Lu shopping street led us right into the square and suddenly we were among maybe a hundred local pensioners hanging out in their natural habitat. And many of them were enjoying live music performances like this one scattered around the large gazebo.
Gongyuan Road, August 2017. It’s been an amazing month of travel here in China. First came my trip to Fujian Province, with the stunning city of Xiamen and the colonial time warp island of Gulangyu. I also enjoyed a day on the Xin Yang River in deep, rural Zhejiang Province. I hadn’t planned on squeezing in anything else. But then the city of Ningbo, also in Zhejiang, is just two hours from Rui’an, my Chinese home from home. Situated around The Yong River, 5.7 million people reside in this ancient harbour city, home to one of China’s busiest ports. The first thing my travel mate and I stumbled across was this charming shopping street accessed through the stone archway of the drum tower. It’s a strictly pedestrianized experience, so we could just saunter about eyeing market stalls and admiring the low-slung buildings with their gray slate roofs. If you’re ever in town, give the coconut ice cream a try!
Moon Lake, August 2017. Moon Lake Park, also known as Yuehu Park, is the largest green space in Ningbo city centre. Despite my status as a somewhat weathered Chinese park veteran, it was still worth a wander thanks to its spotless stone pathways, pretty rock gardens and wooden-stone mansions once home to prominent Ningbo artists, writers and scholars. You can also check out the amazing Tianyi Pavilion, inside which lies China’s oldest existing library. At night local seniors come here to slow-dance at the low-lit water’s edge.
Jiaoqu Yaohang Street Catholic Church, August 2017. There are some impressive churches dotted around Ningbo and this massive structure, tucked behind Tianyi Square, is surely the grandest. As one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks, the church is a popular meeting spot among locals, while at night the entire building is lit up in a dazzling neon glow.
Yong River, August 2017. Visitors to Ningbo should put an hour or so aside for a walk alongside The Yong River, if only to marvel at its ominously muddy color. The skyline is impressive in parts and, as we did, you could use it as a walking route to cross one of the bridges to connecting Lao Waitan neighbourhood, Ningbo’s lively nightlife district.
Zhongshan Park, August 2017. It almost feels like Ningbo wouldn’t be a real Chinese city if it didn’t have a Zhongshan Park. Happily then it doesn’t disappoint, though the adjacent Zhongshan Square was the real highlight, where huge groups of old people converge to chat, listen to live traditional music and play cards.
Xin Yang River, August 2017. Even after all these years I still get a kick out of seeing isolated places in off-the-beaten-track China. And they don’t get much more podunk than the insignificant village of Xinyang in Zhejiang Province. Located about an hour from the city of Rui’an, my teaching buddies and I headed out on a typically hot and humid August afternoon. And it wasn’t even the village itself we were interested in, but rather this narrow stretch of river where locals go to seek respite from the unforgiving summer heat.
Sweet Mao, August 2017. It was mid afternoon on Gulangyu when, all of a sudden, the heavens opened and the rain came beating down. So I sprinted off through the nearest stone gate and into a colonial courtyard with brick arches, twisting trees and a statue of a red-haired, cartoon cat. Sweet Mao announced a number of playful signs; the home of sweet tea, handmade nougat and thoughtful gifts.