Friday, November 10, 2006

Tianyi Square - Ningbo

Ningbo is cities located about 2 hours flight North of Guangzhou and about a 2 hour drive South of Shanghai. It is a port city that has developed steadily along with the rest of China. Hundreds of containers are loaded and shipped from Ningbo everyday making it a commercial hub for local and foreign businesses alike. Ningbo’s deep water harbor makes it accessible to international freightliners and being strategically located at the fork of a river allows Ningbo to control cargo going out of and into the rest of China.

Having lived in Guangzhou for almost 4 months now, I have not really been able to find much flavor in the city. I feel this place lacks personality and style. There are few distinguishing landmarks that I find appealing and Guangzhou over all just feels too BIG for me. I was expecting Ningbo to be a smaller town but I did not anticipate for her to have any real personality or luster. I was wrong. On my first night in Ningbo I ventured out to Tianyi Square in the center of town. While driving there I actually felt some structure to the city. We moved trough the suburbs where we were staying and headed towards the downtown areas. The leveled area suddenly gave way to high rises and well lit streets.

Walking towards the square we passed by a large church. In my opinion, this structure located right on the main street gave the city some sort of a European vibe. I have not seen many churches in China and this structure looked old. I wonder if Ningbo was also colonized by the Portuguese at some point.

The church had large doors with some Greek symbols on them. I do not know what they mean but I always find these cultist inscriptions quite fascinating.

There was also a beautiful mural over the door and 2 striking statues flanking the staircase. I think they are both of Mother Mary. Would that make this a catholic church, which also reminds me that I have yet to meet a Christian Chinese person in China…

Tianyi Square is actually located behind the church. It is more of a circular are as opposed to a square. It is a large open space containing fountains and gardens, surrounded by numerous shops, cafes, and restaurants. It is very popular amongst locals and foreigners alike who come here in the evenings to eat and a walk with their families. The main attraction there would probably be the dancing fountains.

Classical music blares over the loudspeakers and the water jumps and weaves to the changing tunes while lights change color in and around the water. While I was there I saw the fountains dance to some Beethoven, The Lion King Theme, and even the Theme from Rocky. It was pretty awesome.

The view of Ningbo’s skyline is available in a panoramic fashion all around the square. Several high rises glow in the night sky with attractive lighting. While some buildings have sky lights and large streaming ads for companies such China Mobile steaming across there spires, others boast modern colorful light shows that streak up and down their facade. While the images I am describing do not seem so evident in the pictures posted, a short panoramic video I shot of the area exhibits exactly this. I should post it some time soon.

Tianyi Square also houses the largest Starbucks I have ever seen. And even though it is so large, it does not dominate the area it is in but is rather subtly tucked away near the back of the square on a small water feature. There are numerous other international and local dining and drinking establishments in the area that all seemed to be bustling with business. They ranged from your common KFC and Pizza Hut flag ships to more authentic and exclusive Chinese restaurants.

I also noticed a Ningbo Tourist Information Center at Tianyi Square. They had 2 young ladies working there who spoke nominal English, specifically to help tourists in Ningbo find activities within the city to entertain them selves.

There were also numerous pamphlets available for free. Some were about hotels in the city and others about hiking centers around the outskirts of the city but in the same province. While some pamphlets were in English most were printed in Chinese, I presume catering to Chinese tourists visiting fro other parts of the country. There seemed like there were abundant nature based activities to get involved in like outward bound hikes, and white water rafting.

There is also a tourist hotline posted on the front of the center. Unfortunately I was not able to capitalize on any of the touristy attractions offered but the next time I visit Ningbo it will be for recreation. I was actually surprised about how much they have to offer and how well organized their city is.

Tianyi Square is littered with large brass statues of musicians sitting on park benches or jamming on the side walks. This provides pedestrians with numerous photo opportunities. I believe there is a music festival hosted annually in the city but I do not have any more information about it at this time.

Overall it should be pretty obvious that I am quite smitten by the city of Ningbo. Although on the surface it seems to be a quite town where residents dine by 6pm and turn in by 10pm, there is also a sub culture under the surface, burning the midnight oil. Whereas Guangzhou is chaotic and a jumbled mass of oversized malls, buildings, and markets, Nigbo seems to have some sort of structure and style. It is a newer city so its growth has been controlled. The landscape of the area is mountainous with gorgeous scenic points less than an hours drive from the city, as I have explained before; there are copious activities to indulge in. There is a sizable international community that seem extremely friendly and affluent in the social scene. For some insight into expatriate life in Ningbo check out the Ningbo Guide.

There are various rivers flowing through the city and the province. This requires Ningbo to have many bridges connecting the various areas. Each bridge we passed was unique and sitting on the banks of the river on a cool night sipping warm coffee gave me a chance to appreciate the cities sky line. I am constantly taken aback by what China has to offer and I am sure this is not the last time I will rant about some amazing town or some awesome experience.


vina said...

hi avi,
i like this phrase 'I actually enjoy getting messages because I know that someone is out there.'
coz i used to feeling the same way..:)
just dropped in accidentaly, and find your story interesting.
so get better with all the confusing matters?
keep the good writing.


ningbo said...

not to mention what a playful word 'ningbo' is. Its like you can intone it in any way and it feels nice to say:

Say it like 'Aloha' = 'Ningbo' to you today fine sir...
Say it with gusto = Ningbo!!!
my fav... try to say it as if yr asking someone the time, warra laff = ningbo?
or just say ningbo, its like a chinese 'hakuna matata'

dude, i just cant stop saying it

- ningbo

Anonymous said...

i was born there, and live there for 18 years. i am very glad you like it.