There's not so much going on in Ningbo, but it's a lively place. There's an interesting area over the river which seems to be a converted warehouse housing a few cafes, restaurants. And Ningbo's biggest book store (Foreign stock eclectic. Awful.)
There's one of those bar districts, just like Nanjing has it's 一九一二， ‘老外滩’ (Laowaitan), which reads as a bit of a joke, for 'Laowai' means foreigner, and 'Waitan' means 'The Bund' (That famous walkway of Shanghai). 'Lao' also means old, so although to most, it remains 'The Old Bund', to foreigners it is the bar district named after them, and there they shall drink in its brick-lined symmetry until late.
We spent some time there with some old acquaintances of my friend, beside the busy road, listening to the scream of traffic which never ceases in China. It is the OST.
It's only a two-and-a-half hour journey from Shanghai, but Ningbo offers a slightly different pace of life to its famous neighbour. In fact, it echoes Shanghai on a miniature scale. It has little pockets of modern architecture, shopping malls and well-planned urban space. It also has the weirdly-mediterranean feeling low-density areas in between major roads (the buildings are white, the people are chilling in the road) which you sometimes stumble upon in Shanghai (and even more so in Suzhou.) And it has the crumpled up honesty of dragged-through-the-thick-of-it China, with collapsing buildings beside schools of a thousand children singing in the field.
The more I travel around China, the more I see this in its minute permutations. I agonise over maps of the area, and read about the huge differences between this group of Chinese and that group of Chinese, in spite of their close proximity to one another. How their dialects aren't mutually intelligible, and how the people are all but foreign to one another. But when I arrive, I find the difference too subtle to put my finger on. The businesses are the same. The forms of entertainment available to me as a poor-mandarin-speaking foreigner are the same. The architecture is the same.
Which brings me to food. Name a place in China to a Chinese person and they will invariably reply with that region's local delicacies. It seems that the prize identity of each place is their gastronomy. Ningbo is famous for seafood, for example. So rather than looking at the surroundings in order to get a more accurate picture of China's culture, I should just learn about the various food on offer around the country!