Travel and Life in Ningbo, China
I first arrived in China in August 2011 and I was very excited about the prospect of starting my new job as an English teacher in Ningbo. The previous year I had spent travelling around the world to far off places such as Bolivia, India, New Zealand and Brazil. I had learnt many things about these wonderful countries and one thing that I realised was important was having some grasp of the native language. Each country also had its own specific areas of concern when it came to personal security.
So, when I arrived in Ningbo I was eager to find somewhere to learn basic Chinese. First of all the school I was employed with told me they would arrange lessons but I heard nothing for weeks about it. By this time I knew that I needed to be able to communicate fast. The pace of life in China took me by surprise. I was expecting a more tranquil, laid back way of life but instead was confronted with most people operating in the fast lane, quite literally. Crossing the street in Ningbo was a real challenge at first as some drivers pay no attention to pedestrians and will run you down if you are in the way.
Another surprise was the electric scooter that appears from nowhere like a silent assassin.
Another surprise was the electric scooter that appears from nowhere like a silent assassin. I learned quickly that you are not safe from danger on the pavement and you must walk in a straight line or face being hit by a speeding scooter from behind. One worrying aspect of safety on the roads in China is who is responsible for an accident. You may recall a news story on TV about a young child being repeatedly hit by cars in China and people just walking by. One of the reasons for this was that if you stop to help someone involved in an accident and they have no means to pay the hospital bill, you become responsible for the hospital bills.
But the most frightening aspect of transport in Ningbo is being on a bus. The school I work at provides a free mini-bus home on an evening and I have to say it’s like being in some kind of driver mayhem themed computer game where the driver dices with danger but avoids death by a last second swerve of the driving wheel. As school finishes three buses are lined up outside with the drivers smoking and preparing for the passengers to arrive. You can almost touch the tension as the driver takes off the handbrake as the journey home begins. I have suffered bruises on my head, arms and legs as a result of these trips home. I have yet to discover the long term damage done to my nerves and mental well being as a result. Public buses are the same, slightly slower, but with more metal bars around the cabin to cause maximum injury in the result of a collision.
So I felt if I was to mumble my last words in the back of a Chinese bus I better make sure people understand me.
My first contact with Ningbo Institute of Technology came as a result of an advert in one of the ex-pat magazines. I was impressed by the fact that it was free of charge. I got in touch by e-mail and arranged for lessons. I have never been good with languages and when I was at school I only had French lesson for one year. But while travelling I managed to pick up basics and took Spanish lessons in Colombia and Peru and a few Portuguese lessons in Brazil. Knowing my difficulty grasping new languages I was a bit nervous about my first lesson. My teacher was student of the University and his name was Ben. We actually met for the first time in a coffee shop in Wanda Plaza. I thought it would be just a get to know you chat but within minutes Ben was teaching me numbers and basic phrases.
I was a bit self-conscious as other patrons of the coffee shop could hear me fumbling Chinese for the first time. But at the same time I was impressed with Ben’s attitude, here was a man ready for work. After a few weeks I was able to master basic phrases, numbers, tell the time etc and I was very happy with this. Ben’s approach is very thorough but also he lets me dictate the pace. However, apart from learning the language I was also gaining an insight about Chinese culture. The great thing about the Chinese program at the Ningbo Institute is that it is also designed to be a cultural exchange. Coming away from each lesson I have learned more about the way Chinese people think and how society operates. I hope that Ben can say the same thing about my culture too. Living in Ningbo has been a real eye –opener.
I really like where I live which is an apartment on the 42 floor. I get to see daily firework displays for miles around and feel free as a bird at times looking out of my window. It’s hard for me to imagine what Ningbo was like 20 years ago and even harder for me to imagine what it will be like in 20 more years. I do hope though as it becomes a bigger player on the economic stage it does not leave behind the simple things that make living here so interesting. I only have to walk out of my apartment for a minute to see both the latest expensive sports car and an old man on a bicycle transporting goods like a scene from 100 years ago. I hope this diversity remains for a long time and the old man is still around for years to come.
On a personal level I feel I have made a friend for life in my Chinese teacher Ben Chang. Not only has he helped me in learning his native language but he has also been just a phone call away if I need help or advise on any issue. His attitude has been first class and he is a credit to his University, Ningbo and China. On the whole I feel my experience in China has been positive. In the west the Chinese are often portrayed as being downtrodden and glum. However I know this not be the case and indeed the Chinese have a wonderful sense of humour and are a happy people. Just be careful on the road!!
Written by Kevin McDonnell