Saturday, 3 May 2008

Chinese Electric Dreams

Touchdown in NingBo, Zhejiang province and straight off I liked the place because the of blue skies; Hong Kong and Guangzhou were under a permanent grey-on-grey sky, polluted pall quite different from 10 years ago. It's literally dismal [from the Latin dies = day, and mali = bad, hence "bad day"]. Guangdong is called the Factory of the World but you don't even need to see a factory to appreciate the industrial activity.

NingBo, twinned with Nottingham, is an ancient Chinese port city, south of Shanghai and is now an economic zone with sprawling factories (chemical, plastics) over the river delta. Hence the visit. It's also the site of the world's longest road bridge that just opened this week.

Our hotel had a decidedly local character; the lobby, lobby cafe and lobby bar were all smoking areas, a stark contrast to Hong Kong where smokers have to do the outside-the-door huddle. The bar, actually a Cigar Bar, offered a happy hour (between 5pm and 8pm?) and a live 5-piece guitar band with 2 gals on vocals, one with a flute. And it really was a cigar bar; I got dizzy just poking my head through the door but by compensation, the Japanese restaurant was really good and the expat business community seems well served; there's even river-side condos.

Downtown remains non-industrial with some historic sights, pagodas and the like. Our hotel was next to the TianFeng Tower (pagoda) but I didn't have the 5 yuan (30p) entrance fee. There's a confluence of 2 rivers, forming a third so there's a 3-rivers theme, and a bull fighting theme, captured in a large bronze ox sculpture outside the No. 2 NingBo dept. store.

The most remarkable sight was not bovine but the omnipresent 50W electric scooters. The city has banned all motorbikes from the downtown apparently to cut down on dangerous driving but these scooters can do 25mph, perhaps 30 downhill. They are nearly silent, apart from the crappy bicycle-style caliper brakes and I would question the effectiveness of the policy's aims as these things weave around the roads, cycle lanes and pavements.

They certainly are a hit here and I'm amazed this is the first place to mandate their use. One problem, they are nearly silent so you won't be bothered by any tinny 2-stroke clatter just before they run into you on the pavement. Caveat pedes.