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My visits to Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Sanya, cities on the tourist map of China, by air and train were journies to view the impassive facades of city life. Sanya, touted as the Hawaii of the East, is the winter holiday destination for cold East Europe and Mainland China. The Expressway route to Taizhou, Ningbo and Cixi, the emerging industrial icons, was of curiosity, of seeing the country in its natural form rather than the market friendly impression presented on different platforms. It was a five day trip with Hong Kong-Guangzhou section done by cross-border train and Guangzhou to Taizhou by air, a five hour travel time on same day. It was late evening when we landed at Taizhou Luqiao Airport and were driven straight for dinner or feast of specialties I had never tasted before. In particular was the ginger-egg combination and when I asked for its local name the host insisted on Ginger-Egg, probably thinking it is simpler this way.
Taizhou is a coastal city, along East China Sea, and this accounts for the first impression of a city crawling out of its shell. Till ten years back this 5000 year old ancient village was unknown beyond China’s borders when the error was rectified with placement of industries from Hong Kong and Guangzhou. The impressive line up of manufacturing products range from plastic molding, chemicals, yarn and clothing, automotive and motorcycle accessories, home and commercial sewing machines, medical and commercial chemical facilities, pumps and valves, electrical appliances, clothing, food processing and arts and crafts. At the breakfast buffets at five star Yaoda International Hotel we came across different nationalities out on consumer prowl.
Two things helped me relate to the city; a local wedding plus the fruits. The traditional wedding ceremony must have already taken place and we were to attend the banquet in the evening. The groom’s mother was kind enough to let us accompany family and friends to escort the bride from her village home to the new city apartment, a present to the couple by groom’s parents. The groom and his parents were not supposed to see the bride before her arrival and utilized the time supervising the arrival. This for me was a plus as in Indian marriages the bride’s parent’s bank-roll the wedding expenses or what we refer to as dowry custom. An auspicious time, according to high tide signifying ascension of fortunes, had been set and five flower decorated cars made way through city streets for the village venue to be welcomed by the bride-in-white and her family. The green fields, unassuming charm of the village people and the tantalizing aroma of wedding feast, I lost count and name of dishes that appeared at regular 5 minute difference, were the added bonus. The evening banquet, again organized by groom’s family, was a fancy wedding -planner affair with music, champagne and cake.
Taizhou is the fruit city of China and carts engulfed in tangerine tango of pyramidical oranges, pomelos or Chinese grapefruit, persimmons brighten up the repetitive Chinese cityscape of expanded government buildings, high rises, parks and city centers. Taizhou boasts of nearly2000 varieties of oranges out of which the Huangyan Honey-sweet variety has a cultivation history of nearly 1700 years. The squatty Yunnan (district of Taizhou) Pomelo or ‘reunion fruit for family reunion, happiness and perfection’ is a deceptive fruit, matronly in appearance but astringent to taste with some health features to its credit.
Next day we set on our road journey on the voluminous Yongtaiwen expressway (G15) connecting Taizhou(tai) to the other two Zhejiang province cities Ningbo (yong) and Wenzhou (wen). The early morning mist swirled around the impregnable and verdant mountains with pockets of portentous model villages and factory townships as the Expressway wound its way through tunnels and on occasions tantalizing glimpses of life behind the rock curtain. The spaced out billboards were the giveaways that we were in China. The smooth and continuous drive of this fairly new expressway (operational in year 2000) ensured that we covered the 151 kilometers distance between Taizhou and Ningbo within two hours. The only sound in the cab was the peeling and eating of oranges we had purchased from an ‘orange’ cart.
Our contact was meeting us at Ningbo border toll for further one hour drive to Cixi, 60 kms from Ningbo. Ningbo is located south of the fertile Yangtze delta and was on the ancient Silk Route nearly 2000 years ago. One of the five treaty ports commissioned by Treaty of Nanjing (1842) at end of First Opium War between Britain and China it is still one of the busy ports of China. The European connection of Ningbo commenced was initiated by the Portuguese, the first European traders to arrive in 7th and 8thcenturies, to be followed by other European countries. The Eastern and Western combine made Ningbo a center of culture and religion in the area.
I had to give Ningbo, a city wrapped in history, a miss as my friends had to be in Cixi by noon and I was a passenger. It is a norm with factories to organize pick ups and drops for visiting buyers facilitating smooth transitions. A brief stopover at a rest area and the expressway journey continued onto Cixi, a sub provincial city of Ningbo, situated on the coastal region of East China Sea and the south bank of Grand Hangzhou Bay Bridge. The road rolled alongside mountains, patches of water and occasional factory towns into an out and out trade and industrial hub for machinery and solar products. I accompanied my friends on factory rounds, meeting with young entrepreneurs eager to share in the growing clout of China and to master English to interact with the West. Language is a barrier with both sides flaunting English and Mandarin speaking translators. I could now put a face to the mechanized side of the country, a more interactive one.
Towards evening the endless cups of green tea and trade talk had taken its toll and we walked to the market area, near Bossman Hotel, crowded with youngsters, workers and visitors, for a pizza dinner at Pizza Hut. The western and local diners, restaurants, karaoke bars, spas, massage parlors, high end designer wear and local brands give the impression that Cixi is tagging its high profile neighbors, Shanghai and Ningbo.
The return from Cixi to Ningbo, for return flight to Guangzhou, was again an early bird activity. The ‘red’ sun in different stages of emergence singled out the grey-roof-clustered houses and factory and agriculture workers waiting at bus stops or setting up their market stalls. There is no airport at Cixi hence the rush to Ningbo airport. We were before time, the cab driver cutting through shortest route to the Ningbo Lishe International Airport, 11 kilometers southwest to Ningbo city. From here to Guangzhou and then same day return to Hong Kong
Places to Visit:
Linhai Jiangnam Southern Great Wall of China, .Sanmen Blue Crab Festival, Yuhuan China Pomelo Festival, Mt. Tiantai
Donggian Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Zhejiang Province, Baoguo Temple, Tianyi Pavilion, Asoka Temple, Tianfeng Pagoda, Lao Waitan or Old Bund, Tian Yi Ge Museum
Shanglin Lake, site of Yue Kiln, famous Chinese porcelain, Wulei Temple, The Du and Baiyang Lakes or the Sister Lakes due to their proximity.