Postcard from China, 7

22nd July 2013

Saturday we spent in Ningbo, another major city in southern China that very few tourists visit. We came here because our son Nicholas has been studying here over the past year for a MA in International Business. He has been enrolled at the University of Nottingham at Ningbo, one of two international outposts for the British university (the other is in Malaysia). Nick has had a great time here and has found the course very rewarding, and we wanted to see him here before he finishes in a week or so (although he still has his dissertation to complete). We had a really interesting time, and taking half a dozen of his friends to dinner and doing a couple of hours of karaoke with them seemed an appropriate way to celebrate the end of his studies.

The Nottingham campus at Ningbo was inaugurated in 2004, making the venture the first such collaboration between a British university and China. It’s built on a large scale with some 5,000 students from both China and from the rest of the world. Classes are taught in English but Nick has had the chance to learn some basic Mandarin – and we have definitely been impressed by his ease with the spoken language (learning the thousands of characters is apparently far far harder). At the centre of the campus is an administration block built in a style after the 1920s central block on the main Nottingham campus. Otherwise the architecture is functional rather than distinguished, but the site does have a futuristic-looking engineering block that is apparently the first carbon-neutral building in all China.

Nick gave us a tour, including the four-person student apartment in which he has been living for the past year. The campus is some way from the centre of the city and so he bought an e-bike to get around – and, touch wood, his negotiation of the Ningbo traffic has to date been without incident. We have seen quite a few motor accidents here but not as many as we might have expected, given the craziness of the driving. Most drivers seem not to know if their cars have indicators, vehicles pull out into oncoming traffic at junctions, and pedestrians wander across roads in pretty much random patterns.

Apparently it’s expected that if parents turn up here, they have to take their offspring and friends out to dinner (or maybe Nick invented this particular tradition). We meet up in a mall which wasn’t even a hole in the ground when Nick arrived here last September, but such is the sped of development it now has shops for many top international brands as well as a floor of fine dining establishments. Everyone comments on it but the scale and speed of construction is astounding, and seems to be occurring wherever we go in China.

After dinner we go across the road to KTV, one of the numerous karaoke establishments to be found in every Chinese city. A room costs about £9 for an hour (we book for two) and you get two microphones and space for a dozen people to sing their hearts out. The beer is expensive but at least the popcorn is free. Inevitably Nick’s Chinese friends prove to be alarmingly good, whether they are singing along to Katy Perry or local superstars of whom we have never heard. Nick too proves particularly adept at a couple of Eminem tracks. Clare, Kate and I struggle through some Abba without too big fools of ourselves. I also seem to recall that my rendition of Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel was pretty decent too, but that may be the effect of the second bottle of local beer.

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