Of course as soon as we hit Nanjing, my darling mother is all about what work we can do and where we can go and lets DO IT ALL NOW!!! Luckily, we are totally down with her being a crazy lady so when Mum and Dad told us we all had to be at Nanjing Nan train station at 6am on Thursday morning, we just rolled with it. Unfortunately, the new Starbucks inside the train station terminal didn’t get the memo and wasn’t open when we arrived. They weren’t due to open until 7am but our train was scheduled to leave at 7am and we NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDED coffee! Luckily we had Nick to sweet talk the girl behind the counter and convince her to make us drinks early enough for us to race back to the gate just as it opened to let us down to our platform and we made it onto our train in plenty of time with coffees in tow. First mission of the day successful!
Mum had scheduled two workshops for Thursday and Friday in two different cities, Rui’an (瑞安) and Cixi(慈溪). Now when we travel with Mum and Dad for work, we usually stay at the local Intercontinental Hotel. We are all Club Members which means we get benefits, upgrades to Club Lounge and the food at Happy Hour is a great free substitute for dinner! Turns out there are no Intercontinental Hotels in either Rui’an or Cixi. Mum presented in Ningbo (宁波) a month or so ago and loved the service at the Ningbo Intercontinental. And since their rates were so reasonable and it wasn’t far from Rui’an and Cixi, we decided to stay in Ningbo. Which was great because it meant that after we had finished working, we had the weekend to explore Ningbo. I had done a little bit of research and I found that the XueDou Temple and the surrounding area (雪窦寺), just outside of Xidou (溪口), was an interesting place to explore. And after a pretty decent sleep in and buffet breakfast on Saurday, Dad asked the concierge to help him order a driver on his Didi app to take us to XueDou. Communicating on the app, the driver quoted a price (I think from memory it was about 150RMB), Dad accepted and the driver came to the hotel. Upon arrival at the Intercontinental, the driver all of a sudden wanted more money! Apparently, between Dad accepting the ride and the driver seeing us Westerners waiting for him, the price went up to over 300RMB! HA! I really felt for the young porter who was a timid looking Chinese guy whose English really wasn’t up to translating Mum’s arguing in English or the drivers very aggressive Chinese. And there was no way that we were paying the inflated price unless he gave us a good reason. Which he didn’t. So we told him to go away. It always amuses me how you don’t need translation to tell someone to go away. Body language definitely suffices for such kinds of communication!
So Dad heads back into the hotel to organise another driver with the concierge. Cue more waiting and then another car turns up. He had a nice smile, Dad said the concierge checked with him that the price would not change and he checked with us before using the highway (which incurred a toll charge). During the drive, he tried to interact with us a little. He drove us through the gates to the attraction after a discussion with the guards that we think was about private cars not being allowed through. He pointed to us a lot during that conversation which we interpreted to mean that he was explaining to the guard that he was hired by these crazy Westerners so he should be let through. Whatever he said, it worked and we were allowed through the gate! Seems he had never been to XueDou Temple either, cos he made ‘wow’ noises along with the rest of us as the huge (HUGE) Buddha Maitreya statue came into view. Instead of just dropping us off and driving away, he arranged with Nick and Dad to wait for us and drive us back after for 250RMB total. Which was such a great price! And once we had paid for our entrance tickets and were inside the complex, we laughed as we kept bumping into him! Through WeChat messages and gestures, he got us to take selfies with him, which he promptly posted on WeChat Moments.
Unfortunately, Mum badly sprained her ankle before we arrived and even though she was stubborn enough to walk up all those stairs, her ankle got really painful and tired once she finally made her way down. We were all tired as well anyway, so we didn’t get the chance to explore Xuedou mountains other offerings, which sound absolutely amazing.
Driving back to Ningbo, he was much more animated. Using our rudimentary Chinese skills, we learned that his name is 井振华 (Jing Zhenhua to us!). He laughed when he couldn’t understand what the hell we were talking about and was very careful to only use WeChat messaging to communicate with us when he was stopped at a red light. Which made a change from one of our old drivers in Nanjing, who would scare the crap out of my by paying more attention to Wechat than he did driving! Back at the hotel, Nick gave Zhenhua 300RMB and it was actually a big deal to take it. Normally Chinese drivers don’t like to take a penny more than the fare agreed upon. It’s a pride and a respect thing. And Nick was very careful to demonstrate to him in a respectful way that we really appreciated how helpful he was and that we enjoyed his company. He handed the extra money to him with both hands and Zhenhua graciously accepted. I think it also helped that we then invited him to be our guest in the Club Lounge. It was Happy Hour so we were able to share with him the benefits of free drinks and free food that was laid out in a small buffet. We kept talking to him, with the help of WeChat (thanks goodness for WeChat’s awesome translation functions!) and we learned more about him. Originally from Hunan, he lived in Ningbo with his wife and two kids. He asked us how we knew each other, where we lived and how long we would be in China. Dad got to practice his Chinese and told him that I was his daughter. It took a few goes but he eventually understood! He ate a certain Chinese fruit (in English it’s called the longan berry and in Chinese it’s called龙眼 or long yan) and showed me how to peel it, and spit the pip out. He offered to take us anywhere we wanted later that night for no charge, “We are now friends.” When I expressed interest in street food, he said that there was lots of colourful and local street food near Tianyi (天一) Square. So that’s where we went. He seemed quite content to play tour guide for us, he laughed at how much I loved chestnuts (板栗 or ban li) and helped us to buy a bag for me to munch on. I had fun getting lost in the maze of little shops in an open-air mall kind of place, as Nick and Zhenhua both tried to avoid the stench of the smelly tofu that wafted in the air! We were right underneath the Tianfeng Pagoda (originally built in the Tang Dynasty) and even though it was not open, it cast an impressive shadow across the night sky. Nick was particularly stoked that Zhenhua understood his rusty Chinese when he asked about a particular kind of boiled dumpling that he loves (水饺 or shuijiao, which is literally water dumpling). Zhenhua even found us a little place to buy shuijiao from. And they were yummy too!
It really made our time in Ningbo to have met Zhenhua. How glad are we that the first driver was so rude because otherwise we would not have had the chance to meet the lovely guy who drove us around and laughed at our terrible Chinese!