China is a huge place and there are so many people in it. I knew this, of course, but it really took me by surprise. I never saw a peaceful street, an empty bus, a quiet corner or even a row of houses. No matter how hard you try not to spot high rise flats, it can’t be helped – they are essential, intrinsic. It is so different to tiny England. Jared’s brother and his family met us in Shanghai, so all of us took the opportunity to explore for a couple of days. Shanghai is where our adventure begins. We booked an Air bnb apartment a few weeks in advance for the nine of us to stay in. Our apartment was on the 30th floor of an apartment block housing locals, which really enabled us to get a feel for how Chinese people live.
Winston was over the moon to be reunited with his three cousins and I was so pleased that he remembered them so well. Ru is much shier than Winston was and it really takes him a while to get used to people – it literally took him a whole two weeks to get comfortable. He last saw them when he was 6 months old and was a little traumatised to be forced into a photograph, Win is obviously thrilled.
My absolute favourite thing about any holiday is people watching. I love watching how they interact with each other, facial expressions, their hands, how they sit, how they drive, what their houses are like, the environment, what they eat, the time they go to bed, what clothes they wear, how they get to work, how they interact with their children, who they spend time with, what pets they have. Absolutely everything – it’s fascinating.
The air in both Shanghai and Ningbo is humid. The temperature was between 23-30 degrees Celsius every day – some days were very sunny, others very cloudy and others incredibly wet. It would be bright blue skies one minute and then pouring it down the next. Whenever it rained locals would tell us off for having our boys in shorts and t-shirts. Chinese people hit you to get your attention – it took a bit of getting used to. They keep hitting you on the arm until they get your attention and sometimes it made me laugh out loud.
We had a day getting our bearings and another visiting Jing’an Temple, People’s Square and Shanghai Museum. We also spent an evening walking on The Bund which was stunning.
Jing’an Temple meaning ‘Temple of Peace and Tranquility’ is a Buddhist temple right in the middle of a very busy part of Shanghai. Jade and silk are very precious, almost sacred in China and Jing’an temple houses the largest jade Buddha statue in the whole of China.
The boys loved having the freedom to explore, watching people light and burn incense and we also managed to catch a large group praying together.
People were throwing money into a large cauldron and all of us had a good go at trying to get some coins in.
People’s Square is the site of Shanghai’s municipal government buildings. Win was squealing with delight at the water (whilst being heavily photographed) and Ru fell over quite early on. They loved it.
We didn’t stay at Shanghai Museum for long – partly because we were getting mobbed, partly because nothing was in English and partly because Rufus was completely obsessed with the lift.
Something I wish we had in England is some form of traditional dress – something we all own and wear for special occasions. Chinese traditional dress is truly magnificent and is created with such precision, thought and skill. I couldn’t get over how beautiful the outfits were and each is different depending which part of China you come from. Just look at them.
I also loved these tiny fishing boats from centuries ago – no details were missed and the addition of feathers makes them really spectacular.
After a couple of days in Shanghai the nine of us caught a fast train to Ningbo. It takes just over two hours and the train reaches just short of 200 miles per hour. At Chinese train and metro stations there are security checks so it can take a while before you board any train.
On arrival in Ningbo we caught a taxi to their lovely 18th floor apartment. They live in an apartment complex – there’s a park, gorgeously maintained gardens and a few shops. Win and Ru’s cousins literally could not have been more attentive to them both – sharing their toys, playing with them and making sure they were happy. Win is very chatty and they were all very good at listening to him go on and on about anything and everything.
On the first day in Ningbo we did a lot of walking. The city is arranged in blocks (like some parts of America) but the blocks are far, far bigger! It took us a good few hours to realise why it took us ages to get anywhere, and why our feet ached. We then decided to get the bus instead – great fun and only 12p per journey. Public transport is so cheap. The tube is 40p for a single journey!
We spent a lovely, very hot afternoon at a park in Ningbo. The boys loved playing in the sand and we were quickly surrounded by lots of families on their way home from school. They all built sand castles, dug holes and played on the swings together. It was beautiful to watch.
Food was a little trickier than I imagined. Most of the food is very greasy (including the rice) which I found difficult, and as I don’t eat (don’t like) red meat I was quite limited. The Chinese are big meat eaters and it’s not usual to serve without the bones either. Pastry, sausages on sticks, duck, fish heads and slugs are also very popular, and a meal out for four costs around £8. Brioche is widely available, which surprised me greatly. I’m almost certain we ate brioche and peanut M&Ms every single day!
We usually made porridge for breakfast, ate out for one meal and then snacked on brioche and fruit for the other meal. Fruit on sticks and fruit is readily available, which is perfect in the heat. Rufus completely devoured a whole tray of dragonfruit before any of us got a taste of it.
We spent an afternoon exploring the old part of Ningbo. It is run down and a little tricky to find as it is surrounded by endless malls, hotels and shops.
Even though the older buildings are made very simply out of wood, they hold such beauty – from the pagoda roof, to the dragon heads, to the intricate painting, to the shape of the windows and the layers. They are remarkable works of art.