Last week, we had a false alarm in which I thought that we were perhaps leaving Ningbo. I realized that I had never done a post on Zhongshan Park or Gulou, two of my favorite areas in Ningbo, and ones within just a short walk from our hotel. So as a last tick on our bucket list, Landon and I went over to Zhongshan park. This park is a center of cultural and social activity in Ningbo. During the day, the elderly sit under the pavilions. They chat, smoke, play cards or mah jong, practice musical instruments, and sing karaoke through terrible sound systems with the reverb turned up all the way. Just walking through the park on any given day is a cultural experience in itself!
In the early morning, exercisers gather to walk around the big circle at the park entrance, practice tai chi in the grass under the trees, or do the weird line walking/exercise thing that seems to be the most popular with middle-aged women. This form of exercise involves blaring annoying music, and marching around taking TINY steps and doing various arm movements. Some groups have a caller or group leader that tells them when to change movements with their arms, other groups have the moves recorded on the music so they know what to do. It is a little creepy because they are marching all on the same foot, in perfectly straight lines, doing all the same thing. First thing I think of is “I wonder what their heart rate is like since they are inching forward so slowly while doing arm exercises and sometimes kicks.” Austin’s first thought was, “I wonder if this is mandated or encouraged by the government, and is a sublimal conformity exercise?” Either way, we get a kick out of watching crowds of people doing this in the mornings and at night in the park. Another group that comes out at night are the ballroom dancers. They have their music blaring as well, and although it is mostly waltzing, I have seen some salsa dancers as well.
At night, every one comes out. Chinese people do not go out in the sun, so night time is when everyone goes for walks and spends time together. In the park, there are stands set up selling light-up kid’s toys, kites, and inline skate rentals.
If you’re interested in hearing a sample of the karaoke in the park, click here for a video! I like it better when they are singing along to Chinese instruments and not to a karaoke track. Most of the singers are ancient, so when there are multiple karaoke circles going on it can grate on my ears and sound like a bunch of screeching cats!
Just a short walk across the park is Gulou market, a restored older area of Ningbo that now serves as a great street market and collection of restaurants. There are a few stages for performances, and we happened to walk by one on our way to dinner one day. It is a must-visit area of Ningbo with its traditional architecture, street carts selling trinkets, craftsmen building toys and creating glass animals- and a dressed up McDonald’s. The west end of Gulou is punctuated by the iconic Drum tower.
As we quickly found out when we explored a bit more, there are jewelry places, spas, and art shops in the upstairs areas of Gulou, while all the restaurants are concentrated along the sides of the main walkway or down closer to the drum tower.
Landon’s favorite part of Gulou are the toy shops. All of the shops have toys out for the kids to play with, it is just up to me to make sure he doesn’t destroy the toys! I did not find any jewelry I particularly liked in this area, but we did get a really cool painting of our name, and a guasha tool (deep massage tool particularly useful for messed up tendons) made out of the horn of a mountain sheep!
To enter Gulou from the west it involves going under the drum tower. I think climbing it is an option, but with Landon and an expensive stroller that we didn’t want to ditch we never tried. Alongside the Drum tower is an area that show the excavation and ruins of the old buildings of Gulou, along with explanation signs which are unfortunately only in Chinese. Landon liked playing in the rocks, though!