A two-day trip to the countryside around Ningbo, a coastal city in East China's Zhejiang Province, impressed me deeply with its clear skies, ocean beaches and stretches of hills with rich foliage.
When the bus went further into Ningbo, more hills emerged along the road. A pure green colour, like a flawless carpet, covers almost every corner of the hills. Plants on the hills prosper on both the southern and northern sides.
Around my hometown, the southern sides of hills always boast much denser foliage making a definite contrast with the relatively barren northern sides.
A distinguishing feature of the Ningbo hills that never could be seen in northern areas are the picturesque groves of bamboo, which may cover the whole hill.
Because of its slimness, the bamboo bole almost seems not to able to carry its own weight and has to bend down.
Sailing in sea
We first arrived at Songlan Hill, a resort surrounded by beach in Xiangshan County. The hill is easily to be identified because a pine tree on its peak can be clearly seen from afar.
When the bus drew close, the land gradually gives way to the immense, quiet sea.
Autumn is coming in, yet many swimmers still threw themselves into the water. Since they are not allowed to stray far from the beach, most swimmers stay close to the beach although the water there is a little yellow.
From time to time, several people in plastic boats rowed out a little further.
In the distance, white sailing boats out on the blue water added to the beauty of the scene.
The boats are not for fishing but for sport because the beach is also a base for sailing. Swimmers can also have a close glimpse of blue water if they are willing to pay for a ride on a motorboat.
After three hours in the sun on the sand, we went to Shipu, a town in Xiangshan well known for its fishery.
The ride was bumpy because of road-building and it took us about two hours to get there. Our guide said the trip normally took about 25 minutes.
Shipu was once a major battlefield during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in fights against Japanese intruders from sea.
It is also near Taiwan and we were told that a powerboat could get us to Taiwan in 16 hours.
Fishermen from Taiwan pull in and disembark at the port and now there is a hospital for Taiwanese fishermen in the town.
Shipu is a thriving town with many restaurants yet prices are not very high - a seafood dinner for eight only costs 230 yuan (US$27.80).
Visitors have the choice of seafood restaurants or they can choose to enjoy dinner at roadside food stands and enjoy gentle wind from the port, which is about 10 minutes' walk from the centre of the town.
To be frank, summer is not the best time to go to Shipu and visitors will miss the scenes of a noisy port with busy fishermen because fishing is banned at this time every year.
So, in summer, a row of white fishing boats flying red flags floats quietly at berth in the port.
This year, the ban ends on September 14 and a grand gala is expected to celebrate a new fishing season.
On March 3 of the Chinese Lunar Year, a traditional festival is held when locals flock to the beach to celebrate and to pray for good luck and wealth.
The Huangcheng Beach in Shipu is free and locals go there to swim and they say it is a good place to watch the sun rise.
Waterfalls in hill
Our last leg is to Yeheqiu, in Ninghai Country, a combination of mountain, waterfall and dense, wild foliage.
Yeheqiu is a place blessed with tranquility and even birdsong is seldom heard.
The path to the top of the mountain runs beside the running water of a stream. Our guide told us that the cool, clear water is rain water running off from the mountain top, where a waterfall plummets into a pool.
Bamboo pavilions, grass sheds and wooden bridges are placed along the path. Several old wooden houses still stand on the mountain and their black wooden walls tell of a long history.
Long-distance coaches go directly to Xiangshan and take about five hours. From there it is easy to catch a bus to Shipu. The trip from Shipu to Ninghai is affected by road construction and it may take up to three hours. However, the trip from Ningbo to Ninghai via the expressway is much easier.
( Shanghai Star August 22, 2002)