Having lived in Beijing for almost a year, I was spoiled by the subway system there. It was generally the quickest and most reliable way to go throughout the city, and it only cost 2 RMB. It’s seventeen lines made it easy to get from point A to point B, and not having to worry about paying a hefty fee for a taxi or wait for a bus in traffic was a relief. Going from a city that had a well established and (relatively) painless subway experience to one where the subway had only just been built has been a very interesting experience.
The subway is a recent addition to the city of Ningbo. The subway currently only has one line in operation (Line 1, completed in May 2014), running through the city from east to west. There are
currently plans to extend the subway to other districts, and Line 2, which will run north to south, is under construction but won’t be completed until 2015. Nevertheless, with a subway, even if there is only one line, there are still adventures to be had.
The first adventure took place in September, after having scouted the subway a few days prior. The station nearest to the school and to home was Xīménkǒu (西门口, lit.: West Gate Mouth), which taken east led further into the city center. In only one stop, the train reaches Gǔlóu (鼓楼, Drum Tower), the connection to Gulou Market.
The Gulou Market is a shopping and pedestrian area connected to the Ningbo Clock Tower, a large building that once served as a city gate in the Tang and Song Dynasties (618-907 and 960-1279 respectively). Today, instead of guarding the city from intruders it only serves as an entrance to the market area, which houses 400 stores selling a multitude of items from leather purses to fried squid on a stick to fine tea.
Walking out of the Market and along the streets a bit, you can find vendors selling trinkets and souveniers and various historic sights
and landmarks. The most impressive of these is the Tianning Pagoda （天宁塔; Tiānníng Tǎ). The pagoda is the only remaining structure of the Tianning Temple, which stood from the 900s onward and was demolished to make way for a public school.
A bit further away from the Gulou Market and the Tianning Pagoda by foot or taxi is the Seven Pagodas Temple (七塔寺; Qītǎ Sì). The Zen monastery was built in 858, even though it looks relatively reconstructed. There is still a calm to the place, with it’s gentle brick buildings with brown doors and roofs. The trees and color take a break from the loud hustle bustle just outside the grounds. The only entry fee into the temple — at least on the day we visited — was that we take three incense sticks and burn them in an elaborate black metal incense box in the central courtyard. The central courtyard consists of a main hall housing a statue of Siddharta
Buddha, a bell tower and a drum tower. The only people who frequent the complex (save for the occasional bus load of tourists) are orange robed monks going about their duties and lay worshippers.
The quiet serenity that permeates the grounds of the Seven Pagodas Temple is contagious, leaving a relaxing feeling before reentering the madness of the street and the underground labyrinth below.