Spare Parts: Our Man In Ningbo

Quirkiness is a tonic in Asia. At least that’s how it seemed in ‘1982’, Ningbo’s own mini-CBGB rock bar, when a Korean girl dressed in pink clothing and huge heart sunglasses was searching through the crowd to hand out toy musical instruments. Frenzied drumming came from a backing track mixed by her Japanese lover on an Apple laptop. The audience joined in with their toys as she returned to the stage to continue squealing into either of her two mics and vigorously shaking her toys, all laid out on a tray in front of her. Her body quivered to her own unusual sound taking on a trance-like state.

At uni there is no shortage of odd events. Probably a result of being ostracized from the rest of society in the city education zone, you find Chinese students organizing all manner of wacky competitions and campaigns. Walking to the canteen for instance you can pass stalls of ‘Green Bag’ designs created by students with a desire to express their environmental concepts on carrier bags. In the high street, a small pedestrian street where all the student accommodation, shops, cafes and post office etc are, I once passed a flower arranging competition. Students are given every opportunity to demonstrate how great they are. ‘Campus Guinness’, for example, is Nottingham Ningbo’s very own Guinness world records. Walking out of the high street I passed three challengers attempting the longest hoola-hooping record. Trying this for myself proved harder than it looked since these were clearly no ordinary hoola-hoops. The other day the Psychology Society conscripted Mickey Mouse in full traditional Chinese attire to lead a free hugs campaign. I got two and felt much better after them.

Inspired by the creative energies of our fellow Chinese students, my friends and I therefore entered a few challenges. The Fruit Platter competition gave us the chance to show off our originality with ordinary groceries. Though popular with the audience’s vote, our juicy expression of a pirate surrounded by ships and grapes didn’t impress the judges, despite how charming Pachoo had been while explaining the concept. Sometimes choice is not an option, as my Mandarin classmates and I discovered when we were shanghaied into a karaoke competition. Thankfully Pachoo and I saved the audience from our terrible voices by leaving the singing to a talented Russian girl while we pranced around in mouse costumes. The song was about how much mice love rice.

Chris Berragan


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