Net Bar

Having ones own computer is a luxury among Hubei University students.  There are a few scattered around in the library and dormitories for general use; old PCs with slow network connections.  But if you’re out for some serious surfing, the ubiquitous net bars are the place to be.

That these establishments run all night, I came onto in a roundabout way.  It didn’t take me long to learn that we international teachers were expected to be snug in our beds by eleven, enforced by locking the gate to our apartment block.  So it was not from direct experience that I learned that the whole university campus is shut up come 11:30; no slit chain-links to crawl through.  The next question, obviously, is what happens if you miss curfew? The simple answer: you spend the night in a net bar; it’s only ten kuai, in at 11 out at 7.

But straits don’t have to be that dire. Sometimes your surfing deficit outweighs your sleep deficit,netbar01 and the only way to put yin-yang back into balance is a night at the net bar. Since I’m here to experience Chinese culture, how could I miss this opportunity?  So I tell my informant, next time she’s headed that way, give me a ring.  Seriously?  Seriously.

Next thing you know I’m on the street. past the hour of no return to my apartment, headed for the “Everyday Net Bar”, a dingy establishment, with rows and rows of PCs – I estimate five hundred.  We just managed to get two seats at 11:15; a few minutes later the house was full.  Our 15-minute tardiness is explained by our making a stop at some street vendors to stock up on junk-food and sugar-water.

As any American would do, I went straight to PBS Nightline, and began catching up on some netbar02good investigative reporting that I’ve missed is leaving Atlanta. But it’s Chinese culture I’m supposed to be soaking up, and, since I’m not too swift with Chinese menu-clicking, I just leaned back and gawked at my neighbors’ screens.  Video games seemed to be attraction number one. Not a video-game-critic myself, I maybe missed the fine points of the art, but “phrenetic” was the fist descriptor that came to mind.  But apparently enthralling, for the players kept bonking away for hours. Even vicariously, my neurons were scrambled in no time.

Movies were popular.  Cynical bastard that I am, I have to believe they were all pirated, though as near as I can figure out from the screenful of Chinese characters, they seem to be purveyed by household names in Chinese ISPs.  Email, Face-Book-look-alikes, photo albums with a superabundance of V’s, MP3s with animations or stills.

Lest I seem prejudicial against the tastes of Chinese youth for web offerings, I should confess that I haven’t endured the night with American college students in front of their browers.  Still, even in China, where raunchiness, political and otherwise, are filtered out, attractions like Wikipedia, the NYTimes, PBS are to be had.  But with few takers, at least not in the Everyday Net Bar.

By three or so, I was zonked out.  Frontline still blazing on the screen.  Actually, a more comfortable night than, say, on a jumbo-jet to China.  Plenty of leg-room, large chairs with lots of tilt, and thanks to earphones, pretty quiet.  Still, I haven’t complained about eleven o’clock gate closings since.

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