Chinese internet cafes (called “Wang Ba” or “net bar”) are all pretty similar. When you first enter, you are greeted by a young kid behind a desk. Well, not so much greeted as completely ignored until you either leave or force the kid to deal with you. He will be playing World of Warcraft with headphones covering his ears and a cigarette dangling from his lips and he will only pay attention to you if you make it clear to him that he will no longer enjoy his game until he has taken care of you. This will not make him happy, but let’s face it—who cares?
Now he will mumble something in Chinese in such a way that you have no chance of understanding it even if you do know the language. He’ll keep repeating it, despite it being perfectly obvious you have no idea what he’s saying. What he wants is your passport and don’t despair, he knows the English word—they all do. He won’t use it though, expecting you to give up so he can get back to his game. Don’t let him, just keep harassing him and eventually he’ll come to realize that the easiest way to get rid of you is to actually do his job.
If this is your first time in a Wang Ba, you won’t have your passport with you, which means you’ll have to leave to get it and return later to ruin this poor kid’s day all over again. On the one hand it’s a little annoying; on the other hand it’s also kind of fun.
Once he has your passport, he’ll take down your information, then issue you a card with a name and password on it. Now someone will guide you to your seat—right in the middle of a group Chinese teenagers who will all be playing some game while chain smoking and taking trash at about the same volume as a stereotypical football coach chewing out his players. Don’t accept this seat assignment.
If you look around, you’ll notice that most of the place is fairly empty. Just motion for your usher to follow you and choose your own seat. This way you’ll get up to five minutes of only having to breathe in the general smoky air of the place rather than finding yourself in the middle of a thicker cloud within the general cloud. Usually it’s less than 5 min, because the next person that comes will sit directly next to you (and if you’ve chosen a seat in the middle of an aisle instead of on the side, the next person after that will sit on your other side).
When you take your seat, you’ll want to enter the information from the card, press enter and ignore the Chinese message that pops up. It just says that the information you entered is incorrect. That’s because the card the kid gave you at the desk doesn’t work, so you’ll take it back to him and try to get a new one. He’ll ignore you as long as you let him, then he’ll tell you need to be talking to one of the ushers, not to him. When you try this, the usher will tell you to talk to the kid at the desk.
They will continue to pass you around until you once again make it clear to one of them that they will know no peace until they’ve helped you. At this point you’re probably thinking “But I don’t want them to hate me…” Well, don’t worry. Unless you’re Chinese, they already hate you. Armed with your new card, you return to your seat and log on and enjoy the remaining minute or two before your neighbor shows up and plops themselves into their chair with as much drama as possible, invariably bumping your seat fifteen times in the process.
As soon as their ass hits the chair, they will light up a cigarette, blow the smoke in your direction and hold the cigarette pretty much directly under your nose. Then he (or she) will spend a minute or so gathering all the phlegm in their throat and once their throat is clear, they will reach deeper and gather their stomach lining and then the first foot or two of their intestine. They will form this into a large ball of varying shades of yellow, green and brown and hack the whole thing onto your shoes. Then they will take a couple of drags off their smoke and start working on the next ball of phlegm.
At this point all that’s left for you to do is enjoy surfing the web. Obviously most of the websites you’re used to will be blocked, but there are plenty of wonderful, government approved sites for your enjoyment. Plus, you can sit in a Chinese internet cafe for hours and still end up paying less than a dollar, so you will leave with your wallet intact. You will also leave with a computer virus or two, SARS and stage three lung cancer. Just FYI: most McDonald’s have free Wi-Fi and no-smoking areas.
Photo courtesy of eviltomthai.