Every time any of us want to post something on the internet, we must wade through clouds of smoke, dank corridors, and zombie-like hordes of other internet users. Computer ownership is rare enough in China that providing what we know of as internet cafes is a very profitable business. But to call these places cafes is requires a stretch of the imagination likely to result in physical therapy. In China they are known as net bars, and the name translates literally into English and retains the dual meaning of net as short for internet and fishing device.
Net bars are very bar-like. Dark, dank, sometimes incredible noisy with chatter or blasting music or cell phone rings and incredibly smoke-filled. Young people crouch in front of their computers, often for hours and even days on end, pursuing relationships, blasting out their frustrations with computer generated hand guns, or just chatting online with friends who could be in the next room or the next province. Often people watch movies or even download images of the sort unlikely to arouse Focus on the Family to an approval rating.
As I was writing this little bit, the eighth grader looking over and almost touching my shoulder is discussing what words I’m typing and what they mean with his friends. The gentleman next to me lights a cigarette and smoke follows the breeze out the window and past my face.
I don’t think any of us mean to spend much time in the net bar, but uploading photos takes time, as does writing blogs, to say nothing of keeping in touch with friends and family back home. Sometimes we find ourselves spending hours here at a time, and still not accomplishing everything we mean to. The only solution, it seems, is to come back more often. Thus we join the hordes of Chinese young people manacled to the machines supposedly so helpful in modern life.
I tell the eighth grader about this website and he and it distracts he and his friends for a while. The man smoking offers me one, and after I tell him I don’t smoke, he extinguishes his own. I’ve written this quickly and am about to escape. Who says you can’t talk your way out of a net?