It has been a smidge over a week since I arrived in China. In that short space of time I’ve seen a lot, eaten a lot, and breathed a lot of foggy air.
From what I’ve discovered so far, the Chinese gaming scene appears entirely restricted to online games. As I’ve yet to see a single video game shop, or even a store that stocks video games.
Amazingly, even the big brand retailers don’t stock games…
Wal-Mart China, 0 Video Games.
Best Buy China, 0 Video Games.
Toys-R-Us China, 0 Video Games.
I have no idea what the hell is going on. I’ve found myself down so many back-streets, gone to far too many shopping malls, and I literally haven’t seen a single video game for sale. If anyone has been to Shanghai, and knows where to track down one of these fabled video games shops, I would be much obliged if you could give me some directions.
The closest I’ve come to trying my hand at gaming was at a really shady Mahjong club in an old part of Shanghai, which is pretty much the highlight of this, my first China Gaming Adventure post.
Before I start explaining what I was doing in a shady back-alley Mahjong Club, and for those who haven’t read my forum posts, I arrived in China early December from a lovely place known as Australia. The primary reason I traveled here was for my girlfriend’s (Stella) brother’s wedding, although my hidden agenda was to spend the entire holiday hunting for unique games.
I’m currently living in the Songjiang district of Shanghai with my girlfriend’s family, about a 2-hour subway trip to the centre of Shanghai.
Me unimpressed by the fog (photo taken from family’s apartment).
On my 6th day in China, with the brother’s wedding finally over, I felt comfortable to travel into the city to try and discover China’s hidden gaming treasures. So we boarded a pleasant bus outside of Stella’s family’s apartment, heading towards the nearest subway station. The bus paved its way through all the major sections of Songjiang before finally arriving at the subway, I was hoping I would see a video game shop on this rather long bus journey… but alas, it was not to be.
The subway ride into Shanghai was pretty uneventful, with the exception of that, if you are western and you are busting to take a dump, Chinese Subway toilets are quite a different style to western toilets, no toilet paper and nothing to sit on, instead you need to squat.
As you can see the toilet comes equipped with a hole in the floor, a toilet brush and a garbage bin. And, if you weren’t aware, in China, toilet paper isn’t provided free at toilets, instead you have to travel with your own paper handy. Fortunately for me, I didn’t need to ‘offload’ anything, but I felt honest pity for the western tourists who could find themselves in a rather shitty situation.
But I digress, the subway carriage became extremely packed as we came closer to the city centre (think Sardines in a can, but with a policeman trying to push an infinite amount more Sardines in). Luckily, since we boarded at the start of the line, we managed to score ourselves some prime seats, which made it somewhat easier to guard my belongings from the pesky pickpockets.
When we finally arrived in Shanghai City, we were greeted by Stella’s friend who picked us up from the station, and took us to her humble home located about a 20 minutes drive away from the city centre.
Stella was able to have an in-depth conversation with her friend, friend’s husband, and their parents, apparently I was the first white person that they had seen in their district (yay), so the entire family all wanted to be there, and to be the first to welcome me. Sadly, due to my lack of Mandarin speaking skills, I was paired up with the baby, whom I nicknamed ‘Dumbo’ because his ears were so insanely epic. The family was trying to get the baby to call me white uncle in Chinese (prounced bai shishu), although the baby, at nine months old, didn’t have much luck comprehending it.
After about an hour, the husband got a little bit bored with the banter, and went to his nearby computer to play a Chinese QQ version of Hearts. I was slightly elated, as it was my first sight of any video gaming in China – even if it was just hearts. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to ask if I could have a turn.
It was starting to get late and I was hungry, so Stella’s friend and husband decided to take us to a popular eating joint for foreigners, which apparently is normally packed with white folk. I happily went, hoping to be able to have a somewhat-intellectual conversation with someone other my girlfriend. We get to the restaurant. I get a little excited about having a conversation in English. But, alas, there wasn’t a single English speaking person to be seen. They figured it might have been because all the foreigners had gone back to their countries for Christmas… sucked, but the food was decent, except that damn chicken head looking at me from across my plate of fried rice.
Yep, that’s a chicken head nestled away in my fried lice. Why they would put a chicken head in my beef fried rice is extremely puzzling; my guess is that the staff wanted to see what reaction a foreigner would have to a chicken head. Surely they didn’t want me to eat it?
Yet after about the fifth time of Stella’s friends quizzing her regarding why I hadn’t touched my chicken head, I had a little nibble. The flavour wasn’t great, and it sure enough tasted like chicken, but it wasn’t for me. Although, compared to the pigs’ brains and ducks’ blood (yes, seriously), which I was eating earlier in the week, it wasn’t too bad.
After dinner, I was taken on a tour of the Shanghai nightclub scene; enjoyable, but alcohol at nightclubs is damn expensive here. The highlight of the evening was when we ended up at a nightclub where they had an African-American singer. From what I gathered, all the Chinese thought that it was a pretty big deal, and worth the exorbitant prices.
By the time we finished our nightclub crawl it was about 2am, and by then I was pretty damn tired and drunk. Stella’s friends (at her request) dropped us off at a seedy looking place called Motel168, where, as it’s name implies, you can stay the night for 168 yuan, which is close to $25 USD (very cheap for Shanghai).
You pretty much get what you pay for: a junior size double bed, a bathroom with no door, and a strong cigarette odour wafting through the ventilation system.
The next day we did the usual touristy stuff around Shanghai (which I will leave for facebook). Towards the end of the day we were pretty trashed from having a poor night’s sleep, a hangover, and spending the day non-stop walking. Hence, we decided to take Stella’s Mum up on her offer of picking us up and taking us home.
To get to the Mum ‘pick-up’ point, we had to catch a sardine bus, similar to the sardine subway mentioned previously. This time, I wasn’t lucky enough to get a seat. Now, I come from a relatively quiet island off Australia, known as Tasmania. Buses, when they are full in Tasmania, are still comfortable. This bus was the opposite; people were packed in so tight that their faces were pressed up against the window. It was highly uncomfortable, and I kept getting a feeling someone was trying to snag my wallet out of my pocket…. joy.
The bus trip took a good hour, and, oddly, it was heading away from Songjiang district (home). So, after an uncomfortable hour-long bus ride away from our target destination, we ended up in an almost slum area of Shanghai. I wanted to take a few photos, but Stella advised against it because she thought someone from the crowd would try to nab my camera (…seriously). It wasn’t a pretty place but this was where Stella’s Mum was waiting for us.
After navigating the slum streets for half an hour, we found the place we were looking for: a run-down 10-story building with the number ‘9′ on it. This is where Stella’s mum was waiting for us. Well, not really waiting, she was there playing the popular gambling pastime of China: Mahjong. Upon entering the building, I honestly felt like I was walking into one of the slum buildings from Hollywood movies. You know the ones where they are riddled with druggies, very poor lighting, people hanging around at the doorways to their apartment, random rooms with loud music coming from them. Well, it was exactly like that; what I would call a slum, but apparently a good place to play Mahjong.
We took the stairs (the elevator wasn’t working, unsurprisingly) up to the fifth floor where Stella’s Mum was playing Mahjong in a tiny room with three other mature-aged Chinese ladies. The windows were all covered with paper, and there was a heavy fog from the excess smoking. In the corner of this room is where I spent a good two hours waiting for her to finish her Mahjong game so we could go home.
I got offered a seat at the table when one of the ladies was leaving, but since I have no idea how to play Mahjong, I declined. And that, as anti-climatic as it is, is the closest I have come to playing a game in China.