Wangba persists, in the countryside.
Before leaving his county, Jin Lin used to work at an unnamed factory in Shenzhen, assembling motherboards during day shifts. The pay was meagre, but he could survive by staying at the cheap dorm and eating subpar set dinners at the canteen. The factory, and its adjacent complex of massive living quarters-or urban villages in the local colloquial term-are located at the peripheral of the migrant city. He mostly resisted temptation of visiting the city centre on Sundays and buying anything substantial, not even a non-shanzhai smartphone. While other workmates bought branded smartphones, browsed unaffordable goods in shopping centres, allured by prostitutes at massage parlors, his sole entertainment was baoye at a familiar wangba. Baoye means paying for the whole night, usually for 10yuan instead of paying an hourly rate, to stay at the wangba from midnight until early morning. While wallowing in permeating smoke and the scent of cheap cigarettes, he enjoyed browsing Tieba and pixelated images of Shamate girls in exaggerated hairstyles, taking selfies in front of the webcam, uploading them to QQzone, and talking to others in his Shamate clan on QQ. He wrote in QQzone blog with the Martian language input at 3am,
[I am suddenly a bit sad, suddenly a bit hollow, suddenly a bit miss you.]
He was intrigued by melancholy as it seemed fashionable to melancholic. He heard of the “suicide waves” but he was relatively fortunate as his family did not rely on his remittances and he was not in debt. In other words, he was not alienated in the sense that he was rarely bored nor overworked. Simple rituals like baoye kept him withdrawn and away from the whirlpools of urban seductions and mental repercussions of capitalist exploitation.
Five years later Jin Lin found himself back at the county, his birthplace but erringly unfamiliar. He largely evaded the daunting urban growth by staying at the contact zone of the “connecting region between the city and countryside” but he had to confront this very nausea back home. His county town is now upgraded to a city, a fifth-tier city that is. While his cousins boasted their ventures in Shanghai and the older generation of ex-migrant workers complained about re-adapting to a quasi-rural life in the county (the improperly urbanised now) during family dinners, Jin Lin was unbearably bored, perhaps for the first time as he remembered. He never felt nostalgic towards the ordinary urban attractions—high rises, malls and luxuries were irrelevant to him. He is admittedly still attracted to wangba, which are no longer the centre of internet, for which it is the smartphone. Most of the members in his Shamate clans have left the cities and started families and worked in “proper” professions, not manufacturing nor hospitality but real estate. The greatest migration in human history seems to be imploding as migrants flow back. Jin Lin was indifferent as he knew he had zero chance in getting a wife.
The county is littered with heiwangba or “black (illegal) internet bars”, equipped with outdated and dusty hardware, occupied by underage teens playing online games, loitering while skipping school, flirting (both online and offline), smoking, and doing nothing. Just not long ago, a grandma rushed into the wangba with a machete looking for her grandson who had been missing for several days. At another wangba across the county, a primary school kid stabbed another schoolmate because he was told he sucked at League of Legends. Not to mention an unemployed twenty something guy died at another wangba the moment he stood up after sitting in the sofa for 36 hours reading a rather long but banal fantasy novel about a hopeless young guy just like him finding a new life (a fulfilling one at that) after time-travelling to Ming Dynasty. The owner of the wangba vanished after that incident and another owner reopened it under another name. Now the ceiling is leaking water from the rain, Jin Lin is rather annoyed but the guy sitting opposite is undisturbed and continues his killing spree in League of Legends while holding an umbrella with his neck and shoulder.
Jin Lin’s case is a weird mimicry based on a tunnel vision of urbanity and oblivious creation of a New aesthetics, which sometimes appears at the frontline of Chinese contemporary fashion/art/music, but sanitized of course. The excess of incivility and aesthetics of vulgarity engenders a specific production of the rural wangba space—the juxtaposition between an exoticized rustic life (for its supposed simpleness and uncultivated naivety) and the unrelenting and sometimes inexplicably weird adolescent boredom haunting rural life (which is hidden under the surface and much pathologized when exposed).