When I Met My World of Warcraft Guild for the First Time—In Shanghai
“We should all meet up during Chinese National Holiday,” said Huan Cha, our twenty-nine-year-old guild leader. “Yeah! Let’s bring everyone from Eternal Weekend,” replied Lazy Pig, “and any other girls.” As I read the lime green text in the guild chat, a mixture of excitement and anxiety boiled within me.
I was living in China at the time and was attending an international high school. International schools are meant for students whose parents had to relocate for work. Only those with foreign passports are admitted to international schools, and everything is taught in English. It’s also very expensive.
At the time of the story, I was part of a guild in an online game called World of Warcraft, and the guild name was Eternal Weekend. There were over five hundred people in the guild, and together we raided every weekend, played battlegrounds, chatted over the microphone, and so on. Despite the amount of time we spent talking and playing, I never considered meeting these people, in real life.
Since most guild members live in Shanghai, the invitation was for everyone who could make it. That included me. As I contemplated the offer, I realized my flawed Chinese would be a problem; My Chinese skills are limited and they know no English. I’ve been able to cover it up pretty well all these raids, because who would want to raid with a foreigner? So meeting up with true locals would be an ultimate test. Would things be awkward? Could I handle the complicated vocabulary, potentially spewing into a conversation about politics or recent news at any moment? To make things even more stressful, there were some members who were almost twice my age. I asked Huan Cha if I would be the only girl, and he replied that Xiao Man Zi would be joining us. Although I had never talked to her before, knowing that brought me ease.
Searching up the address, I found a rotten picture of the restaurant. The name of the place was called Xin Mei Ju, which meant New Plum House. Ironic, because “New” was the exact opposite of how I would describe the place. I’m not sure if it can even be called a restaurant, really. It was more like someone’s house who just used his first floor to serve food to customers. The picture revealed that the restaurant’s specialty was hot pots. As I took a quick scan, I saw the pots air-drying on the bare sidewalk. Beyond the half-broken wooden doors opened up to a dark, dingy room. Outside, was a mountain of random, listless items. There was only one picture online and it did not look appetizing. Up to that point in my life, I had only looked at this environment from afar, as a foreigner who will never understand the life of a local. Perhaps this would be a life-changing moment for me, or a big mistake — who knows. Ugh, but I barely know these people, even in the game. All the signs and odds told me I should pass on the idea. But something made me really want to know — I wanted to take a risk and know what life outside my comfort zone was really like. Going back and forth in my hesitations, challenges, and mental worries, I said fuck it and decided to go just an hour before they were supposed to meet.
I was worried I would get lost, GPS wasn’t a thing back then and neither were smartphones. They told EJ, a twenty-year-old college student, to pick me up near where I lived. Battling against the wave of people in rush hour, we decided to meet in the most commonly known place in Shanghai, which consequently was also the most crowded place — Nanjing Road. I asked him for a photo so that I knew who I was looking for. His hair was quite long for a guy’s; dyed orange, it grew straight out of his head, making him look electrified. When I got to Raffles City, I waited a few minutes before calling him and asking where he was.
“Raffles City? Wait, where is that?” EJ blubbered.
“Are you kidding me? Is this your first time in Shanghai? How can you not know where Raffles is?” I challenged.
“…What? I can’t hear you!”
“How do you not know where Raffles is?!”
“There’s too many people here, say it louder!”
“Oh my — , never mind, just ask around. Let’s just meet at the front entrance.”
After a few minutes of waiting, his call came.
“Ok I’m here,” he said.
“Yeah, me too, I’m waving my arms around,” I replied
“Are you the girl with the white purse?”
And then he hung up on me, and I frantically looked around for a guy with orange hair rocketing towards the sky. I didn’t find him until he stood in front of me, looking nothing like his picture. He was slightly shorter than me. His hair was flat, dyed brown, and covered his left eye. He wore a light pink shirt, with a big, loose, grey jacket on top. His jeans were baggy, slightly torn at the ends. Black converse shoes with green laces for kicks. Like sprinkles on icing; he had five ear piercings — three on the left, two on the right. I knew from the moment I saw him that I would have an interesting night. A rush of excitement ran through my veins, making me curious about how the others looked.
“Is this your first time meeting the guild as well?” I asked as we walked, stuttering some words.
He asked, “What?” I repeated my question, feeling my poor Chinese kicking in.
“I’ve met a few before.”
We took a sharp left off the luxurious road into a small alley-like street. Along the way, we got lost several times. Because on the same block, there were three Xin Mei Ju’s, and we weren’t sure which one was the right one. The street was suffocating with trash and spilled food; there were puddles of strange hues on the ground even though it had not rain the day before. At several corners of the street, the food was cooked and the dishes were washed in the open. Once in awhile a drunk man would pass casually by, slightly teetering as he walked, but to everyone on the street, this seemed like a normal, daily scene. These types of streets were the ones where cars avoided because people were everywhere, crossing and standing in the road so often that the white dividing lines seemed to disappear from the concrete. Despite the messiness, somehow everything seemed brighter. The night lights were like billions of fireflies gathered together in a meeting, illuminating the entire street. The mood was cheerful, with a touch of festivity. It was as if every day was a holiday. After going back and forth several times, we finally reached Xin Mei Ju. I knew it was our guild when I saw a big round table with about seven other guys waving heartily at us.
Upon my arrival, I noticed the other promised girl wasn’t there. I asked, “Where is Xiao Man Zi?”
“She couldn’t make it today, she said she was going to be the bridesmaid for a wedding,” replied our guild leader, Huan Cha, who played a mage. He was a fast speaker and had a high pitched voice. He was also a bit shorter than me, but he had a voice of no hesitation, fitting for a leader.
I felt uneasy as “not being the only girl there” was one of the consoling reasons why I came. Well, I’m already here so I should just enjoy this. They continued to talk to me, and I felt embarrassed when they asked if I recognized anybody’s voice — I replied a regretful no.
“But surely you recognized Huan Cha’s voice, right? His is so distinct,” blurted out Lazy Pig.
Again, I shook my head, embarrassed, ashamed — I really didn’t know them at all. The voices sound all the same in TeamSpeak — muffled, scratchy, male. Lazy pig, like everyone else, wore glasses. He was skinny, really tall. He played a hunter, and was the type that always made lewd comments in guild chat, and always got his account hacked. But nonetheless he was an extrovert, willing to help others, and frequently reminisced the days of his youth.
As I sat down I noticed the utensils were all wrapped together in plastic. You had to poke it open to get your chipped bowl and cracked plates. Even the chair was wrapped in plastic, in which the sponge cushion underneath was yellow and torn. I took a good look at the members. Besides EJ, everyone dressed and looked normal, I would’ve never guessed that they were gamers. They talked about the raids, the funny moments, the past, the present, and the future of the guild. Unfortunately, I could only understand about 60% of it, but during the other 40% of the time, I examined each member carefully. For some reason they all appeared to be avoiding my eyes, but nonetheless I concluded that they all felt comfortable where they were. They teased each other playfully and talked to each other as if they were brothers.
“You think EJ looks funny today? Dude last time he had orange hair and came wearing eyeliner. Fucking hipster,” Moon nudged and laughed loudly, “DRINK!”
“Hey man, it was fashionable then,” EJ responded sheepishly, glass halfway to his mouth. We all laughed and took a drink.
Throughout the dinner they smoked and drank Heineken, while I just drank the local branded coconut milk. So this is what it feels like to be ‘local’, I thought. I was in a restaurant no bigger than my living room, and I was with people I met for the first time. I felt a little bit out of place, like I was doing something taboo, but at that moment I felt happy. I glanced at the noisy tables next to us, and saw men with red faces.
“Hey Bao Zi, eat! Don’t worry, today Huan Cha is treating us!” said Moon. The table roared with approval. Yes, Bao Zi was my in-game nickname, which means a Chinese Bao. I nodded shyly, and ate a few bits of meat from the hot pot. Keeping in mind I might actually get diarrhea from the meal, I ate fairly little and out of politeness.
Huan Cha asked me, “Bao Zi, why isn’t your Chinese as good as ours even though you have a Chinese face?” I always knew that even though my Chinese heritage blended with the faces of the others, I was not the same. I explained my story of how I grew up in the states and moved to Shanghai when I was eleven. Despite our differences, they accepted me for who I was.
Everyone was addressed by their in-game name. The people there were: Myself, Moon, HY, Injury, Huan Cha, Lazy Pig, Cloudy Day, and EJ. We didn’t need to know each other’s names nor profile to have a good time. Everyone’s identity was kept a secret, and we knew not to ask. As a result, separate issues such as different jobs, relationships, and lifestyles could be openly talked about.
The things they said and the way they said it was merrier than the way my own friends would speak. From what I thought was going to be a horrible experience, became one of the most interesting ones. As I sat and thought, I realized you don’t need a fancy restaurant or a lot of money to have a good time. You don’t need to know their names or who they are to eliminate awkward silences. So what if you’re the only girl there? So what if they’re twice your age? I had pierced through my school bubble, an English speaking community in a foreign country fortified by stereotypes, and into the real Shanghai. This experience was a new door in my life. Not only did I eventually learn Chinese from these friends, but I also became more exposed to the Chinese way of life. At that moment, the only thing that stood between me and a good time was my own mental wall of worries. At that moment, everything seemed natural. Everything seemed, brighter, like fireflies gathered together in a meeting.