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If there was one place I didn’t expect to find myself on a Saturday night, it was in a dark room with a laser gun tied across my chest. But this was exactly where I ended up this weekend.

I went to meet some friends I’d met through my co-worker. We arranged to meet at the bowling alley, and despite there being a 50ft light-up bowling pin outside – you guessed it – I still couldn’t find it. I somehow ended up in a nightclub and was chased down an out-of-bounds staircase by a massive bouncer with a pug in his arms. (Ridiculously, the pug was wearing baby blue lace-ups.)

Eventually I found the place. The elevator took me up to the third floor, where the doors opened on this smoky, carpeted world of laughing adults and the sound of bowling balls skedaddling down the runways, hardcore techno and repetitive bleeps of the arcade. Inside was a mix of expats and locals, and it reminded me of the late-night bowling alleys in Laos, only here wasn’t as blissfully crazy. Crazy enough though. Melissa and her boyfriend were on the far aisle with their housemate and a troupe of Disney engineers they’d just met.

Bowling & Lasertag in one night… “We go hard.” Melissa told me. When the game was over we all jumped in taxis to this lasertag thing. I was squashed between Mel and her housemate who taught me taxi language. They got me to try out a few words on the driver. Yesterday I heard of a 16 yr old genius who can speak 10 languages. I AM SO FAR BEHIND!!!

Everyone I’ve met so far has been here for years. When I tell people I’ve only been here 2 or so weeks, jaws literally drop. The Asian girl in X-CLUB said to me, “You’ll love Shanghai and you’ll hate it”. So many people have said these exact words to me, but I haven’t been here long enough to feel either. Another thing people say is that they’re addicted to Shanghai. My feelings so far are a throbbing headache that I can’t shake, the longing for fresh air and a slightly nauseous feeling from the constant smell of dumplings and rotting onions while trying to sleep…

Mel elbowed me. “OH MY GOD, JILLY TING!” I yelled to the taxi driver. Means “stop here” in Chinese. Actually, the proper pinyin is “Zheli Ting”, but the taxi driver understood me and slammed the brakes so we skidded to a grinding halt outside the mysterious X-CLUB.

We descended dark stairwells with neon handrails and at the bottom, there was a giant monster made out of metal that I wasn’t overly comfortable being around. Mel and her boyfriend work here kind of, and their housemate is the barman, so they showed me and the Disney engineers round like you see on Cribs – “This is the VIP room, they’re putting a bar over there, this is the karaoke room”… Etc.

Hexagon-shape tunnels and light-up catwalks gave the feeling of the international space station // The Matrix.Tunnels being painted in UV by guys on ladders. Spilled paint glowed in the dark like snail slime… A cat was wandering around with a bonnet on because it had just been attacked by a dog…

The place itself was mostly empty. There were a group of locals sitting on barstools with pre-laser beers, who soon got up and disappeared into the game –  the alternate universe that is lasertag. We could hear the muffled noises of the game thru the walls. Tron played on TV suspended above the bar. Even the toilets here (squats) with their trippy mirrors made you feel disorientated. But this was exciting – quite possibly the strangest coolest place I’d been so far in Shanghai.

We played darts on these flashing neon dart boards, not ordinary dart boards, these were dart boards from 2040. I think this might have been my first ever dart game… Then somebody made pizza and I was impressed when it materialized on the table ten minutes later. It was so good that it didn’t stay around for long, and I’m sure the cheese was glow-in-the-dark!

Around midnight the game was ‘ready’ for us, so we slipped on guns and hung around in the dark waiting room. Somebody was talking to me while the instructions were handed out, so I missed completely what we had to do and the next minute the doors were flung open and I was ushered into the darkness. Didn’t have time to find out what team I was on, as everyone fled in different directions as soon as we entered.

This was mad. I stood there completely baffled while everyone was freaking out. Deep Bass thudded from the speakers.  Laser beams red-and-blue shot across the room and faceless people, that definitely weren’t the people I entered with, darted to and fro. I was the main target because I was always in the firing range. I was being shot constantly and yet I kept on wandering. It felt weird to sit in a dark corner alone with a gun, just wishing for somebody to come along.

The game lasted 8 minutes. Was like a nightmare. On the scoreboards afterwards ( I also forgot to look at what player I was, but ) it was obvious that the person with a thousand points below everyone else was me.  Maybe next time I’ll take the game seriously…

After beer and weird Chinese dice games, it was around 2am by the time we left, and I got a taxi ride with a driver who was falling asleep at the wheel, cruising on elevated highways. Skyline in the distance.  I have to say I’m beginning to love Shanghai taxi drives, a totally new experience for me because now I have grasped basic taxi language.

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