“Who is it you’ll be swallowing today?” I asked.
“This was the body of Gerald Farleigh.”
I had met Josette Plimons 3 weeks ago at our school’s lunchtime Silent Film club; now I was sitting with her in a stranger’s home, watching her dip a dainty grey spoon into a blue vase filled with an old man’s cremated remains. It was one of those times where there seemed to be no way to ask an unserious question, since any reality could pop up and present itself as the truth. “Do you ever take that with cream and sugar?”
“No,” Josette said. She tipped the spoonful of ash into a small glass bowl she had brought with her. Small, ornately illustrated leaves of ivy spooled around its rim. “That would be disrespectful.” She gently tapped the back of the spoon against the edge of the bowl in a rhythmic clink to jostle the last flakes of ash out.
That question didn’t seem like it needed a follow-up, so I took a moment to reflect. We were in old Gracie Farleigh’s house. She was one of the seniors Josette would visit and provide light care for every week, as part of a volunteer program that offered substantial college credit (“But that’s just a bonus,” Josette told me). The walls were festooned with a garish lilac print; portraits of the beaming dead cluttered old dark wooden shelves pushed against the walls like balustrades. There was no TV, only a window. This was a room that had been furnished and decorated before the invention of digital time. It was little wonder that Josette found this an appealing space for her ritual.
“And you’re, like…certain Mrs. Farleigh won’t come in and flip out.”
“Positive. I set her up with her little CRTV and a bowl of chili for her nap a half hour ago. She’s dead asleep.”
“Pun intended?” My voice quivered. She looked at me, aware of her own ability to generate discomfort, relishing it.
We make up a big shape for our lives so that they’ll make sense when we think about them in the abstract, but when you stop and dig into the moments that are most important it’ll always feel like each one of them took place on a different planet. Some of those planets become moons: your memory is of what you were remembering at that time.
I sat on that weird pink couch and looked at Josette’s nails, lightly crusted with human remains. I remembered sitting in the art room with the rest of the Silent Film club at the end of lunch, five minutes before the bell was to ring. We had just wrapped up the scene in The Golem where the titular monster throws the Knight Florian off a tower and kills him. Miguel, the club founder, flicked the lights on.
“Any questions? Observations? Anything?” He must have felt like he had to present a façade that we were a “real” club by giving us half-hearted homework attempts after each viewing, even though our supervisor, Mr. Horton, was sitting off in the corner diddling with his iPad and clearly couldn’t have cared less. Miguel sighed. “Alright, see y’all here next Wednesday.” “Y’all” was a somewhat generous appraisal: there were four total members of the club.
Amid the soft shuffling of backpacks being hoisted and zipped up I saw Josette peering at the now-blank TV screen, her eyes focused on it as though trying to make sense of a confounding scene.
“What’s up?” I asked her. She looked at me, startled; and in fact I was startled by my own question. No one knew each other at the Silent Film club and, being a gaggle of quiet weirdos for the most part, we didn’t go out of our ways to socialize with one another.
“Not…much?” she said. “What do you mean ‘what’s up?’”
“No, nothing! Just, you looked like you were really concentrating there, almost like you were still watching the movie even though it’s turned off.”
She looked away from me, past my temple. “Well, I found it interesting” she said. “It seemed like they were setting up Florian to be the big hero of the movie, and then they just went and smoked him like that. Bold move.”
“Yeah,” I murmured, thinking about it. “It’s funny, too, because it’s not like the stories in movies were real sophisticated back then. Like with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari—”
“Yes!” she replied, rolling her eyes and laughing. “I don’t care if it was the first plot twist in any movie ever, ‘it was all a dream’ is still dumb! It’s still cheating!”
“Thank you!” I said. The club had finished that movie a couple of weeks ago and, clearly, the betrayal of the ending was still a fresh wound for both of us. “It’s just like, trendy with internet weirdos to like that movie. Just because it has cool sets doesn’t mean it’s actually good.”
“You know, I was just about to—” she began as the shriek of the bell cut her off. It was likely for the best: Miguel had been eyeing the two of us peevishly, not only because he was feeling left out but also because we were trashing one of his favorite movies. It must have been killing him to feel like he couldn’t jump in and defend its honor.
“We’ll talk more about it later,” she said as we walked out of the classroom. “It’s so cool you think that too, though! I was afraid to say anything.”
“Yeah,” I said, laughing. She smiled in affirmation and then waved as she went down the hall. We didn’t share any classes together and didn’t have much in the way of common friend groups, but I didn’t want to wait until next Wednesday to talk to her again.
Fortunately, both of us turned out to be the type of people who, once dragged out of our shells, yearned to be charmed, to stumble into unique and intricate friendships. Josette bumped into me in the hall the next day and we picked up right where we left off: talking about the storytelling quirks of weird old movies, how Miguel never seemed to want to play anything but German Expressionism (“It’s good stuff and all, but like, is he aware that there were a bunch of other countries that also made movies in the ‘20s?” she quipped). We may not have shared any class periods but we did have a couple of teachers in common, which made it easy to find ways to do homework with each other after school. She was a fun person to be catty with; we shared many objects of disdain.
I learned a lot from her, too. Once she cracked a quiet moment of AP Chem study by asking me if I knew what a Sin-Eater was.
“You mean ‘death eaters?’ The things from Harry Potter?”
She looked at me like I’d just farted on her wedding cake. “No,” she dripped, “not the things from Harry Potter.”
“I guess I don’t then,” I said, smiling. I liked getting a rise out of her every so often.
She grimaced, then continued. “Sin-Eaters were Celtic wanderers who traveled the Irish countryside and absorbed the sins of the soon-to-be-deceased in exchange for a small fee, or for food and shelter. They were pretty much outcast from society because they were thought to be so bloated with the sins of the dead that it was spiritually dangerous even to be in their presence.”
“That’s pretty metal. Sounds like a good idea for a movie.”
She paused. “Why do you think a person would do that? Damn themselves irrevocably in exchange for a little bread and water?”
“Maybe they didn’t believe in Heaven and Hell; they could have been the first atheists. Or maybe it’s not really a choice?”
This piqued her curiosity. “How do you mean?”
“Well…people drive cars at crazy speeds even though part of them knows they might die; and they do die, all the time! And that’s a really direct and immediate physical thing, being in a speeding car, knowing you can’t totally control it. If so many modern people can’t even parse out the risk-reward of something like that, then how’s it so farfetched that there was once a whole class of society way back when that made their living by sending themselves to Hell, and they didn’t have any better reason for it than ‘I’ll deal with it later?’”
She still looked puzzled. I went on, floundering: “Look, I don’t know, why do people commit suicide, or eat at Taco Bell? Those aren’t choices either, exactly.” I couldn’t think of anything else to add; I wasn’t even sure if I believed myself. “You know?”
To my amazement she nodded reverently. “Yes,” Josette said, “I think I know exactly what you mean. Do you remember when the paper is due for Mr. Chetney’s class?” And that was the last we spoke of the Sin Eaters for at least a couple of weeks.
Still, the conversation lingered with me. She kept saying things that would remind me of it. Josette was fascinated with religion and spirituality. We’d be talking about The Legend of Zelda and she’d bring up something from Hebridean mythology that it reminded her of, or she’d quote some wisdom from the Upanishads when I was pissed at my dad and rambling about what a dick he had been. I asked her once where she found the time to learn all this shit. “My mom has a degree in religious studies from Naropa; a lot of these books are lying around the house. And anything I can’t find on the bookshelves is easy to look up online. I just read a chapter of the Bhagvad Gita or Gods and Fighting Men or what have you before I go to bed. But ancient wisdom is everywhere, truly.”
She was always serene when she talked about these things, but I could sense a desperation underneath it all. It seemed almost stream-of-consciousness the way she talked about them; none of her ideas fit together. They were free-floating and contradictory, dropped in and out of her life depending on the situation at hand and her present mood. It was almost like all these spiritual aphorisms and principles were photographs she had ripped out of a scrapbook, and she felt like if she grabbed enough of them then eventually every frayed corner, every stranger’s smiling face would form a bigger picture that would make sense of it all. I never asked if she believed in Hell or something like it, but it never felt like I had to.
It was a Tuesday in April when Josette first told me about her ritual. She seemed worried and bleary-eyed; April was the busiest time of the year for big class projects and papers, and she always looked a little bedraggled in any case, but something seemed off when we met up at lunch.
“You look like shit.”
“Thank you,” she growled.
“Is anything the matter?”
“Yes. I don’t know what specifically, but yes, something’s the matter.”
This was a cryptic answer even for Josette. “Help me out, girl, is it fever, is it trouble at home, cramps? Anything at all, even a ballpark. Even Google directions to get to the ballpark.”
She took a timid bite of her tuna fish sandwich and looked at me sheepishly, almost guiltily. “It’s over something weird that I don’t want you to know about.”
“It can’t be that much weirder than anything else about you,” I laughed. She still looked troubled. I straightened up: “Is it…illegal, that kind of thing?” I whispered.
“Not as far as I know.”
She sighed and pulled a sliver of crust off her sandwich. “You know when you were a little kid and you had ideas about life that didn’t seem to come from anywhere, they just slid out from under a rock in your head, and that made them seem all the more real? And then you’d fall into weird habits or say things that didn’t make sense to anyone else, because they corresponded to this thing you felt you knew about life, and you only stopped doing or saying those things because at some point someone corrected you?”
“I think so, yeah.”
She looked at me with great intention. “Could you give me an example?”
Put on the spot, I sputtered. Then something started coming back to me. “When I was really young I used to think fireflies were dead Christmas lightbulbs.”
Her eyes widened. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. I saw a bunch of them flittering around outside our house once, the day after my dad took all the decorations down. I think it was just unseasonably warm that year but at the time it didn’t occur to me to not think that they were the ghosts of our Christmas lights. I thought dad took them down too soon and they wanted to come back in the house. I started crying, thinking how lonely they must have felt. Felt that horrible little kid guilt that weighs down your whole torso.”
I ruminated; I hadn’t thought about this in a long time. “Actually, it’s even a little wilder than what you were talking about, because I remember telling my dad we needed to let the lights back in and when he tried to explain that they were just glowing bugs I didn’t believe him. I think I even got in trouble for calling him a liar.”
She nodded. “When I was little I ate some of my grandmother’s ashes.”
“I thought I’d be able to hear her soul or that she might come back to life.”
I looked down at the garish ketchup-colored cafeteria tiling. “Did it work?”
“Not really. Not the way I wanted it to.”
She took a big bite of her sandwich, the first real bite she’d taken since we started talking. “I still eat people’s ashes.”
I looked at her. “What?” I didn’t mishear her and I didn’t doubt for a second that she was telling the truth, but it was the only word that would come out.
“I think it’s making me sick.”
“Of course it’s making you sick, isn’t there like formaldehyde and stuff like that in people’s ashes?”
She shook her head urgently. “Not like that.” Then she looked at me. “Would you mind coming with me to Mrs. Farleigh’s house tomorrow?”
The memory moon passed over right at that point; I was back on that pink couch, body and mind. I remember my chest tightening, I remember that for some reason the tops of my cheeks were in pain.
“I thought about what you said about the Sin Eaters, how what they did wasn’t a choice,” she mused. “I don’t think you were right.”
“I think you can be chosen by God but I think you also have to accept the call. Just like any other job.”
She slipped another spoonful of ash between her lips. She coughed and her eyes bulged ever so slightly. Then she wiped her mouth and continued.
“I think the older you get the quieter the call becomes. Whether you’re raised in a secular way or a religious way you’re only ever taught to do what other people say. You aren’t told how to listen to the spirits.”
Mrs. Farleigh gave a concerned yawp from upstairs. “Dear?!”
This startled Josette; to her own visible horror she almost knocked the ashes on the ground when she jumped up. She covered the bowl with her shaking palm as she stood.
“I’ll be right back,” she told me. She stuffed the bowl into my hands and jogged up the stairs. “Coming, Mrs. Farleigh!”
Holding onto those ashes was bizarre, to say the least. I looked into the bowl and tried to glean some spiritual significance from it, feel the gravity of what used to be a human body in my own hands, but nothing would come. It just looked like dirt, like the stuff that piles up in an unswept corner. I spent a few minutes alone in that hideous room, too nervous to poke around and too unfocused even to waste time on my phone, before she sauntered back down. “Mrs. Farleigh heard me cough and wanted to know if I was alright.” She smiled.
“Could you take this, please?” I held the bowl out to her, annoyed. She grabbed it from me nonchalantly and sat down again; I hadn’t noticed when she’d gotten up but she’d put the spoon behind her ear like a pencil and daintily retrieved it to continue eating.
“Anyway,” she went on, “if you hear the true call at all you usually hear it when you’re young, and it’s your own responsibility to have an epiphany when you’re older, because when you’re a kid you don’t really have the resources to follow up on your instincts. But you know, and a part of you always knows. That’s why I say you’re beholden to your own epiphany, even though that seems like the wrong way around.
“That story you told me about the fireflies, about how you used to think they were the ghosts of Christmas lights? I think you were right, or at least I think you were onto something. I think God was talking to you but you didn’t have the spiritual vocabulary to understand what He was saying.”
Her eyes were glued to mine, terrifying in their intensity. Her jaw was rigid. She put her free hand on my wrist and lightly gripped it. “If you could see what I see now. If you could just hear the call, the way I hear it.”
This had officially become Too Much. I yanked my hand away from her as gently as I could and started rustling up my backpack. “Jo, look.” I could already tell I was going to make her feel bad and I was already feeling guilty. “I think you’re super smart and probably the coolest and most interesting person I’ve ever met but like…this is fucked up. This isn’t normal. I don’t know if you’ve told this stuff to anyone else but I think anyone would say you need to go to a doctor of some kind. You already told me it’s making you sick so I think a part of you has to know that you need help.”
She scowled down at the rug in a raincloud of misery. I stood up; I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t know if this old woman would be safe with her but I also didn’t want to be there a second longer. “I really care about you,” I mumbled. “Please do what’s best for yourself, and…I don’t know if maybe you hate me now but text me any time, I’m always down to talk.”
I left the house, waiting for a reply from her that wouldn’t present itself. The closest I’d get to a response would be the tinkle of silverware as I opened the door to the sidewalk.
I was home sick with the flu on a crisp Wednesday morning in May when I got a text from my friend Eli that Mr. Umbria had been stabbed in the side of the head with a compass during 3rd period AP Geometry, and that classes were cancelled for the rest of the day and maybe the rest of the week. Immediately I felt responsible because immediately I knew Josette had done it and I felt as though I hadn’t tried hard enough to help her.
I cried for a little bit, my guts roiling with sickness and guilt, and then I fell asleep. When I woke up I was feeling less nauseous and needed something to distract myself with, if only superficially, so I opened my laptop. I had a new email; it was sent via a file sharing service, although when I clicked the link to the download page I saw that the file wasn’t particularly large. It was sent from an email address composed of a gibberish sequence of letters and numbers; normally I would have written it off as a clumsy spyware trap sent by some Ukrainian grifter but today I knew it was from Josette. She’d likely made a proxy address of some kind just so whatever she’d sent me would be harder to trace back to her.
I opened the download; she had written me a letter. I couldn’t find a date on it but I figured she had to have sent it last night.
so i know i freaked you out a little last time we really talked and i also know you’ve been mad at me for not eating with you at lunch or hanging out with you after school or really seeing you or talking to you at all and i’m super sorry about that. i’ve been in a bad place. so i just wanted to send you this and let you know whats up and hopefully make a little more sense of how i’ve been acting? plese forgive the lack of capitalization and Tumbr-y use of punctuation, im writing this as fast as i can bc im not sure how much longer ill have the faculties to put this stuff into words (it’ll make sense later)
idk u will probably still think i am fuckin crazy after you read this but i did see that little glimmer of belief in your eyes even when you were telling me i shoulda gotten help. fear’s the best path to belief imo
when i first heard the Call i was really young, like i think 5 or 6 years old. it was like a week or 2 after my grandmas funeral and my mom had come home with her ashes in this nice little blue china urn. she left it on the end table for a minute to go do something and my dog from back then, a big boxer mutt named Swooper, knocked it all over the floor bc his tail was waggin too hard. so her ashes were sunk real thick in the carpet and Swooper started lappin it up with his tongue and trying to pull it out of the fabric with his teeth bc dogs are fuckin dumb and theyll eat anything.
grandma smelled horrible but i thought maybe Swooper knew something i didnt so i got on my hands and knees and started eatin too. the taste was wretched. my mom came back in the room and flipped a shit. she smacked me hard across the face and sent me to my room and put Swooper outside for the rest of the day (that was the one time in my life that my mom ever hit me jsyk).
im not sure abt you but when i was little my dreams and nightmares were way way more vivid than they are now. even with that in mind, even having had a relatively comprehensive grasp on the difference between dream and reality (for a little kid), this was something different. that night i heard my grandma talking. and it was this really spooky non-language i was hearing. like if u can imagine a language thats spoken only in tone, made from little inflections and interruptions that sound like words but aren’t comprehensible as words, thats what this was. the voice would bounce in and out of my range of hearing like the words were little rubber balls. and the tone itself was the scariest part bc it didnt sound like grandma, it didnt talk how she talked. it was like the sound of her voice but it sounded disappointed and mocking in a way grandma never did. and it was so, so quiet. i started crying and when i cried i heard the voice make a formless laugh, like a laugh without consonants. i had nightmares abt that voice for years afterwords but that wasn’t a nightmare. that was a ghost. its hard to explain the difference between a real supernatural experience and a nightmare or a hallucination but theyre as different from each other as hearing the voice coming from the person sitting next to you and hearing a voice on a podcast. you just know.
nothing like that really happened again for a long time, probably bc i didn’t eat anyones ashes again for a long time lmao. then when i was 10 me and my family went to Yosemite for a big reunion type thing. the place was this big estate that was kinda next to a lake but it was one of those estates where the rich butthole that owns it wants to seem like they have taste so they make it a bunch of boring rectangles and rhombuses and weird grey glass cubes instead of a normal Richie Rich mansion like everyone actually wants.
the reunion itself sucked, it was one of those things where all these adults you dont know are trying to talk to you like youve known each other since Way Back When and havent spoken in years when really you just don’t fuckin care bc why would you? and all the kids are dressed kinda formal and have bad personalities and no one will share their DS with you. everyone under 15 seemed real put upon and i didnt want to talk to any of em.
so obvs i got bored and while everyone was getting shitfaced at the lake of the beach i started poking around the house. whoever owned the place (it was an aunt or something i dont remember) had a doberman named Max and he was like the nicest dog ever. i would just race him down the weird angular halls and since there was no one else in the place we could just crash into each other and bump into walls and no one told us to slow down or knock it off. it was easily the most fun i had at that whole place.
i bring Max up bc i think dogs have something to do with the paranormal stuff i get into. they always seem to lead me towards it some way or another. during one of our more rambunctious races i tripped and fell over him in the living room. i looked up and found myself in front of the fireplace. there was a ledge above it with a framed black-and-white photo of a woman, probably taken in the ‘30s judging from the coif of her hair (altho what do i know lol) and next to it, RIGHT FUCKIN NEXT TO IT there was a blue china urn. im not sure if it was exactly the same as the kind my grandma was held in but to my 10 year old eyes it looked totally identical.
i stood up and i picked it off the shelf. Max started jumping at my hands bc he was still in a playing mood but i held the urn tight. i opened the lid and looked into it. the ashes looked the same as my grandmas bc all ashes look the same but i wondered if maybe it would taste the same too?? so i looked around to see if anyone was coming in and when i saw i was still alone i stuck my finger in and tasted it, and then i gave it to Max so he could have a lick too. i never learned who that woman was but i had a few more laps and then i put her back on the shelf.
something occurred to me. i went back to where the party was happening down by the lake. everyone was dead drunk at this point. i found my mom and told her i was going to go explore the woods for a little while. she slurred that she didn’t want me to go too far. it was dark bc the sun was going down but i could tell from the glint of her eyes that they were barely in focus. maybe it wasn’t fair of me, its not like she drank all the time or anything, but i was disgusted. i felt this big black ball-and-chain of contempt for the ways of man wrap around my heart and i’ve never been able to shake it all the way loose ever since.
anyway, i went into the woods, not terribly far but aways enough so that i couldnt hear the party. i found a smooth boulder on a slight incline and i sat down on it. the trees blocked what little remained of the sun. the pattering and flickering of animal feet and insect wings at varying distances had a symphonic effect and where normally they would have spooked me tonight they put me at ease. i let my body relax and i waited.
when the dark fell completely i looked straight up. a faded silver cloak began to drift downward as if let go from the tops of the trees. it stayed fuzzy, like waves of vapor on a hot day, and no matter how far it fell past the trees it stayed small; i could see it passing branches as it came towards me but it never took up increasing space in my line of sight like something is supposed to do when its coming closer to you. i reached up to touch it and let it fold over my fingers and a cool breeze slipped across my palm and the cloak vanished. satisfied, i went back to the party with this little initiation into the true cosmogony of things skittering in secret around my heart. it was better than a first kiss.
i realized i was in possession of a special gift that no one else had (or if they did they were keeping pretty quiet about it). there was still so much i didnt know and as i got older these questions began to articulate themselves in more precise ways: was i inviting communication with spirits or simply observing behaviors without playing a meaningful part in them? is there an ethical line between the living and dead that shouldnt be crossed not out of some doofy fear of Black Magic or w/e but out of respect for the privacy of the souls themselves? is real communication even possible when language (like everything) is constrained by time and time has no meaning once a person stops having a body beholden to its whims? i started thinking about all this later. at that time all i knew was i needed to see more of this stuff to even know what exactly i was doing.
opportunities were few and far between when i was very young and so for a while the visions left me. i went to the graveyard and swallowed some of the dirt around the tombstones every so often but it didn’t have any effect. i tried to will myself into lucid dreaming and sometimes that worked as far as it went but like i said the difference between a vivid dream and seeing an actual ghost is like the difference between a vase of flowers and a still life painting. i even applied for an internship at the local mortuary but they didnt take me (tbh i dont think any mortuary worth its salt would trust any 12 year old who wanted to be around dead bodies all day lmao). this was about the time i started getting really into my moms religion books out of sheer desperation. if i couldnt go straight to the source of the universe i felt i had to at least scour for clues as to its true nature.
finally in 8th grade i had the idea of volunteering to be a caregiver. i saw a lil flyer in the office advertising some service for the elderly in exchange for college credit and i signed up on the spot. most of the people i helped were really happy to have a young woman around to give the house a lil youthful energy. meanwhile all i was concerned with was death. ironic!!! i think. anyhow the idea worked. it turns out elders keep pots full of their spouses and pets around almost uniformly. most of my cases were widows and widowers but sometimes when i got a married couple that needed help they’d still have an urn on display for one of their brothers or sisters.
the work itself was quietly unenjoyable. old people suck. even the ones who seemed nice and cute at first all ended up being racist or fucked up in some way. ive had to wipe a vile disgusting putrid concave human ass free of its shit on more than one occasion. one man would discharge ~mystery fluids~ down his pants leg as he walked without noticing. i had to trail behind him and clean it up like i was holding the train of a grotesque wedding dress. i started to think that maybe the reason so many of them kept the urns in plain sight was something beyond commemorative sentiment. maybe they were proud of their dead kin. perhaps subconsciously envious.
the upside to this revolting job was that their withered malfunctioning bodies, once minimally provided for, were easy to keep out of my way while i did my research. it was as easy as feeding them chowder and turning the tv on most of the time. and i never felt i was being disrespectful to the dead that i consumed; if anything i was putting them to better use than their guardians ever would. i mentioned to you that i never “seasoned” the ashes at all because to me that would be disrespectful and anyway that might interfere with something in the communication process.
at first it was like the two times i’d done it before: i would have a little scoop of ash and then i’d have to wait a few hours and be in a dark quiet area for anything to happen. but after about a year the effects were more vivid and immediate. i remember being in a house and just smelling the ashes of a man’s sister and i heard the sound of a turquoise bell (don’t ask me how i know what color the bell was). it popped a tiny bit in the left ear and then shortened into itself, then it sort of spread to the rest of my cranium and exited through the right ear. i was excited. for the first time it felt like they were talkng to me, not the other way around!! they trusted me! i downed a scoop and turned around and there was this blissful strong silhouette of a soldier sitting in the recliner. his face was an eyeless mouthless mass of light but i could tell he was smiling at me. i think he appreciated that he had a visitor after what maybe felt to him like eons of the silence of death. he vanished quickly but it was an incredibly joyful experience for me. it also proved to be the turning point.
ghosts would come to me stronger and faster and not always right before or after i had their ashes. i was down by our little town lake once and i saw a velvet gossamer shape that reached from shore to shore ripple underneath the waves. i saw the smoke form of an infant boy dancing between geese in a flock as they flew south for the winter. once when i was lying awake in my room a pair of white hands drifted through my door, each one holding an apple. i ate the one from the left hand and refused the one from the right. it was unthinkably sweet, like marshmallow foam.
these were all pleasant if not downright beautiful instances but they soon became the exception to the rule and in fact the reason i write this to you now is that i am still experiencing the death world but in a way that is now as rhythmic and constant as my beating heart and in a way which has become distressing to me and which i no longer welcome.
one night i woke up facing my bedroom wall and there was a set of teeth embedded in it. they were dull cracked smoker’s teeth that glowed with the slime of mistreatment. breath came from behind them, from inside the wall. i turned away and turned back and they were still there. i touched them. they were porous. night turned to day and they didnt disappear. i sleep next to them still. i feel the wall’s breath on my neck every night. the teeth dont talk but i wish they would. they would scare me less if theyd just say something.
at some juncture that i failed to spot or prepare for the entire living world cracked in my vision. now i see veins on the outside of my mother’s cheeks. there’s a scalpless hunchback at the side of our school. he claws at the ground like a dog trying to bury a bone and screams all day long. i dont think anything told him he doesnt have a body anymore. every car smells like a corpse. i am privy to open wounds in the fabric of nothing that bleed pure night and i dont dare go near them or look at them for too long. i would tell you where they are but you may be safer not knowing.
ive trained myself to cope but i can dislocate my senses from only so much of this. nor would i ever wish to separate myself from these spirit materials entirely. i have gained valuable insights from many of them. for instance: mr umbria has the skin and tongue of a komodo dragon. he sends mosquitoes to drain sleeping girls’ souls when the stars go down. he is not who he says he is and you should not trust him or in fact be near him at all if you can help it.
but do you want to know what i have observed about you? you talk in the frequency of mist. sometimes your eyes switch places when you have a big idea. you are beautiful. this is why for my own selfish reasons i wanted to initiate you into this world of mine, so i could have a friend who i knew would understand. but as you can probably guess i dont think you would have liked it very much. i ask your forgiveness but i dont feel entitled to it.\*
im not at a point where i feel as though i can just stop eating the ashes and see what happens, as much as that might seem like the obvious and reasonable thing to do right now. it seems as though im at a point where i can sense the truth but it isnt coming in strong enough to be coherent; its like that ugly sound the radio makes when the signals strong enough to be more than static but too weak for you to really hear the music. i cant stay like this much longer and i have to believe im on the verge of a sensory breakthrough. and even if i stopped now i would never want the ghosts to leave completely. i can’t go back to the way it was. as painful as this all can be i’d rather see in the most violent shade of red than go colorblind.
i hear a sound like nails hitting a wood floor with each keystroke and the corner of the screen is starting to curdle. someones peering up at me from under my shoes. i cant write too much more. i dont know if we’ll ever really talk again. think of this as an apology and also as kind of a last will and testament for my normal existence in this world. i hope you have a good life. the secret of the call is now your inheritance if you should choose to claim it.
I deleted the email and the file, but not before I printed the letter out, stapled it together and put it in a shoebox in my closet. I wondered if maybe I’d learned nothing from her story, keeping things around like this.
I’d do my best to take the specifics of what she told me to my grave, but everyone knew that me and Josette were close, and the kids at school, probably the cops too, would want to know if she had been acting strange before she attacked Mr. Umbria. I’d have to lie and tell them yes, she had, and as I did so I would have to dream of a perfect world where knowledge didn’t turn you insane, where the senses didn’t become dangerous when acted upon. The truth that I could never tell any of them would be that there was nothing strange at all about trying to live in a world like that.
Comprehensive Guide for Shanghai TI9 Visitors [UPDATED] With TI9 less than 2 weeks away, there are some who are still ironing out their travel plans, hence I have reposted this mega guide as an effort to reach more audiences who may have missed the first iteration. For those who have read the first one, give this version a skim as well as a few new sections that have been added, based on feedback and suggestions from the previous thread.
, your resident bilingual Dota fan here, who brought you Chinese memes and interview translations
over the past few TI's. With the advent of The International 9, many fans who are looking to attend the event live but have never visited Shanghai would understandably have many questions and concerns regarding the city. This guide was written by yours truly to give ya'll an idea of what to expect during your visit and answer some common questions and concerns. Be warned that this is a REALLY long guide
(9k words, no biggie) aimed towards first timers in Shanghai, if you’re a ticket holder and this is your first time visiting, make sure to read the whole thing as a fair few parts are interconnected.
If you have any specific questions that this guide doesn’t cover, feel free to ask any questions in the comments section or via the Shanghai TI9 Discord
Shanghai is one of the largest cities in the world, with a population of more than 24 million. Situated along China’s eastern coastline, Shanghai has a warm temperate climate, with July and August being our hottest months averaging 25-35 degrees Celsius. Rainy season usually ends by mid July so we would expect typical hot summer weather during the event period with occasional light rain. Note that rainy days in Shanghai can cause a sharp rise in humidity due to its coastal proximity, so dress accordingly.
Air pollution in Shanghai has seen a drastic reduction since 2010 in an effort to improve the city's image. Despite this improvement, it is still considered fairly polluted by global standards, and sensitive people might experience respiratory irritation, though if you’re from a developed city you probably won’t notice much difference. Also, indoor smoking has been recently banned in Shanghai, so smoking is only allowed in open-air environments or designated smoking areas.
In terms of commodity costs, China isn't as cheap as it used to be, and Shanghai’s definitely on the pricey end of the scale. That being said, you can always find a good deal on accommodation and food if you’re resourceful enough, though you might need a local friend to help you with that.
Compared to other parts of China, Shanghai has one of the highest overall prevalence of English speakers. Younger generations have at least a rudimentary grasp of English, and there’s a fairly large number of proficient users. Communication for basic things like directions and purchases shouldn’t be an issue.
One thing to note is that Shanghai isn’t just a tourist location for you, it’s a tourist hotspot for the rest of China as well. There’s easily a couple million domestic tourists in Shanghai on any given day, and to them, YOU are a tourist attraction, so try not to be bothered by the looks and attention. This is particularly prevalent when you go to common tourist attractions such as Disneyland Shanghai where the predominant demographic are domestic Chinese tourists, some of whom may be a bit rowdier than the norm. Overall though, people in China are generally very welcoming and friendly towards foreigners, so if you’re in a pinch, don’t be afraid to ask for help from officials or passer-bys (particularly younger folk).
Preparations (If you haven’t done these preparations yet, HURRY UP!) 1. Visa
Before one books a flight to Shanghai, first thing you will need to do is look up the Visa application process to obtain a tourist visa to China. Costing approximately USD$90-110, China’s visa application process is pretty straightforward, just fill up the relevant forms and attach the required documents. The main items you will need to prepare for the application would be your flight itinerary and hotel booking. Please note that in some countries, you may have to submit the application form in person or via mail to specific visa application centers, so make sure you do your research on the due process beforehand.
Officially, visa processing time is slated to be 10-14 days, but it can often be processed as quickly as 2-3 days, depending on how busy the embassy is. Again, check with your country’s authorities, you may have to return to the visa application center to pick-up your passport/visa.
Singapore, Brunei and Japan passport holders can enter China without a visa for a stay no more than 15 days. For those of you from countries with powerful passports, you may be unused to the paperwork to fill out, but it’s pretty simple to handle and shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes of your time. 2.Flight
For flight booking, simply use your preferred website, skyscanner, booking, etc, to find the lowest fare available.
Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city so there wouldn’t be any problems booking flights there, Pudong Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world. Note however that there are two airports in Shanghai, Pudong International Airport (PVG)
and HongQiao International Airport (SHA)
. Nowadays, HongQiao Airport is mostly for domestic flights, but if you’re flying from Eurasia, your flight may transit via another major inland city in China, which will possibly land you in HongQiao. If you’re travelling with friends via different flightpaths, make sure everyone’s booking to the right airport, because the two airports are pretty far apart on opposite ends of the city.
Should the air tickets to Shanghai be in short supply, alternative flight routes include flying to Hangzhou or Nanjing and taking a high speed rail to Shanghai. The high speed rail service in China is world-class and surprisingly easy to navigate (do ask on discord if you want more information about this, where other locals can help you), and it’s less than 2 hours travel time via the rail to Shanghai. If you wish to take this chance to tour around China a bit, this would be a good choice as you can visit multiple cities and see their unique history, culture and attractions (such as West Lake in Hangzhou). 3.Venue:
Before we get to the hotel and accommodations, the venue needs to be looked at since I’m sure a lot of you will be looking to stay somewhere nearby. First off, here’s a google map of the venue and its surroundings.
The stadium is conveniently located right beside a Metro station, China Art Museum Station. You will see the iconic Mercedez Benz Arena
(MBA) building immediately when you step out of the station via exit 4 (I've personally verified it), and it is a mere 30 second walk to the stadium.
Located along the bank of the Huangpu River, the MBA is part of the expo grounds developed during the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. It boasts spectacular views of the city and the river, has a gorgeous park right next to it where you can go for a leisurely stroll, stunning architecture in every direction and rows upon rows of restaurants available in the adjacent River Mall Area 5. The entire area was developed for event purposes and its facilities are specifically constructed to cater to those needs.
HOWEVER, this also means that there are no hotels or residences within the immediate vicinity, since the district was entirely purposed as exhibition grounds. The nearest available accommodation would be budget hotels approximately 1km away, with decent hotels (4-stars & above) at least 1.5km away. Given how efficient the Shanghai Metro is, it is strongly recommended that you widen your hotel search radius and take advantage of the Metro system.
Please also note that food and drinks are not allowed to be brought into the Arena. While there is some leeway for small finger foods and mineral water, it is up to the discretion of the organizers/guards (i.e. if the venue ends up being a mess on day 1, they might enforce a stricter ban day 2 onwards. Keep the venue clean everyone!). Things like a Mcdonalds takeout bag are definitely not allowed. Food and drinks are available for sale inside the Arena, but at a hefty premium compared to standard local retail prices. For reference, a bottle of water sold inside would be about 15-18 rmb (2.50 USD), a grilled sausage is 10rmb (1.50 USD) etc. Given that the tournament is a full-day event, you would presumably be allowed to leave the venue for lunch and return back to the arena, but whether its single entry or multiple entry hasn’t been announced yet. 4. Hotels/Accommodation
In a city of 24 million, hotels are aplenty around Shanghai, with options available across all prices. As a reminder, your passport is mandatory for checking into any public accommodation in Shanghai, be it hotels or AirBnB. Also, while AirBnB is rising in Shanghai, unless you have a local friend helping you out, you may encounter communication issues with due processes during your stay, hence I would recommend sticking to hotels where formality is assured. Please also note that due to the new recycling laws enacted in July, budget and mid-range hotels no longer provide bathroom amenities such as toothbrushes by default, but are available on request
. Please remember to ask for them at the service desk before flaming them!
The main priority when choosing a hotel for the TI event would be the ease of commute to the venue. It is highly recommended that you search for a hotel that is close to a Metro line. To recap for those who skipped straight to this section, it is due to these main reasons:
- The Arena is located in a special use district, with no hotels in the immediate vicinity
- The closest hotels are approximately 1km away, and higher grade hotels even further.
- With almost 18,000 spectators leaving the venue at the close of each day, you’ll face massive wait times for Uber. Public Transportation is your best bet. Check the transportation section for guidelines on how to access and navigate the metro.
The Arena’s station lies on Line 8 (blue line), which runs vertically through the city
. You can reduce the hassle of changing lines by selecting accommodation solely along this metro line, but it would limit your options. I recommend that you use the map view when booking your hotels on your booking site of choice and try to find hotels within walking distance of a metro station (which honestly isn't hard because of the extensive metro coverage - see transportation section).
The main locations where hotel prices are higher would be in the strip stretching from People’s Square to LuJiaZui (highlighted in yellow in the above link), due to their premium location in the heart of Shanghai’s iconic tourist hotspots. If this is your first time in the city and you don’t mind forking out a little more, I highly recommend staying in these districts as they offer a much more immersive experience of the city’s attractions. Beyond these areas, hotel prices are generally fairly uniform across the city.
[Hotel Grades & Chains]
i.Budget hotels (USD 35-70)
While there are even cheaper options, I would not recommend them as they run the risk of being sketchy motels or hostels with nothing but a bed. Most of them likely won’t have English-speaking staff either, and honestly you likely won’t find them on international booking sites, so don’t worry.
There are a few budget hotel chains in Shanghai, such as HANTING and JINJIANG. These are typical budget hotels offering a simple room
with standard utilities and daily room service, but likely do not include breakfast nor any sort of catering service (they might on the upper price end). Note that even within the same hotel chain, the quality of the hotel may vary significantly
, so keep an eye on the photos when booking. In some low-budget cases, the room might not have an exterior window, but gaming addicts don’t need sunlight anyway.
ii.Midrange Hotels (USD 70-120)
This is where you’ll find some international brands like Holiday Inn. These hotels are generally 3-4 star caliber, and would match international standards in terms of room quality. Typical hotels, meals and standard services fully available.
iii.Luxury Hotels (USD 120+)
As a cosmopolitan city, Shanghai sports luxury hotels from all international hotel chains, such as Mariott, Ascott, Intercontinental etc. Beyond the lavish facilities these hotels offer, they are also usually situated in shopping hubs or tourist hotspots, and you can be assured that they would have staff proficient in English.
If you have any queries or questions about the hotel you’re booking, feel free to ask on Discord
where Shanghai locals (myself included) will be able to answer you. 5.VPN and Data Plans
Due to censorship laws and the Great Firewall of China, many commonly used social media platforms and search engines are blocked and/or throttled in China. Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Twitter, Youtube are all completely blocked. Google translate and maps are usable (via its Chinese platform translate.google.cn and maps.google.cn), Whatsapp is kinda-sorta banned but messages do go through occasionally (pictures and media definitely can’t). Bottomline is, if you want to access the internet as you do back home, there are two options:
- Your home country’s local carrier has global roaming, and you’re fine with coughing up the dough for usage abroad. Check with your service provider to see if this is available. If you’re visiting for a short duration (i.e. main event only), this would be a good choice and price would vary based on your mobile plan. Because you’re using the network provided by your own country’s carrier, the global roaming is NOT subject to the firewall and you’d retain full access to the internet, which saves a lot of hassle.
- If you use a network in China, such as connecting to local wifi/using a local sim card you purchased, you will have to utilize a VPN to access the blocked content. Contrary to popular belief, VPNs are NOT illegal to use in China. (What is illegal is if you sell a VPN service as a corporate entity without approval granted by the authorities). There are tons of VPNs available on the market, however the GFW is no slouch and do periodic banwaves that kills of a bunch every now and then. Make sure you do careful research on which ones are reliably usable before purchasing; the free ones tend to be either shady (data selling) or unreliable (unusable/poor connection). If you use a VPN service, make sure to install and ensure that it is working first before arriving in Shanghai, as those service providers’ websites might be blocked.
Protip: If you’re a University student, look up your university’s tech resources to see if they have a uni-access VPN for students abroad, particularly if your university has a strong Asian demographic. Given the large number of Chinese students abroad and the endemic problem of being unable to access University resources whilst on holidays back home, many Unis have set up official VPNs for use by their Chinese students, which you can make use of in this instance. Most US/CA/UK/AU institutions have this function and you can look it up.
Purchasing a Sim Card for local use:
If you wish to purchase a Sim card from a local carrier (China Telecom or China Unicom), there are retailers present in the airports for convenient access. Sim cards plans are generally quite cheap, ranging around 6-15 USD a month, and usually with unlimited data. Might be a little more expensive for short-term prepay usage. Also, do note that passport identification is necessary for purchasing a number, so make sure to bring your passport along. 6. Apps to prepare
- Google Translate: Your best buddy if mandarin is basically moonrunes for you. Helps with basic communication which should cover most things you’ll encounter on your trip.
- Pleco: Your second best buddy to help with communication, comes with voice functions, optical character recognition functions (when you see a signboard and have no clue what it means and you can’t type it out either), handwriting input (you can draw moonrunes into it) and many other functions that helps you overcome the language barrier
- Didi: Basically Chinese Uber. Allows foreign credit card payment so one of the rare few apps that foreigners can work with. Visa/Mastercard/UnionPay only, not sure about AMEX.
- Wechat: Chinese Whatsapp and Facebook rolled into one, you should set it up beforehand. This is THE most used app in China, just about everyone uses it and it is an essential means of communication. If you meet anyone you want to stay in touch with, add them through Wechat and you’re good to go. Perhaps someday you might even discover the fabled meme trove of China that is Wechat Stickers…
This warrants a special section because Shanghai has a unique case of being an essentially “Cashless” city. E-commerce is the predominant form of transaction in Shanghai, with virtually everyone making payments and transfers via wallet apps such as Alipay and Wechat. This has resulted in much lower amounts of circulated cash, and oftentimes small retails and cabbies may not hold enough spare change since barely anyone uses cash these days. While highly convenient, this becomes a challenge for foreign visitors as the process for linking the wallet app to a credit card requires verification from a local bank.
There are a few ways one can make payments in China:
- Domestic payment platforms such as Wechat/Alipay, if you are able to complete the verification process. This may be possible for some SEA nations with banks that are partnered with Unionpay.
- Some international payment platforms such as ApplePay, SamsungPay are also accepted at larger chains (Starbucks, Mcdonalds etc)
- Credit Cards are accepted at most large retail outlets, stores and restaurants, but some cards may not be accepted (Visa/Mastercard/Unionpay are fine)
- Cash – ATM’s around the city do cater to foreign cards but there are transaction costs and withdrawal limits, I believe it’s around 2000 RMB per transaction (300USD) for foreign cards.
As visitors likely won’t go through the trouble to set up e-commerce for a short trip, you will have to stick to cash and credit card payments. Just keep note of my comment above regarding low amounts of circulated cash, so if you’re predominantly using cash, try to keep a fair bit of spare change on you to avoid issues. See also the section on transportation below for further information regarding travel payments, as you will be using a metro card to pay travel fares.
Arrival in Shanghai
Once you have made the necessary preparations for your trip to Shanghai, next comes the part where you plan what to do while you’re here. 1.Airport Services
There are a few things to take note of when you arrive at the Shanghai Airport. Security is pretty typical of international standards, and you won’t be subjected to TSA-style unsolicited colonoscopies. You may be requested to open your bags for a brief inspection, so please do not attempt to smuggle contraband (see section on China Law). If the border officer asks the purpose of your visit and doesn’t understand e-sports, just tell them you’re here to attend an exhibition. Make sure to follow the signs for foreign visitors prior to the immigration checkpoint, as you will have to fill out an entry card and register your fingerprint scans as part of due process. PSA due to recent bs on worldnews: No, you will NOT be asked to hand over your phone or electronic devices. No, you will not have any bullshit spyware forcibly installed on your phones, apple/google already did that for you. No, security doesn’t give a shit if you have porn on your devices. These measures are only applied to specific border crossings in one specific part of western China that is prone to conflict, and do not apply to 99% of China’s ports.
Once you leave the gates, there might be a swathe of tourist peddlers asking if you need a cab, do make sure to ignore them and just follow the signs
to the public transport facilities
. The information desks at the airport all have English assistance so you can look to them for help. There are 3 main transportation options from Pudong Airport to the city – Cabs, Metro and the Maglev, as follows: 1. Cabs/Uber:
The fare from Pudong Airport to the venue is approximately 150RMB (22USD), subject to variation based on time (night rate, peak hour jams etc). Depending on where your hotel is, you can approximate what your fare would likely be. I recommend that you print out the hotel address (In Chinese characters) for easy navigation with the driver. 2. Metro:
Metro lines are available in both HongQiao and Pudong Airports, and easily accessed after exiting the gates. This is by far the cheapest option, costing a mere 3 – 5 RMB a trip (45-75 cents), though you will likely be facing a rather packed train. If you’re looking to minimize costs or if your hotel is near a metro line, this is the recommended way, though you will have to navigate your way through the metro map to the right station. 3. Maglev:
The Shanghai Magnetic Levitation Rail
, available only in Pudong Airport, is a short-distance rail that takes you from the Airport to Longyang Station, a transport hub close to the city. Costing 40 RMB (6 USD) for a ticket, the Maglev is a state-of-the-art transport that goes up to 430+ kph, covering the 30+ km (19miles) between stations in 7 minutes (which the metro line would otherwise take 40 minutes to traverse). If this is your first time in Shanghai, I highly recommend taking it at least once for the experience, not just for the speed but also that surreal /futurology
moment when the magnets hum to life and you feel the train levitating. 2.Currency Exchange
Next thing you might worry about is currency exchange. In the case that you did not prepare local currency, there is a currency exchanger in the airport; however the airport rates tend to be pretty pricey. In China, currency exchange is government controlled, which means there are no private retail currency exchangers as one might find in other countries. Instead, all currency exchanges are performed through the banks. The banks’ rates uniformly follow the central bank’s rate, which is highly competitive, and in most cases the exchange rate will likely be far better than in your own countries due to regulations against banks placing a premium on currency exchange. You may have to bring your passport to prove your identity, but beyond that you won’t need to worry about any procedural obstacles. A yearly exchange cap of US$50,000 per person applies for foreign cash exchange (does not apply to credit card transactions), but I don’t think that would apply to most of us attending the event. 3.Transport A. UbeDiDi
Didi, which is basically Chinese Uber, is the go-to app in Shanghai for vehicular transport. There are other alternative apps but Didi is the most integrated in terms of english availability and, more importantly, allows use of international visa/mastercard credit payment.
While Didi is a very convenient mode of transport around Shanghai, do note that it may not be the best choice for the event, as you’re looking at over 15,000 people leaving the venue at the close of each day, of which a sizable portion will be hailing private fares. If you rely on Didi/Uber, you might find yourself placed 200+ in the queue with an estimated wait time of over 2 hours… which is why I recommend seeking public transport to the venue. B. Public Transport – Metro
The Shanghai Metro is the most convenient form of transport in the city. With a huge network spanning across the city
, there are few places in the metropolitan area that are beyond a 15 minute walk from any given station. One of the most efficient systems in the world, the Metro runs at intervals of approximately 3 minutes, down to 30 seconds
during peak hours (commuters wanted more but safety concerns limited the frequency), so you don’t have to worry about missing one. Most lines operate between 5am to 11pm, with Line 2 (which connects to the airports/railway stations) running as late as 1.30am. During the late hours though, taxis/didi would be your only option.
All stations have signs in both English and Mandarin
so you shouldn’t have many issues navigating your way around, though you should take note of which exit you want to take as some major stations can have over 20 exits and span a long distance. The metro can be really packed during peak hours – while not at Japan levels of sardine packing, you may find yourself queueing and missing a few trains before being able to board one yourself. Peak hours is usually 8am-9:30am and 5pm-6:30pm. Do note that there are baggage scans
in every station, and anything larger than a purse will have to be scanned.
To use the Metro, you will need to purchase a Public Transport Card which looks like THIS
. The card can be purchased at any metro station including the airport and costs 20 RMB (3 USD) that can be refunded upon return. You can then top up the card with whatever value needed. Do note that the Public Transport Card is universally usable across all official public transport in Shanghai (Metro, Buses, Official Taxis, Maglev) which makes it particularly convenient as you won’t have to worry about spare change, you can pay by just scanning the card, so keep that in mind when topping it.
When refunding the card at the station upon leaving the country, do note that there will be a 5% surcharge on refunds above 10 RMB when returning the card. C. Public Transport – Taxi
There are a few different taxi companies in Shanghai, but the main reputable ones are 大众 (Cyan colour)
, 强生(Yellow or Red colour)
. The main taxi companies are affiliated with the Department of Transportation, allowing them to accept payment via the public transport card as described above. It is highly recommended to obtain a card for this purpose as many Taxi drivers might not keep much spare change for cash transactions, given the cashless city phenomenon. You can also book a taxi directly using Didi, which may sometimes be faster than finding a dedicated driver.
Change Taxi's if the taxi does not have a meter or if the driver asks to keep the fare off-meter. Do note however that it is customary for the driver to not activate the meter immediately out of courtesy to the passenger – they usually activate it after driving a few meters or after completing a u-turn, so don’t be alarmed. You shouldn't have to bargain for your fare, and never pay up-front. Some drivers may prefer not to pick up foreigners due to bad experiences with past passengers (drunken fare-skipper incidents etc) and many cabs are pre-booked via booking apps, so don’t be surprised when an empty cab appears to ignore you.
Unfortunately, most taxi drivers will not understand the slightest bit of English, so if you don't speak Mandarin, it's very useful to have a 'taxi card'. Most hotels will provide you with one, which contains the hotel's address for your return trip. It's best to keep small bills or change for taxi's, as taxi drivers won't usually have change. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip, nor will they ask for one, but they do appreciate if you round up the bill / forego the change. D. Relevant Traffic laws and customs:
Shanghai is notorious for its cutthroat driving etiquette where many drivers don’t use blinkers and the right of way goes to whoever gives less fucks. While the traffic culture has improved over the years with increased traffic police oversight, there are still many things that may take visitors for a surprise. If in doubt, stick to a crowd and you’ll be fine.
First off is the right-turn rule in China, where cars can do a right turn (small turn) on a red light. So if you’re at a traffic junction, don’t assume safety of passage once the pedestrian light turns green, take note of your surroundings for ignorant drivers to ensure it is safe to cross. Alternatively, stick to a crowd and you’ll be fine.
Secondly, there are a lot of cyclists/scooterists in Shanghai, and they have a tendency to think themselves above traffic laws with their maneuverability. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a close shave with some asshole on a scooter blatantly ignoring a red light. There are bicycle lanes on most roads around Shanghai, so keep an eye out there when crossing roads, or just stick to a crowd and you’ll be fine. 4.Food
Being a cosmopolitan city, Shanghai caters to all sorts of tastes and preferences when it comes to food. Local signature dishes include steamed soup dumplings, pan-fried buns, soysauce braised pork, baked sweet potato, drunken chicken and many others, while also sporting some of the best hotpots around. There are also innumerable restaurants serving foreign cuisines, ranging from Japanese, Korean, Western, Indian and various Southeast Asian cultures. There are restaurants that cater to vegetarians and halal requirements, and if all else fail, we have the bastions of American nutrition, McDonalds/KFC/Burger King.
[Food Hygiene and Sanitation]
One might be understandably concerned about the sanitary conditions of food in China. Shanghai’s town council has aggressively tightened hygiene regulations over the past years, particularly after major food scandals which pretty much killed the street food business due to public fear (unethical assholes ruining things for everyone as usual). While there are definitely seedy places out there with questionable sanitation, you would be perfectly safe sticking to larger establishments. As a rule of thumb, find places with a decent crowd and you’re good to go. Largefancier restaurants are very safe as they do have a reputation to maintain, and most expat/tourist areas are closely vetted; generally if the restaurant has a budget for English menus it’s pretty safe.
Tap water in Shanghai needs to be boiled before consumption. Your hotel should have complementary drinks (you can always ring the reception for more, though budget/midrange hotels might limit it at two per day) and there is no shortage of convenience stores across the city where you can purchase drinks.
Shanghai’s on the moderate end of the scale when it comes to exotic foods, so you won’t be finding some of the more extreme foodstuffs that shows up on fear factor. If you’re feeling adventurous during your stay however, you can try some of the local delicacies which oftentimes involve parts considered unusual in western culinary cultures. Braised chicken feet (called Phoenix Claws) is a hugely popular dish, along with pork liver, blood pudding, pork ears, ox tail soup and many more. China has a rich culinary culture with many recipes passed down over innumerable generations, and many dishes have some sort of background story behind them.
Some restaurants refuse tips, mostly because they’re unused to it and are accustomed to fully returning your change. However, tipping is becoming more common in the city, but mainly in high-end restaurants where a 10-15% service charge may be added to the bill. Elsewhere it is not expected.
While food in Shanghai’s metropolitan area is quite clean by international standards, it is recommended that visitors bring some diarrhea medication along just in case of upset stomachs. For allergies, there are over-the-counter medications available in local pharmacies, but anything with adrenalin or corticosteroid (epipens etc) will require a doctor’s prescription at the hospital. (See section on Medical Services)
For street food/small eateries, unless you have a Chinese E-wallet app, you will likely have to use cash payments as vendors may not have SWIFT payment available, so keep some loose change on you. 5.Alcoholic Beverages
The legal drinking age in China is 18, and the Chinese are no strangers to the world’s favorite poison. Most restaurants serve beers which tend to be local brews like Tsingtao pale lager, priced around USD$1.5-3 a bottle. If you prefer western drinks, there are also several western bars in Shanghai, usually clustered around expat areas. A quick google search of shanghai bars will give you a rough idea of where they are, these places tend to be streetfront and very popular so you don’t have to worry about seedy joints. Keep in mind though that imported drinks will have a hefty premium tagged on them if you’re buying from a bar, so don’t expect cheap prices in this regard.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try the local Baijiu
(White Wine or Chinese Vodka), which is a spirit typically around 52% alcohol content (though some brands go as low as 38 and as high as 64). Keep in mind that Baijiu has a different “role” compared to western liquor - despite also being served in small glasses (about half a standard shot), it is usually consumed during a meal, as a complement to your course rather than a standalone beverage, though it also can be consumed that way.
Buyers beware, however, as Baijiu comes in many different varieties and grades, ranging from thousands of dollars a bottle to 4 dollars
for a 5 Litre drum. Just like how vodka’s cheaper than water in Russia, some of the lower end brands are ridiculously cheap. However you get what you pay for, and I honestly cannot recommend the cheap brands in good faith, as they’re considered “fake wine” by locals (just a shitty alcohol mix, not a savory brew), so unless you’re really motivated to abuse your body and taste buds, I’d advise to stick to the more mainstream brands recommended by your Chinese peers or stores. For reference, a decent bottle would typically have a retail price of around 400+ RMB (60+USD), with more popular brands going past 800 RMB (120USD). 6.Chinese Law
This is probably the section that will attract the most memetic responses so I’ll keep it straight and simple – please be a responsible adult, as you would be when visiting ANY country. You’re here to attend an Esports event and have a good time watching some top-notch dota with the rest of the world. This enjoyment is similarly shared by everyone in the stadium regardless of race, country or culture. Everyone is here to celebrate something we all enjoy in equal measure, so please don’t let any political or cultural disagreements get in the way, because it doesn’t belong here.
That being said, there are certain laws that a visitor should keep in mind:
1. Drugs & Contraband
All narcotic substances are a BIG no-no here in China, and this includes marijuana. China has a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs, after a ugly period of being subjected to massive narco-terrorism campaigns by colonial powers, which inflicted grievous damage to the nation and resulted in deep social and cultural enmity towards substance abuse. Please do not attempt to bring any narcotics into the country, even if they are legal in your home country. If caught in possession of drugs, you will be arrested on the spot, with penalties ranging from 15 days imprisonment (smoking weed) to capital punishment
(trafficking heroin). This is the one line you REALLY
do not want to fuck around with while in China, so don’t do it.
2. Censorship of politically sensitive topics
I’ll first clarify one thing: It is NOT illegal to engage in discussions about certain politically sensitive topics in China, unlike what popular opinion on /worldnews
claims. However, broadcasting it
would put you at risk of getting in trouble with authorities (looking at you edgelords who wants to put dumb political discourse on camera at a Dota event), as it can be considered public disruption or even instigating public unrest, which may get you detained for a couple days while your embassy sorts you out.
If you are particularly concerned about this for some reason, the below links provides a pretty good picture of what you can expect when discussing sensitive topics in China: Link 1 Link 2
If it is your first time in Shanghai, you may well find the local populace to be very different from your preconceived notions, especially for younger generations who are generally more connected and well-informed of international news. I recommend that you keep an open mind coming into this beautiful city, and enjoy some awesome dota with the local fans. [Cont]Sightseeing/Nightlife/Safety/Police/Hospital
Due to hitting the 40,000 character cap on reddit, the remaining sections are posted in the link above. Please make sure to read them as well!
Again, if you have any questions, you can ask me in this thread or via PM, or through the Shanghai TI9 Discord
where several locals are available constantly to answer any queries you have. You can also find more information through a quick google or youtube search, there are many resources that explains things you might encounter on a visit to Shanghai. One thing though, don’t ever use /China
as a source of info, it’s a heavily biased (if not openly racist) cesspool.
To close things off, I hope this guide would be helpful to those of you visiting Shanghai, and it wasn't too much of a bore to read. This guide ended up being far lengthier than I predicted when I started it as a voluntary work, but it'd be worth it if it can help dota fans who are coming over from all around the world enjoy TI9 just a bit more. Shoutout to David from Newbee
and everyone who has contributed suggestions to make this guide more complete. I look forward to seeing you all at TI9!