Chinese Apps I Love: How Will I Live Without Them?


Women of China (English) - - COLUMNS |专栏 -

"J ust text me when you get there," I told a friend about our reconnection plans for that evening. I was in Canada, and I'd forgotten that we weren't yet Wechat friends. "How do I text you without your number?" she asked, smiling. Quickly, I responded with, "I'll add you," while pulling out my phone to scan her QR code. That was when I clued into where we were. "Text messaging" is still the norm in Canada. By this, I mean SMS messages. Coming from the land of Wechat, I find it jarring to switch to a paid-messaging system, let alone to a system so technologically compromised compared with the brilliance of Wechat. For example, one "new" SMS feature is a voice message, but do you know that they disappear after the other person has listened to them? What's the point of that?

What's more, the Wechat wallet system is so brilliant that I have grown accustomed to never moving through the world with cash in my pocket. It was a serious adjustment to have to return to the habit of carrying a small wallet satchel again while in Canada. My shoulders resisted the activity along with my brain.

Add to this my longing for Taobao, and I suffered serious app withdrawal this summer. With such a vast array of options, I have become the type of person who buys everything online here in China. In my home country for six weeks, I found myself irritated to have to run errands, traipsing through one store after another. How much easier would it be to have items delivered right to the door? As my parents don't live directly in the city, the convenience of delivery would save much time and driving.

I have just arrived "home" to Beijing, and I find myself breathing a sigh of relief that I no longer have to physically go shopping or carry cash anywhere. I've been reunited with the golden 'convenience combo' of Taobao and Wechat.

But let's be clear. Sometimes, I still go shopping. Maybe we go to browse or "check things out" in the shops to make comparisons. Sometimes, I just like to go shopping to socialize with a friend or a family member. What's more, the pantomime of bargaining the prices down is fully entertaining, especially when it happens between a ruthless seller and a fearless foreigner. When else is dramatic fighting in public fully encouraged and endorsed?

For example, when family or friends come to visit me in China, I usually escort them to Panjiayuan, a market that is a bit more interesting than the Silk or Pearl Markets. Panjiayuan features traditional Chinese items, and some interesting "antiques." But, because the practice of bargaining exists even at this market, it doesn't take me long to become irritated that every vendor starts with prices so ridiculously high for foreigners that it borders on insulting. My strong Chinese never cancels out my white face. At the end of the day of market shopping, even if it's been about the experience rather than the items themselves, my gratitude for Taobao is at an all-time high.

Anything I could possibly need is online here at competitive prices. Even with the cost of shipping, it's easy to scan across vendors and discover which one is trying to scam the customer into paying more. Since I earn most of my income through Wechat now, I can easily transfer money into my Alipay account and everything happens seamlessly. I can stock up while I'm on the subway between jobs. I can remember to "pick something up" just before going to bed, and I can accomplish that task within seconds of shutting out the light. I can research items on a whim rather than waiting for the break in my schedule to get to the market.

So, my Canadian friend was surprised by my response about standard text messaging. "What's Wechat?" she asked, innocently. I immediately raved about its technology and convenience. "Maybe it's not cool in Canada," I said with a wink, "but one-fifth of the rest of the world uses this app!" She laughed, knowing that the Chinese population is onefifth of the world's population. If nothing else but to stay in touch with me, I know for a fact she went straight home and downloaded it.

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