Scan QR Codes Everyday

It has been a week since I returned to US, and I am itching to scan some QR codes. You see, I did it almost everyday while I was in China.

There, most payments are done with phones through Ali Pay or WeChat Pay. Believe it or not, the latter is actively used by some 600 million users every month. People can either set up a ‘payment code’ on their phones to be scanned at supermarket’s check out, or they use their phones to scan vendors’ QR codes to pay them.

For example, in stores, you usually see pieces of paper with QR codes at the cashier, outside the door, on the shelves, or sometimes buried under a pile of clothes. Once you finish bargaining and are ready to pay, you just scan these with your phone and put in the agreed price. Once you see the confirmation on your phone, you can go.

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Similar with paying for taxi – at the end of the ride, the driver holds up his phone with a QR code on the screen for the passenger to scan and pay. No cash exchanging hands, no card swiping and signing. Quick and easy.

What I find most convenient is its usage in restaurants. Of course, you can scan and pay at the end of a meal like you do in stores, but in some restaurants, you actually scan QR codes to begin. Here is how it works: you find a table to sit down, then scan the code at the corner of that table. A menu shows up on your phone and you order. Once you finalize the food items, you submit and pay through your phone. In a few minutes, a waiter will come over and attach a printout to your table. Then your dishes start to arrive and be checked off from the printout. You take your time enjoying the food, and leave whenever you are done. No asking for bills or waiting for credit card to be processed. Again, quick and easy. I can imagine that in the near future (likely already) it will be robots who bring food to your table.

I heard that this ‘mobile payment’ phenomenon happened very quickly. Almost overnight, QR codes appeared everywhere and people switched to this new way of transferring money without hesitation. There is a saying that even beggars own QR codes now to make it easy to receive donations.

This new convenience is not for everyone though. For example, it is rather difficult for foreign tourists to set up the WeChat wallet, as it generally requires ID or phone number for verification, and a bank card (credit card doesn’t work) to source the money. Also, elderly people tend to find it challenging to do things on a smart phone, and there is potential for hacks and scams. That said, I was still very impressed and went ahead scanning codes wherever I could!

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Convenient, Connected, Chaotic

It has been 20 days since I came back to China for a visit. I am very impressed with the speed and easiness to do certain things here.

It began on the day of my arrival at my sister’s place. Once I settled in, my 16-year-old niece asked me, “Auntie, what do you want to have for dinner?” I asked what the options are. She said, “Anything!” Oh, okay. So, I mentioned what I craved at that moment, a kind of northwestern spicy cold noodles (凉皮). She nodded. Twenty minutes later, she yelled from another room, “your food is here, just open the front door.” Sure enough, the delicious noodles were waiting for my consumption, already paid for (by my sister, no doubt). Great service.

I mentioned in my last post that I had to get a Chinese phone to use here as my life will depend on it. An existing SIM card from China Mobile didn’t include data plan, so the girl selling me the phone gave me 1GB free to get started but it would expire in three days. I didn’t really need a monthly plan so I turned to my niece for help again. She asked me if 200M is enough to last me till the end of July, if so, she could get it for me with RMB 10 ($1.5). Problem solved – I was officially connected.

Even though this didn’t cover Hong Kong, the moment my flight landed, a text message popped up on my phone from China Mobile, letting me know that I could buy unlimited data package by day, just text ‘GMDZHL’ followed by the number of days to 10086, and they had half-price promotion for new users of this service. So, I texted GMDZHL3 and received a confirmation text message in one minute, informing me it was activated. For RMB 34 ($5) I got three days of unlimited data coverage while in Hong Kong. Awesome. Even if I hadn’t done this, the roaming data cost would still cap at RMB 30 ($4.5) a day – not the best deal but wouldn’t be very expensive either.

3c6d55fbb2fb4316a3ea2f1c29a4462308f7d3dbBeing connected all the time on WeChat proved to be crucial. During my college reunion in Shanghai, all coordination and announcements were done via WeChat – change of plan (we now leave at 1:30pm, not the 2:45pm previously scheduled); call for gathering (bus is here, let’s go!); meet at a place with location share (we are in this restaurant now, come find us); post photos of people and food constantly for those who couldn’t join us. Of course, the money we didn’t spend was refunded into each person’s WeChat wallet.

As you probably gathered by now, plans and timing tend to be flexible/chaotic here in China. While I was in Hong Kong, my friends and I usually had a rough plan to meet on a day but no time or location specified – “let’s keep in touch and decide later.” Then, at some point later that day, WeChat got busy. For example,

She asked, “Where are you now?” – I sent my location.

“How about going to this place?” – okay, let me check how to get there.

“No, no, I can pick you up.” – we started a session to share real-time location. I watched the two dots on the screen get closer.

“Now walk towards the water.” – okay, I started walking and at some street corner the two moving dots overlapped; I turned around and saw her car drive up, I got in even before the car fully stopped.

Perfect, till the next chaos.

Happy Chinese New Year!

This year February 19th is the New Year’s Day in the Lunar calendar, so tonight is the New Year’s Eve. Of course, the ‘Eve’ in China is actually the morning here in US. When I woke up this morning, I was greeted by hundreds of ‘Happy New Year’s (texts, images, animations, voices) in my various WeChat groups – middle school class, high school class, university class, family, and two groups of Chinese friends in US. Even though I am far away from China and my family & friends there, modern technology makes me feel closely connected with them all. I just had enough time to add my own greetings to each of these groups before getting up and ready for a team meeting at work.

Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China. Every year the largest human migration takes place when students, workers, employees make their journey home to be with their families for a week or two. Usually there is a feast on New Year’s Eve – people gather in front of the TV to watch the National Performance, or play Mahjong, or drink and chat. They usually eat dumplings at midnight when the year changes, and there are a lot of fireworks.

There has been some confusion in English translation of whether this is the year of ram, goat, or sheep. In Chinese it is the Year of Yang, a general term that doesn’t really specify which kind of horned animal. I don’t think it matters. 🙂

Tomorrow I will eat some dumplings. One of these years I will go back to China to have a proper New Year celebration. It would likely be my first time in two decades. Sigh.

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