During the summer of 2020, my state was beginning to open restaurants once again with restrictions. One precaution that restaurants were taking was to place a QR code on each table that guests would scan to view the menu. The difference of that dinner and my time in China as an EF teacher was that in China, scanning a QR code could settle my bill, not just let me view the menu. Being stuck home during covid when borders closed made me realize just how convenient my life in China had been.
When I first arrived to China as an EF Teacher, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the norm being to use my phone to pay a restaurant bill, checkout at Walmart, Ikea, or to grab a snack at the 7-11 next to my EF center. The highlight of ending my day was to stop by the local corner by my apartment to buy vegetables and practice my numbers with the owner (let’s just say he can probably best attest to my Chinese improvement). All I would do was hand my items to be rung up, then scan the QR code at the checkout (or displayed on the phone of the kind man at the corner store).
Contrast those brief interactions to being home in the U.S. and having to remember my wallet, ensure the correct cards were inside, keep track of said wallet & said cards (that’s a full-time job in itself!), keep receipts (if work-expense-related), then stay current with the zip codes with my ever-frequent address changes… suffice to say, the simplicity of life in China is 10/10 in my books.
I recall being at a hotpot dinner in China with some friends and the simplicity to split the bill after simply scanning the QR code on the receipt. I contrast that to the nightmare of going out with friends stateside (pre-covid, obviously…) and going down the list of which payment app they have set up –Venmo, Cash App, PayPal, Apple Wallet, Facebook pay … or the fan-favorite: cash.
WeChat, the only app you really, actually to need to live in China, makes all payments simple. When I say even my grandpa could learn it, I mean it. Even the older generation use WeChat pay. Can you imagine that… a world not explaining to your mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa how “technology works these days”?
You can anticipate using WeChat on the daily to buy groceries, top up subway cards, go shopping at the mall, and buy train or plane tickets. My greatest feat 4 months in was to buy a movie ticket by searching all theaters in the city, finding movies in English, choosing the seat, and paying for the ticket all in the WeChat app. Then I showed up with my friends, scanned the QR code, and vwwwwwalllla! We were good to go. Let the show begin.
Another fun use of WeChat pay was during Chinese New Year – the biggest celebratory week in China. Friends and family send each other virtual hongbao (“red envelopes”) in celebration. I remember when my Center Director sent every teacher in our school a red packet – WeChat randomized it so everyone got different amounts, which made it fun to jest with each other.
One of my favorite parts of China being a cashless society was being able to leave my house and need only my phone. A typical day for me looked a little like this:
· Order my Didi (Uber/Lyft) to work (through Wechat)
· Grab a jianbing (street food) (scan the street vendor’s QR code)
· Hop in my Didi & head to work. While in my didi, order my Luckin Coffee to be delivered to my center (there was an ongoing joke at my center that my coffee would always arrive before I did), & pay directly from my WeChat pay
· Midway through the day, the teachers at my center were prone to do a tea order and WeChat the money to the person ordering
· Lunch, of course, was all purchased with WeChat pay (cue jokes around the office of which of my 3 favorite meals I’d be ordering today)
· After work, likely hit a shop on the way home, scan that QR code at checkout
· For going home, I’d usually take the subway because … not in a rush to get home like I am to get to work 😉 I’d walk to the machine in the subway, scan the QR code on it to top up my subway card, then hit the subway with friends from my center. As I’m sitting on the train, usually I would order food or even a grocery items to (hopefully & typically) beat me home – all through WeChat, of course.
Yes, the cashless society has its benefits.