After more than 9 months of observation and getting more acquainted with my Chinese life, I have to say that the customs and habits in China are pretty fascinating. Especially the behaviour towards the digital world.
Here’s a list of 10 random facts about China that strike me the most.
#FACT 1: CHINESE PEOPLE LIVE IN A DIGITAL WORLD
In China, you can order EVERYTHING online and get it delivered to you. I insist on the word “everything”. It literally is. Food, clothes, furniture, groceries, plants, anything you can possibly imagine. My friend Yance even bought some tropical fish that arrived two days later in a special container! The best part is that it gets delivered to your door or left in the mail room that each building has.
Chinese people always have their heads down looking at their phones. It’s very common to see motorbike riders typing on their phone while driving!
#FACT 2: CASH IS DEAD – LONG LIVE TO MOBILE PAYMENTS!
Cash is pretty much dead in China as the country is living the future with mobile payments.
Chinese people don’t use cash or coins anymore to buy things. They use their mobile phones. They have a digital wallet with money and all you have to do when you purchase something is scan a barcode and type in the amount. The first time I saw Yance paying the taxi driver this way, I watched it with my mouth wide open. I thought it was the coolest way to pay for stuff. It actually made me want to buy something just to try it out.
The online payment technology is incredibly advanced. No wonder why China’s economy is one of the world’s fastest-growing in the world. The Chinese mobile payment volume more than doubled to $5 trillion in 2016*.
The two most popular online payment apps are WeChat and AliPay. They are the major players in China.
In many ways, using digital money makes your everyday life easier. It’s just more convenient and faster. There’s no need to carry cash or a credit card. You only need your phone.
I like the “transfer” function. If you owe money to a friend, you can just look for his/her contact in WeChat and transfer the amount. It’s so much faster than getting their bank account details! I was a bit concerned regarding the safety, but my digital wallet is locked up with a passcode that I have to type in every time I make a payment.
The only crucial thing is not to lose your phone! You can’t live in China without a phone!
*Source: Analysis data cited by Hillhouse Capital.
#FACT 3: WECHAT, CHINA’S “APP FOR EVERYTHING”
WeChat is a magical app that makes the impossible possible. It has been called China’s “App for Everything” because of its many functions and platforms. It is one of the world’s most powerful apps.
If China lives in a digital world it’s mainly due to this kind of multi-purpose social media mobile app. It has such a huge social impact on Chinese behaviour. With WeChat you can order, pay, book and pretty much do everything. It’s crazy to think that an app has replaced real life and physical actions like going to the supermarket or getting cash out at the ATM. It fascinates and scares me at the same time.
#FACT 4: THE GREAT FIREWALL OF CHINA
With the rise of the Internet in China in 1994, the country has struggled to strike a balance between “opening up” to the Western world and keeping its people away from the Western ideology. The Great Firewall of China, formally known as the Golden Shield Project, is the Chinese government’s internet censorship and surveillance project developed in 2000.
This Golden Shield Project caught my attention as I think it reflects pretty well the position of China towards Western countries. I believe it poses one of the most interesting dilemmas in modern history.
On one hand, the Chinese government wants to use the information technology that comes with the Internet to build its blooming economy and make it thrive. On the other, the Internet inherently encourages diversity of ideas and represents a tool for democratising society. While the Internet is important to China’s economy, its very existence also undermines the political stability of the country. China is constantly seeking to strike a balance between these two ends.
With the firewall, much to my desperation, I must say, many popular websites are banned in China. You can say goodbye to search engines like Google, Yahoo, but also media (Youtube, The New York Times, Financial Times, The Economist, Le Monde – Yes, even French media!). Social media are of course the focal point and are completely banned (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and more).
You can check out the list of banned websites here.
But don’t panic if you’re planning to go to China. There’s a way to bypass this firewall (otherwise you would not be reading this post!) and still get access to your favourite websites. You will need to download a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Any mobile app store will have VPNs. On my end, after trying at least 3 different ones, I have purchased Star VPN which works pretty well and costs me $3 a month.
You just have to be aware that there’s no perfect VPN and sometimes the connection can be slow or not functional. All you need is a lot of patience!
#FACT 5: A WONDERLAND OF DISCOUNTS
But only if you have a trained eye! The first time I saw a shiny 90折 sign, it really enticed the western shopper in me. I thought “Wow! 90% off?! That’s the best sale ever!” However, I was just a fool. 90折 isn’t as great as it seems.
I found out that Chinese discounts work in a completely opposite way to western discounts. While a western shopper sees 90% off, a Chinese shopper sees that you pay 90 percent of the price. That means 90折 is actually only 10% off!
But generally speaking, there are always ways to get cheaper things in China. They have insane discounts and special deals that defy the rules of competition. Especially when it comes to food. Let’s say you order online and reach a certain amount, you can sometimes get 30 – 50% off. It’s also very common to see sales guys from restaurants giving away vouchers in shopping malls to get 50 – 100 RMB off your meal.
Online prices are cheaper than retail stores. My friend Yance buys all his clothes online and I have started to do this as well. In case we’re not happy with our purchases, we just call the courier who comes to our place to pick up the items and we get a refund straight away online!
#Fact 6: CLICK THE RED PACKETS!
A red packet is a monetary gift in a little red envelope which, in the Chinese tradition, is offered during holiday seasons or for special occasions (weddings, graduations, births etc).
But there’s also a digital version of the red packet that blew my mind the other day. After working hard for Thanksgiving at the school where I work, our managers, as a reward, sent to our WeChat group a rain of red packets! The concept is simple: someone sends in a group a red packet with a defined amount of money and chooses how many people he/she wants to share the amount with. The first person to click on the red packet earns a random amount of money.
For instance, I can send to the group a red packet of 100 RMB and choose to share the amount between 5 people. Once the red packet appears in the group conversation, its members have to quickly click on it to see how much they’ve earned. That’s when it gets funny and exciting because the whole concept of the red packet is based on luck. The first 5 people who’ve clicked earn a random amount. One can get 30 RMB, another one can get 2 RMB and so on until it reaches 100 RMB. The amount of money you earn goes automatically into your WeChat wallet!
For Chinese NYE, people send big rains of red packets and the amount can go up to hundreds of RMB! It’s probably the easiest way to make money just by clicking some links on your phone. There’s no doubt, Chinese people love playing with money! No wonder why they love gambling so much.
#FACT 7: CHINESE PEOPLE LOVE DRINKING HOT WATER
In China, the tap water’s not clean and you’re better off not drinking it. The first day I got here it was so hot that I poured a big glass of tap water and started drinking it.
“What are you doing?! yelled Yance laughing at me. Don’t drink tap water in China, you’re going to be sick!” I emptied my glass and I suddenly missed the clean and fresh water of New Zealand.
Chinese people drink hot water (even under 30 degrees) and it took me quite some time to get used to it. It’s not even tea, just boiling water. When I ask a Chinese person why they drink hot water, the answer is usually “it’s better for your health”. I did not really get it at the beginning. Apart from burning my throat, I could not see the benefits. Now that I’ve reviewed my habits and that it’s freezing in Fuzhou, hot water has become my new tap water.
But to be honest, hot or cold, water is water and both are fine to drink! It’s just a question of beliefs and habits.
#FACT 8: THE MOST TYPICAL DISH IN FUZHOU IS…
Hot pot! Each region of China has its own food specialty. In Fuzhou, you will find many hot pot restaurants. Hot pot is a soup with a variety of East Asian foodstuffs and ingredients, prepared with a simmering pot of soup stock at the dining table. While the hot pot is kept simmering, ingredients are placed into the pot and cooked at the table.
Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat, leaf, vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, tofu and seafood. The cooked food is usually eaten with a dipping sauce.
It’s the perfect dish to share with family and friends as it’s very convivial and can last hours! I absolutely love it, it’s delicious!
#FACT 9: CHINESE PEOPLE KNOW HOW TO PARTY
I wrote about the nightlife in Fuzhou in a previous post. I am still amazed by the Chinese hospitality when it comes to party or going out. The nightclubs are insane and they really make an effort to put on a big show. People in nightclubs talk to you and naturally buy you drinks. They don’t expect anything from you except having fun.
#FACT 10: A NEW SKYSCRAPER IS BUILT EVERY 5 DAYS
China never sleeps. It’s constantly developing and expanding. Buildings, skyscrapers, and massive shopping malls are popping up like flowers. Towers appear in little to no time and in a couple of months, a new suburb is born. China is like a giant tree whose branches keep growing.