Here I am, finally in China. After a few years of intensive following through the Internet, I decided to start my real journey with China. So, today is my third day in Beijing and thanks to Aki Hintsa’s The Core, I already beat my jet lag – a 5-hour time difference gone in less than three days. All in all, I will spend five weeks here, four in the mainland (Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou) and one in Hong Kong.
So far it has been pretty overwhelming. Firstly, I’m far from being fluent in Mandarin and not interested in using English (although it is not really spoken here). Secondly, there is just so much of everything. For example, close to my hotel there is an intersection with four(!) gigantic shopping centers next to each other, all filled with people every time I pass them by. Thirdly, I do not have an access to mobile payment platforms, like Alipay or WeChat Pay, and foreign credit cards are not widely accepted, so having cash all the time in hand (and re-living my youth) is the way to go.
After three days in Beijing, here are my three learnings:
1) Urban Beijing (and China) is becoming cashless fast
Experiencing the (insane) penetration of mobile payments has been great. I have been visiting a half-a-dozen stores/shops/restaurants/grocery stores a day – so far the only one, which did not have an option to pay with mobile was a small fruit shop. Over there only cash was accepted and a receipt was an unknown concept. It has been brilliant to see, how fast those long lines go forward when people just flash their mobile device when it is time to pay. Or how to rent a bike, pay a utility, gas, transportation, entertainment, ‘you name it’ invoice.
2) Voice really is the next user interface
It has been interesting to follow, how locals use WeChat, the most popular social media platform in China. So far hardly anyone has been typing, no matter where people are. Everyone – from kids to really old folks – is leaving voice messages, searching by talking and so on. It is just so much faster than typing. Naturally, one reason that has speeded this phenomenon in China is that typing in Mandarin is time-consuming. Despite that, we Westerners should already understand the benefits and move to voice.
3) People (I have met) in Beijing are helpful and patient
Perhaps I am saying this because I have been lucky and/or I am a tourist. Still, everybody has been really helpful and patient with me. Of course, I have got a few looks like “Are you seriously paying with a credit card, come on!”. When excluding that, I have been amazed how easy it has been despite my limited Mandarin skills. I have got help, advice and even done different things with locals just by asking, “Can I join you?”.
I believe that I have seen the near future of mobile – what will soon happen in developed countries. The efficiency, easiness and benefits of mobile payments and using voice as a user interface are SO clear that once each culture has an aha moment, both of them will spread like wildfire. Lastly, if you are considering whether to travel to China or not, just book a plane ticket, a hotel, get a visa and go. You will benefit from the experience in your personal as well as professional life. That’s a promise.
Thanks for reading!