A few things/people I encountered when I was in Beijing doing fieldwork in Fall 2018.
Story 4. Aug 21st, 2018.
11:05 pm. I was just out from Dongzhimen subway station, back from an interview. The was another 10-minute walk before I could get back home. Clutching my backpack tightly in front of me, I kept reminding myself that this is Beijing; it’s safe and there’s nothing to worry about. Before long, I saw evidence of such safety. A guy in a white shirt was throwing up intensively in the hollow made up by two tires stacked together neatly. Apparently drunk, but harmless. Not sure why there were tires though. A few steps later, there was a couple sitting on the ground beside the walkway. The man was smoking silently, forming clouds above himself. The women had her head down on his laps, crying loudly.
The Beijing with a midsummer night’s dream.
Story 3. Aug 21st, 2018.
I don’t think I have seen anyone carries his/her wallet around. Neither cash nor credit cards. But definitely a smartphone and maybe also a battery bank (in case there are no public battery bank leasing cabinets). At restaurants, you scan the QR code on your table to order and pay inside the restaurant’s WeChat mini app. On subways or buses, you tap your phone screen to the card reader to pay. To enjoy any street food, scan the seller’s personal WeChat QR code to pay; he/she will print out the QR code on a piece of paper and stick it on the food truck. Internet is never an issue. Mobile connectivity is so good no matter you are indoor, outdoor, underground, or high up on Mount Everest. All you need is a phone connected with China Mobile’s network, with your WeChat logged in and a bank account registered.
Story 2. Aug 14th, 2018.
I was at a McDonald’s, ready to order from one of the big screens standing in front me. Almost touching the screen with my finger, a woman’s voice rang into my ear: “Ma’am, are you our member? You can become our member from within our WeChat mini app and you will get daily special discount exclusive to our mini app. You don’t have to use this screen to order; just open your WeChat and go to our mini app.” Following the voice, I saw a young woman with McDonald’s uniform and another older women busy working with her phone — apparently, she was instructed as I did moments ago.
I did what I heard. I saw the WeChat McDonald’s mini app recognized my location and then identified the store I was at without making any mistakes. Then I ordered what I wanted — the meal was much cheaper (as today’s daily special) than buying the sandwich alone, so why not buy the meal? The mini app naturally prompted payment with WeChat pay. Then I received my calling number in the mini app. I hit the top right black dot and ring button. The mini app closed, I was brought to where I was at in WeChat.
A few minutes later, my number was called at the counter. I showed my number and grabbed my dinner. Efficiency.
Story 1. Aug 13th, 2018.
Right after I landed at Beijing airport, I got notified by my iPhone, saying that I could add the Beijing public transportation card to my phone wallet. I did that and then loaded money to the card directly (“you will get your 20 CNY deposit back!”). The entire interaction was very smooth. Next day I hopped on to a bus and tried to tap my phone to the card reader. I touched my phone once. It didn’t work. I looked like a hopeless barbarian. A girl with a modern look beside me held my phone impatiently, changed my phone angle swiftly, touched the reader again, and the reader uttered a clear beep sound. Wow! What a sound that welcomes me to the mysterious digital Beijing!