By: Alexandra Kelley
As many of you may know, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Google, and other American sites are blocked in China. Before starting my semester abroad in Shanghai I was worried about not being able to communicate with friends via conventional social media sites, however, now that I’m here I have truly embraced Chinese methods of communication and media. Although I have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) in order to access typical American sites, I have to say Chinese apps are a must have!
WeChat (微信, Wēixìn) is the primary mode of contact currently used in China. WeChat is a multi-purpose messaging and social media app. It combines messaging, social media and banking capabilities all on one platform. It’s really innovative because I would normally use various different apps for each of these features. WeChat has successfully combined the features found on messaging platforms like iMessage and GroupMe, social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and financial apps such as, Venmo or Apple Pay, into one user-friendly app.
WeChat pay has been the one feature I have noticed people use frequently and effortlessly. For almost everything I have bought, I have been able to use WeChat Pay. Another possible form of electronic payment is Alipay, however you need a Chinese bank account to use Alipay. WeChat similarly requires a Chinese bank account to use the electronic payment feature; however, there is a loophole! Anyone with a Chinese bank account can gift you a “Red Packet” (send you electronic money) to allow you to set up your account as a holding tank, not connected to any bank to use this part of the app.
WeChat is not only convenient, but also easily allows you to connect with other users. The app allows you to add friends by inputting their username or scanning their QR code to add a contact. Not only can you scan users’ QR codes, but they have also integrated these QR codes into daily life. Whether I’m at a museum, paying for dinner, renting a bike, calling a taxi, or viewing a company’s website or promotions online, I can scan the QR code, using the scan feature on WeChat, to view the relevant embedded information.
WeChat’s social media platform is seen in the form of “Moments.” Although I haven’t posted any “moments” yet, I have definitely utilized WeChat pay, messages, individually and via group chats, information features, and more! WeChat’s user interface is incredibly straightforward and reliable and includes more features than I will probably ever use during my time in Shanghai, which is why many refer to WeChat as a “super app.”
OFO is another app my friends and I have found to be a homerun. OFO is a bike-sharing app, which allows you to ride any available OFO bike around the city. By scanning the QR code on the back of the seat to unlock the bike, you are able to ride it wherever, for however long you need, park it anywhere, lock it, and be on your way.
While this concept has proven to be opportune, I have personally seen the negative impact this bike sharing system has on the city. Our Chinese Marketplace course is actually discussing some of the negative impacts this app has had on Shanghai specifically. While it is very convenient to pick up and drop off your bike anywhere in the city, the disorganization of the system is sometimes frustrating. I love picking up a bike when I exit the metro to shorten my walk to class and then drop it off right outside my class building and grab another bike on my way home from class; however, at the same time, there are so many OFO bikes, as well as other bike-sharing company bikes, that litter the sidewalks. Sometimes I can’t even walk on the sidewalks due to the excessive number of bikes so I have to walk along the edge of the road to get through narrow streets. Because the rides usually cost very little, often times only one Chinese Yuan, which is equivalent to 0.16 U.S. dollars, the service is accessible to many city goers. OFO does this because they want to promote their bike sharing service as much as possible. However, because this service is so handy, the system disrupts normal car and foot traffic in the city.
Another problem with the bike-sharing business model is that when these bikes break, people just leave them on the sidewalk and they never get fixed, which actually creates a larger burden on society and poses questions about the lack of necessary regulations.
Despite the potentially negative long-term effects, the short-term benefits are great for easy travel and transportation, and I highly suggest downloading and using the app when living in Shanghai!
Didi(滴滴出行, dī dī chūxíng) is another essential app to have when living in Shanghai. Didi is a taxi app in Shanghai, similar to Uber. Unlike in New York City, where you can hail a cab at any time, we learned the hard way that almost every taxi in Shanghai is Didi-registered and without this app it’s almost impossible to hail a taxi, whether it’s broad daylight or late at night. Before you find yourself needing a cab in Shanghai, download the Didi so you’re ready to roll when the time comes.
Diving into the culture in Shanghai has not only been through personal interaction, travel, and meeting new people, but also through different uses of and advancements in technology. I have thoroughly enjoyed unplugging from conventional American social media platforms and embracing the Shanghai life through my 手机 (shǒujī, cell phone) and I would highly suggest doing the same, no matter where you travel in the world!