Lost At Home

A couple weeks ago, I took my baby to Shanghai to meet my family for the first time.

For those of you who don’t know, I grew up in China and left home for college when I was 16. Since then, I travel back every year to see my parents and the extended family. Going home has always been an interesting experience for me. Just as I have grown and matured, China has also been going through dramatic changes every year. Despite my fluent Chinese and 16 years of memories growing up there, I often feel lost at home.

This is especially true for Shanghai. As the second most populous city in the world and the most progressive city in China, Shanghai is often the pilot test ground for many of China’s new policies. Shanghai is also the home to the largest body of foreigners in China. The blend of different cultures around the world has made it one of the most interesting cities in the country.

Dose of Asianess has mostly been about the culture nuances Americans don’t realize about Asian culture. This week, let me amuse you with some culture shock this Asian American experienced in her home country.

  1. Cash Is No Longer the King. Remember I wrote about how cash is king in Asia and Asian communities here in the U.S.? That is no longer the case in China, especially not in Shanghai. With Zhifubao and Tenpay being the two major mobile payment methods, China is steadily moving towards a cashless society. In fact, China has the highest mobile payment adoption rate in the world. The stats alone doesn’t do justice on how immersive the payment system is in everyday life. It has taken over like wildfire in both e-commerce and the real world. The payment ecosystem has evolved at breakneck speed in every type of retailer, from supermarket to street vendor, from high-end luxury brands to mom and pop shops. Even my 80-year-old grandpa uses Zhifubao on his daily grocery run! Because the payment method has to be linked to a verified Chinese bank account, I couldn’t activate one on my smartphone. When I handed cash for some bananas I bought from a street vendor, he stared at the cash with a puzzled look, and proceeded by rolling his eyes and loudly complained about dealing with an outsider!
  2. Recycling is Serious Business For Everyone. In 2018, China announced it will no longer accept plastic waste imported from the U.S. and other countries. This marked the beginning of multiple environmental protection effort in China. One of them is how residential waste is handled. The first thing my grandparents told me after my arrival is how trash is separated around the house. My grandparents have separate trash bins for food waste, recycling, and others. They are motivated to do so because there is no longer permanent trash collectors in the community. Instead, trash collection bins are only available 6-9PM every night at designated locations throughout the community. Only during that time, people can dispose trash into the appropriate bins. There are even reinforcement officers at each bin to make sure people are following the rules! For a city that just started implementing such policies in July, Shanghai has really impressed me how fast it is making it happen! Guardian called it “eco-dictatorship” and I think it is hilarious and very much true!
  3. Feeling buzzed? Uber a driver to drive your car! In the U.S., designated driver is usually your unlucky friend. But in China, it is a booming billion dollar industry, especially in cities with vibrant nightlife like Shanghai. Just like Uber drivers and Postmate delivery guys, these professional designated drivers are connected to their customers through appsThey usually travel around on an electric scooter while waiting to be pinged for their next gig. Upon arrival, their scooter will be folded up and put into the trunk of the customers’ car. According to whitepaper in 2017, average monthly pay for a professional designated driver was nearly 7,000 yuan, which is on par with the average monthly salary in major Chinese cities! Uber – maybe it is time to expand your services?

Next week, I’ll share another a major culture nuance that caught me during my visit. If you haven’t already, check out Aquafina’s new movie “Farewell” beforehand!

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