Unbeknownst to me (I don’t get out much and the only news item I have seen since 2016 is Brexit), the Chinese have quietly departed for the future. I went there last week. I wasn’t expecting to time travel, so it was a shock.
The quiet QR revolution
QR codes now rule. You know, the little pixelated black and white squares you point your smartphone at. Yes, we’ve all (most of us) done it, but not like the Chinese.
And yes, I know there are Londoners for whom Apple Pay is now old hat. But I’m living in the Welsh borders, and out here, not a single sheep has a QR code on it. In Shenzhen – China’s shiny new metropolis – everything has a QR code on it. I mean everything.
Do you accept farthings?
I disembarked at the Chinese border armed with a fistful of renminbi. I met two guys from Beijing whom I’d be spending the week with in Shenzhen. They looked at my fistful of notes with misty-eyed nostalgia.
“I don’t think I’ve taken my wallet out for about three years,” said one. The other showed me a stash of notes he said he never touched. This revelation occurred as we sat in a café to order lunch and I spotted the QR code stuck to the table.
“What’s with the QR code?”
“Oh, we’re ordering lunch.”
“With a QR code?”
“It’s bringing up the menu on my phone. I’m then ordering us lunch with my phone, and at the end of the meal, I’ll pay the bill by phone.”
I nodded, feeling like Baldrick in Silicon Valley.
You don’t have to be a hipster to zap it
What threw me the most was that this wasn’t a smart restaurant. It was just a normal café. But I was only just starting to get up to speed. It was soon revealed to me that everyone used QR codes.
They were in ANY food outlet. They were in shops. They were on parking machines. When my friends told me that even market traders and street food vendors used them, I realised just how much catching up the UK needed to do.
“So what’s with this Brexit thing you’ve been doing?”
I knew the question might come up eventually. I was dreading it. Yes, we’ve been bickering about our own importance for two years. Yes, I can see you’ve been busy while we’ve bickered. Yes, it’s a bit embarrassing.
The Great Chinese Firewall knocked out most of my American apps while I was there. I used the WeChat app, a great platform through which WeChat Pay is one of the top two payment systems, alongside Alibaba’s Alipay.