The summer after my junior year, I submitted a leave of absence letter to my university to spend a semester in China, a country where I spent 6 years of my childhood. At first, my intention was simple: to gain back my Chinese language skills. Little did I know that this 3-month stay in China has metamorphosized my worldview. As a person who is relatively hard to get surprised, what made me mind-blown was neither the increasing foreign presence in the city, nor Beijing's well-planned subway lines. It was the ubiquity - the literal dictionary definition, "present, appearing, or found everywhere" - of the mobile payment system.
How a Sweet Potato Stand Changed My Worldview
Having spent several years in the U.S., or what is regarded as the most technologically innovative country in the world, I strongly believed that there was no better place to holistically experience the latest technology trends than in the U.S. Well, China taught me I was wrong. A country that has long been mocked as the "copycat of the West" is, to many people's surprise, no longer true. In fact, the Middle Kingdom is regaining its power through rapid incremental innovation unseen in elsewhere - slowly but surely.
China's shift towards a cashless society is not an exaggeration from the media. It is an on-going phenomenon deeply engrained in people's lives. When I realized that I could use WeChat Pay (微信支付) to pay for my roasted sweet potatos from a small food cart on the street, was when I had my aha moment - to understand technology, I need to understand China, because China is where the future is technology is at.
My aha moment gradually made me more curious about how China became the way it is now - "Why do people have so much faith on mobile payment system?", "Why wouldn't people use more secure methods such as credit cards?", "How come even some of the most economically unprivileged people have access to smartphones?"...and the list just goes on and on. And the more I researched, the more I became fascinated by China's unique technology ecosystem and its consumer psychology.
Discovery of a Secret Garden
Even now when I am back in the U.S., I still keep up with China's latest tech news, and everyday is a pleasant surprise. I sometimes ask myself why I am so drawn to China's tech sector rather than the American one - and the truth is, I have yet to find an answer. What's important is, I feel introduced into a world I was never exposed to before, similar to discovering a breathtakingly beautiful secret garden covered with exotic trees and flowers.
So here I am, carefully exploring the garden and observing the growth of the plants while wondering what makes these plants so unique and different from others...and hoping that this garden would one day turn into a majestic kingdom.
Please join me in exploring this secret garden - welcome aboard.