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Wednesday, July 24, 2024
HomeWorld MapChinaWithout Technology TPOL's the Creepy Old Guy in Shanghai

Without Technology TPOL’s the Creepy Old Guy in Shanghai

Creepy Old Guy is part of the ongoing TPOL in Shanghai Trip Report.

Ni hao,

My name is TPOL and I’m the COG in Shanghai. Let me explain why: The last time I lived here was 2010 when I was attempting to take the international legal world by storm (buy the book to read the details). Having found mild success as an attorney (visit Bachuwa Law) and because it was hurricane season in Puerto Rico, I returned to my favorite city in the world to live out of my expat dreams.

There was one problem: I am old and everything is new. (Well, almost everything, the sharks are still receiving CTE from the bass at M1NT (see TPOL’s Guide to A Night in Shanghai: 2019 Edition).)

Interestingly, everything that I hate about life has been eliminated: taxis, talking on the phone, and cash. That would be great news if only I could take advantage of it.


Let’s start with taxis. The days of being robbed on account of the driver not understanding or pretending my impeccable Mandarin are sadly almost a thing of the past (see “Taxi my friend?” The Worst Places to Hail a Cab). Didi, the Chinese company which kicked out Uber, is the way to get around the city. Unfortunately for me, I initially could not get my international credit card to work consistently and found myself walking endlessly hoping that shifu would stop for me. I looked quite ridiculous showing up to the bar drenched in sweat while the cool kids used their smartphones to have their chauffeur drive them about. Makes me wonder who the real expat is?


I used to have a fake Nokia which I used to call and text friends. I would have to go to the Family Mart to reup my minutes. Now, everything is done via WeChat. It’s more than just the Chinese version of Whatsapp. It’s a way to make reservations for a gym class, send money to friends, and pay for just about everything. There’s a catch to this revolutionary idea: You must have a Chinese debit card to utilize these services. That requires a Chinese bank account. All the hacks around loading WeChat with cash are dead. Even if you have funds in your account, they cannot be used without a Chinese debit card. Getting one as a short term tourist is an exercise in futility. There is a chance that the right bank at the right time may allow you to open an account, but it wasn’t something I had the patience to try this time around.


The third and most remarkable thing that’s gone is cash. Back then, most places didn’t take credit cards and when a place did, the transaction would take an eternity to process. Now, as stated above, everything is paid for using WeChat or AliPay. At the bar, while I’m fumbling for dirty bills to pay for my drinks, the hip kids are having their phones scanned. By the time I get my change, the DJ is onto the next track and I’m left behind. It doesn’t end there. When I’m digging in my pockets for coins to pay the taxi driver, the party crew has already left their Didi seamlessly or scanned their phones to pay for the fare.


It is a dream to live in a place where everything is done via apps. Getting things done is much more efficient. Communication is less of a barrier. Reservations are made and canceled with ease. And cash, an antiquated means of exchange, is a thing of the past.

Sadly for me, I could not realize this dream and was stuck watching from the sidelines. I took mild solace in knowing that I earned points when I found a place that took American credit cards, something I would gladly give away for the freedom of conducting business unshackled.

a city skyline with water and blue sky
A modern playground for those with technology. Detention for those without.


  1. WSJ just did an article on this:

    “You really need the restroom, and the restroom only gives you toilet paper if you can do something strange with your phone,” she fumed.

    Liao Yuxing, chief executive of the toilet-paper-dispenser maker Yunzhi Zhilian Network Technology Co., defends the preoccupation with QR codes as “a unique Chinese specialty.”

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