Enough is enough, I said to myself last week. I temporarily stopped my daily urban excursions and, one morning, still wearing my pajama, I took up a new challenge : Sign in to Taobao, the local Amazon, the ultimate experience of Chinese online shopping.
After hearing for days and to exhaustion : Do you like it ? I found it on Taobao - You should look for it on Taobao ! - You'll see how convenient Taobao is ..." I had to give it a try.
There was just a little but negligible detail : the Taobao website is only available in Chinese which, as we all know, is not one of the friendliest languages to approach.
For this reason, most expats they either wait for a local soul to help them out decrypting those little tiny scribbles or they simply give up. After waiting in vain for someone’s help, I decided to take the bull by the horns.
After all, yes, Chinese looks pretty hard because you can't event read it but if I was in Russia or even in Germany, with their never ending words, I would also be in trouble. Plus, nowadays, there are tools that come in handy such excellent translators you can download on your cellphone or computer.
You just have to choose the right one considering that those supported, for instance, by Google, which is blocked by the Chinese Firewall, do not work or if they do, because you trick the system by using a VPN service, they drastically slow down the connection speed. I found Microsoft translator or Bing translator, which are better liked by the Chinese government, quite good and helpful. Together with a bottle of tranquillisers, to keep my nerves steady, they helped me defying the great monster Taobao.
After a few attempts I managed to complete the registration and logged in. Now it was time to purchase something. I decided to risk only a few yuan and instead of a Prada bag, which is also available there, I searched for something cheap and familiar like bottles of San Benedetto sparkling water. The name San Benedetto was enough for Taobao to understand what I needed so, a second later, a page full of pictures of blu bottles in all sorts of packaging popped out. I clicked on the first option, totally ignoring the gibberish all around the picture frame, because I was already too tired to copy and paste more words on the translator. Instead I just clicked on a big yellow button I kind of assumed the meaning of being "Pay for your order”.
Of course, God forbid the payment process could only be intuitive and easy enough to be figured out quickly. Unlike Amazon, on Taobao you cannot simply insert your credit card details and thank you very much for your order. No, payments on Taobao are processed through Alipay which is a third party service such as Paypal. And, of course, to Alipay you need to register too which I did, carefully inputting all the required information, and in Chinese of course, until I clicked a red button and I got a pop out window that filled me with a mix of enthusiasm and adrenaline : successful registration !
I was so excited that I thought, ok, this is it, I made it, I am a genius. I immediately texted my hubby to show off and a couple of friends too, totally unaware that there was just a little problem : I actually never paid for the water. At the end so “Much ado for nothing”!
After completing the registration process I was supposed to set up a secret code in order to finalise complete the payment but somehow I missed that part.
Anyways, at that point my priority had become another, to log out of all the websites I signed in to. I started to look frantically everywhere, to copy and paste every possible command on the translator but I simply couldn’t find the right one. My kids came back from school in the afternoon and I didn't even looked at them, my eyes being stuck on the screen trying to solve the “Log out" riddle.
Only few hours later, when everybody was already asleep, I don't know what I touched but my username had magically disappeared. I was so relieved that I celebrated with a glass of wine and went to bed with a smile upon my face. As expected, 48 hours later, there was still no news of my San Benedetto water which was a bit suspicious for an express delivery, though from Beijing because I had not checked the vendor location :-)
I had to log in again and after another half a day of work with the translator, a considerable amount of sweat and swear, I finally clued in and realised what I still had to do in order to get soon hydrated.
Now I’m aware there are women in this world who achieved more than purchasing water bottles online, though sparkling, but this doesn’t lessen the huge sense of pride I felt right after this epic exploit.
Few years ago, I would never attempted such a thing. I remember cautiously approaching Amazon when in Montreal still afraid of messing something up. In Taipei, I even asked my Chinese teacher to explain me the functioning of our very sophisticated toilet in fear of being sucked down. Now that I’m perhaps more experienced I think it’s crucial when living abroad to break the invisible barrier holding me on the edge of reality and try to penetrate the new environment. This makes me feel less suspended and trapped inside a bubble and acts as a booster of confidence for further challenges along the way. And here there are many, I tell ya !