When I first landed in China, for the first time in my life in Asia, I was curious about everything before even being scared to be on my own this far from home. Even though I traveled a lot in my whole life, this has been the most challenging experience in my life. And for some reasons the most beautiful thing I have ever done. It was a personal growth that I never could have thought of.
I went many times West (Los Angeles, San Diego or even Mexico) but never East.
Why you would ask ? Simply because I have never been attracted by it. And I never could say or explain why I was not attracted by it.
It has been beautiful thanks to things you never thought you would discover. Being this far from your basis and daily life, you reconsider everything : what is really important to you and what you truly want from life.
Personally I have never been farthest East in my life than Marseille, in France.
Even though I did all the paperwork, I first realized that I was going to China when the plane took off. I was like « Alright, I guess I am going to China then ! ». I flew with a particular feeling of not being anxious at all, maybe because that’s how I am, I deal with things once I cannot bypass them. That sounds like a suicidal thing. Fly out there without even being able to speak a single word of Chinese and don’t know where I’ll step foot. But let’s try ! Who knows what’s there for me ?
As I landed, after 12 hours of flight, I was hungry, I arrived in downtown Shanghai, I let my eyes scan what was around. Needless to say that I only saw Chinese characters that I couldn’t understand. The only thing that I did recognize was the world famous M of Mc Donald’s. I was relieved, finally something I know. That was before I had to pay, three choices were proposed to me : credit card, AliPay and Face Recognition. I let you picture my crazy European face when I read this. I was the only one surprised by it. Some guy took out his phone and waved it to me, like « What are you waiting for ? Are you retarded or what ? »
My first thoughts were : “Why am I here ? What have you done Mathieu ? I am such a pro at putting me into troubles ! Why am I like this ?! I just want my BigMac, how can it be that hard ?!”
That was my first experience with the Digital Revolution. A huge leap ahead. I thought this was a movie, or even a 10 years ahead livid dream. I went to sleep and only when I woke up, the next morning, I understood that, yes, I am in China for 8 months. So let’s go outside and face your fears young boy ! I took a walk and observed everything and everyone around me. SO MANY SCREENS !
People from 7 to 77 years old, they are all on their smartphones. Scrolling on an application that I only knew the name, WeChat. I a blink of an eye I understood why this guy at the McDonald’s looked at me like a was a fool. China is digitalized on so many levels. I am really into technology and what can be done on mobile but I am not using it 24/7. So as I was stepping out of my confort zone by going to China I thought, why not change your habit and try the lifestyle they, Chinese people, have.
Hence, I took out my phone and went on WeChat, like they do. I sent a text to one of my friend back home, he went to Shanghai a year before, as an exchange student. He told me to reach to this guy at the YOGA Agency if I want to rent an apartment. I sent that text describing what I was looking for, he instantly replied to me, one hour later I was visiting places, three hours later that first visit, I was in the apartment with my luggages.
Yoga Agency Website and add on WeChat Yoan who goes by the username : yoyo060890
This is the fastest way to find a place that suits your needs in Shanghai. They are reliable and bilingual. An added value is that Yoan speaks French.
That sounds crazy in Europe, but yes, I found a place to stay for 8 months in less than a day.
This crazy speed of doing things became really common. Everything is done by QR Code and by WeChat. You add friends on this app and even pay with this app, which is linked to your bank Chinese bank account. I was more than happy to go to McDonald’s and pay with my phone. I was SO proud, first huge achievement in China, act like a Chinese.
This made me want to discover more because you achieve things so fast that you want to keep doing things this fast.
Even though I understood way less than half of things, let’s be real, nothing because it’s written in Chinese, I still wanted to experience things with my phone. It never left my hand for 8 months. I always had battery, something that was really optional for me in Paris. I even bought an external battery to keep using it when I forgot to charge it at home or at school. Because if you don’t have battery you can’t pay. Not having battery in China is like forgetting your wallet at home, you can’t do anything. Also, you don’t want to be lost in Shanghai, so keep some battery young fellow.
As time went by, I became more and more friendly with Chinese applications, thirst of knowledge I guess. I tried things that I didn’t even try in 20 years in Paris. For exemple I never used a Velib’ in Paris but I used a HelloBike almost everyday. This is because of the digitalization of every product.
Everything became fast and simple. I managed to create an account even though it was written in Chinese. You scan the QR Code that it’s on the bike and as it is linked to your AliPay account, which has all your informations, you unlock the bike. Renting a bike was something that I never did when it was written in French. With one AliPay account you can unlock 7 different types of bike, just with your phone. Imagine doing with those things in Paris that are called electronic scooters.
How to unlock 7 different types of bikes in China
Fast forward to 6 months later. I had more than 100 contacts in my WeChat and stainless steel thighs.
It meant that I met more than 100 people that I could speak and learn with. Mainly in English though. But more than this, my phone became my wallet. I left my wallet at home for 7 months like it was a new habit. As a guy, we all do the same move while going out, tap on every pocket of our pants or our jacket. But in China, you only check the pocket that olds your keys, because your phone is already in your hand.
When I got back home, in Paris, I felt like a stranger.
I went to the bakery and bought a baguette, a thing that I was dreaming of. I showed my QR Code at the cashier. She looked at me, like the Chinese guy at the McDonald’s back in Shanghai. Like I was a fool. I felt like I was Steve Jobs. 10 years ahead of everyone. I felt like everything was going slow. Paying became a true act of purchase, if you thought about bringing your wallet… Meaning that you have time to think twice if you really need that thing, if you are really hungry or if you really want to spend your money on this.
More than the digital aspect of things, once I got back, I realized that I did learn so many things that I could never have thought of. On the professional aspect of things, digitalization soaked me in. I was absorbed by screens, thought about everything that can be improved in Europe. And then I realized that the country of France is not ready at all for all these changes, yet.
You realize it once you try to explain it to your parents and their friends. They look at you with those wide open eyes. They want to understand how it’s possible. And this is pretty much how I look at myself when I think about everything that I have done, alone, in a foreign country where I couldn’t understand a single word. You rely on your personality. You find new things about yourself. I never thought I could overpass that much problems.
I went to the police station to find my lost phone, they didn’t understand what I was saying but kept my calm. Thing I wasn’t even capable of. Like a true Parisian I would go nuts when the car in front of me when didn’t see the red light turn green right away. I realized that I was helping lost tourists in Paris, a thing that I never did in 20 years. One thing that you don’t loose is being angry and walk fast in the metro, that’s in my blood I guess…
Going to China is the most intense thing I ever experienced.
I’ve done crazy things in my young life. But challenging myself to go somewhere I didn’t know anything about, of course I knew that it was a complete different way of life. But experience it went way beyond my beliefs. It’s not like a became a new person, just an upgraded version of myself. More aware of what is going on around me, more conscious about a big scale of an improvement in technology. And what became funny about it is picturing my grandparents using their phone to pay. I bet they would go insane.
But most of all, as I evolved day by day and found what I truly want in life, in my deeper self, I met people that are now part of my life. We experienced things together and we grew together. We faced difficulties together. You really become a different person. You find your true strengths, not which thought you had but what you can tell you truly have. What stroked me is that I wanted to overcome my weaknesses as fast as I found an apartment. And this is the same now, I can’t stand making mistakes, I want to make things perfect. I want to correct everything that I was doing wrong before.
This is pretty much how China works, either you evolve at this speed, either you stay in your confort zone and you will only have your eyes to cry.
This is what I learned in China about myself and about life itself.
Never take something for granted. Give everything you can. Be proud of what you have done today in order to reach for more the day after. Never go to bed without knowing what you have learned today for you to keep in mind to learn more tomorrow.