Many of you will have heard of the Big Fish in Chinese apps, the glue of Chinese social media and an essential app if moving to the Middle Kingdom - WeChat. Or Wēixìn, as it’s called in Chinese.
After arriving in China a couple of years ago, I swiftly downloaded the app, which in my naiveté, I nicknamed the Chinese WhatsApp. After getting to know WeChat a bit better in recent months, I’ve realised that likening Wechat to WhatsApp is like likening an IPhone 7 to a Nokia 3210, and while the Nokia 3210 remains the nostalgic favourite of many, a glimpse at that tiny screen or the whiff of a monophonic ringtone would bring many people back to reality. After almost three years in China, I’m finally beginning to realise what this must download app really does.
1 - It has all the functions we know and love
For any of you living in China who are already familiar with the basics of WeChat, you can probably skip over this part. For any newbies, some of the basics of WeChat include text and voice messaging, sending video clips known as “Sights”, free calls to other WeChat users, video if you want to see the beloved face of your mammy, lover or dog - or a voice call if you haven’t brushed your hair yet today. You can message people privately or make a group chat.
2 - You can organise your conversations
You can choose to mute certain conversations, which is great if you’re in a group with a chatterbox or two and you don’t want your phone buzzing every ten seconds, as well as prioritise the order of messages by using the ‘Sticky on Top’ option which pins the conversation to the top of your list, making it easy to find. There's an also an option to rename group chats, but be careful, this show up on all the user's phones, not just yours.
3 - It has texting functions you didn't know existed
The texting functions (which can be found by holding down the message with one finger until the options pop up) include translation, copy, forward and the best of them all…Recall. We’ve all had the awful moment when we’re having a good woof about that idiot at work and after texting our friends that “she said this and she did this” we go and click send… to the very idiot we’d just been woofing about. WeChat has thought of it all. If said idiot is a speedy reader she may read the message before you get a chance (and unlike WhatsApp you will not know if she’s seen it or not), but at least if you recall it you can remain in denial - if only to yourself.
4 - You can still "WeChat stalk", just like Facebook
In addition to these direct communication functions, WeChat also has a social media hub, called ‘Moments’ which can be found under the ‘Discover’ heading. This acts similarly to your Facebook newsfeed. The big difference is you can’t see likes or comments from people you’re not friends with.
There’s also an option to creep on your neighbours by looking in ‘People Nearby’. You can only see people who have made themselves visible here, i.e. fellow creepers.
5 - There are copious amounts of stickers
I feel emoji lovers may prefer the extensive WhatsApp selection, however in addition to the basic emojis, WeChat also has a nonsensically large selection of Stickers and GIFs, from dancing frogs (which can be very amusing if you’re having a rough day) to laughing babies. Clicking the big smiley face at the bottom of the text will show you your emojis, while clicking a plus underneath will bring you to the ‘Sticker Gallery’ where you can download as many free anthropomorphic creatures as your phone storage will allow.
6 - You can use it to BUY THINGS
This is where Chinese people have the know how. These WeChat experts will use the app to pay for their shopping, book cinema and train tickets and download games. While we’ve grown wary of where and how we share our bank details, WeChat also comes with a wallet. If you can relax enough to realise it’s no different to other forms of online banking, with several passwords standing between your money and a potential thief, the WeChat wallet is quick and easy to use and while we may often leave the house without cash, many of us would suffer separation anxiety if we were to consider leaving the house without our phones.
Even the tiniest of cigarette vendors will have an option to pay by WeChat, which you can do by scanning the QR code. By clicking the Discover button at the bottom of the screen, you’ll find an option to ‘Scan QR code’. Bigger supermarkets with scanners can scan you instead, so for this option you’ll need to start off by clicking the ‘Me’ button, and go ahead into Wallet. At the top of the Wallet screen there’s a ‘Money’ option and after entering this, that all important barcode will appear. Vendors can scan this barcode and voila! WeChat will even send you a confirmation message.
In the Wallet section, train and movie tickets (usually at a discount) can be booked too. Be wary when booking train tickets, as some sites are fake and it’s not easy to tell. Avoid sites like TongCheng 同程 (the one with the green and orange fish) and ask a Chinese person if you’re in doubt.
7 - You can transfer money from phone to phone
In addition to paying vendors; you can also pay your friends, using the ‘Red Packet’ (Hóngbāo), which can be found inside a conversation amongst options under the plus sign. You can send up to 200 CNY in each packet, if you’re a generous friend, and it’s not limited by how many of these you can send. To send more at a time you can use the ‘Transfer’ option, found in the same place.
Your WeChat Wallet can connect to your WeChat balance (the accumulation of any Red Packets received etc.) or your bank balance. You can toggle the option to suit yourself.
8 - You can transfer to your bank
Don’t worry, your money isn’t stuck on WeChat forever, you always have the option to transfer it back into your account using the ‘Withdraw’ option. Phew!
Believe it or not, I wasn’t even endorsed by WeChat to write this. But as many of us expats in China know, life in China can be tough. Simple exchanges can be so complex at times and if there’s an app that can make those sometimes painstaking supermarket trips a little easier - this is the one.