Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Adventures in Taobao

I don't know what it is. But now that our AliPay account (similar to paypal - necessary for doing almost anything financial online in China) actually works and is in our own name, Taobao shopping is not the thing to be dreaded it once was. It's almost something to be enjoyed, or at least to give a huge sense of accomplishment.

I start with something that looks like the picture above, and type things in Google Translate to copy and paste the Chinese characters into the search bar. Sometimes I have to reword things a few times in order to get the thing I am looking for (like if you translate "crackers" it will give you cookies, and if you translate "felt" it gives you pictures of motorcycles...) but I usually finally get to pictures that look right these days. Then I browse the pictures, looking for things recognizable, and divide by 6 to get an estimate of the price in my head. There are a lot of cheap things online. Which is kind of nice... I've learned a good Taobao technique is to buy multiple cheap things and usually one turns out really well!

Gone are the days of reading reviews (like we would on Amazon in America). Here you just look at the graphic rating/experience on the side. Hearts are the lowest... you might want to avoid them, because sometimes their stuff never even shows up. Diamonds are slightly better. Crowns are the best - yellow crowns better than blue. Number of each thing also counts. How exactly, I'm not sure... And the "T-mall" store always have things drastically marked off, though you wonder if anyone actually ever buys it full price...

Then begins the clicking of buttons in Chinese, a memorized process that you hope never changes, to get the items into the cart and paid for. It's 6-8 clicks, where you hope you are clicking the right thing, since you're doing a monetary transaction after all! Thankfully Chinese friends helped set things up, walking you through it and translating the buttons the first time. But you still have to occasionally copy and paste to translate things and make sure you're doing them right.

And then at last, the long-awaited green check mark graphic that shows you have paid!! And somehow, seemingly miraculously at times, the boxes show up at your door. Sometimes even the very next day! Shipping is very cheap here (often free or just a dollar or two). But due to the number of sellers on Taobao, one day's shopping can yield ten different packages.

It starts with a loud ring, and you pick up the phone that has a speaker to outside the building. "Wei?" You hear "Kuai di!" and hit the button to let them in. Then you tickle the toddler by the door as you wait for the guy to come up the elevator and knock. Sometimes there is a look of surprise when they see a foreigner, other times it's a "a ha" as they point to your obviously not Chinese name on the package.

The worst thing is if you happen not to be at home when a delivery man arrives. Then you get a call on your phone, with someone rattling off things a mile-a-minute in Chinese. I make Ryan answer if he happens to be around. ;) Or sometimes even if you are home, you get a call. My first guess is always that it might be a delivery and I tell them (in my poor Chinese) that I am at home. If that doesn't satisfy them, I tell them my address in Chinese. Usually that is enough, or they just give up, realizing I have no clue what they're asking.

But the package usually arrives! You open it, wondering if you got something that will actually work! These days, the successes outweigh the failures, which is encouraging! I've gotten a lot of great puzzles for Hadassah recently, at just 50 cents each! But we still end up getting things that don't quite work or weren't quite what was expected. Size often looks a LOT bigger in pictures that what it actually is...

 Like my muffin tin. Our new oven didn't fit my old 12-muffin tin, so I ordered one that had dimensions that would fit (figuring out those dimensions on a page all in Chinese - yay for me! It helps that they at least use the same numbers and "mm" or "cm" abbreviations as us!). Well... I guess we'll have to do more tea parties, cause these one-bite muffins would be cute for those!

Or Ryan's new coffee pot... Half the height of our drinking glass. But he's only making it for one person, so it doesn't have to be huge, right? ;)

Now, Taobao still isn't something I'm eager to do. I still usually avoid it when Hadassah's awake, because the random clicking of buttons in Chinese isn't something I want to do with the distraction of a toddler. But it isn't the huge thing I dreaded like before, with half the time paying not even working after going through a long, tedious process. We still have a process, but I (mostly!) understand it and it's faster. And the feeling of success when an order is placed almost makes it worth it to go through all the Google translating and memorized identification of a few key characters. ;)

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