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Don't fold your faith in the humble wallet

China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-01-19 16:52
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Don't believe the hype, guys. Despite the unrelenting efforts of China's e-commerce giants to turn the whole planet into one huge mobile payment playground, the humble wallet remains an essential accouterment for real men.

Of course, if you happen to be one of those free spirits who would rather carry a purse, be my guest. All the more room to pack your makeup and cupcake recipes, big fella.

A wallet is like a miniature filing cabinet to organize the stuff that's worth organizing, right? Stuff like money and receipts. Credit and debit cards. Licenses. Maybe a photo or two of former girlfriends. I still carry a snapshot of a Korean cutie who stole my heart 10 years ago. Every time I look at it, I'm reminded that she might have been the perfect soul mate if only she'd been five years younger and had a bit more money.

But I digress.

According to a recent front-page story in China Daily, the explosive growth of mobile payment in this country has prompted some pundits to predict an all but "cashless" society by 2050. Citizens of the world's most populous nation are increasingly relying on cellphones to buy meals and snacks, unlock shared bikes and pay for taxis and train tickets.

Mobile payment is also becoming China's preferred method for public utilities and civil affairs.

In 2016, more than 200 million citizens registered for marriage licenses, arranged court dates or paid traffic fines with a few taps of their phone. The China Daily story quoted Shiva Putcha, an analyst with the Shanghai-based research firm IDC, as saying: "Mobile payment has become the default way of life now. Literally every business and brand in China is plugged into this ecosystem."

The new reality was recently thrown in my face when an urge to brew a big pot of my world famous clam chowder prompted a visit to one of Beijing's busiest seafood markets. After scooping up a couple dozen of the tasty mollusks, I took my place in the long checkout line. When I was finally face to face with the harried-looking cashier, I whipped out my wallet and proffered the cash.

First, the woman stared at me like I was from another planet. Then she burst into laughter. Several customers in the adjacent checkout line quickly joined in. An old man, perhaps sensing my discomfort, sadly patted me on the shoulder.

After the longest two minutes of my life, during which I came to realize that this particular market does not engage in cash transactions, an angel of mercy came to my assistance. Taking pity on the poor laowai, she explained in English that I could give her the cash and she would pay for my purchase via WeChat.

As we walked to the exit together, she asked why I wasn't "wired" for mobile payments.

"Because I have a wallet," I replied. The look on her face could only be described as bemused astonishment.

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