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'Beauties and diamond houses' on Internet
By Dong Zhixin (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-05-06 10:24

Chinese bookworms have an old saying: "In books, there are beauties and golden houses."

For China's "networms," however, the saying goes: "On the Internet, you can seek out super beauties and find diamond houses."

For these "networms," a keyboard, a mouse and the World Wide Web can help them achieve almost anything and realize any dream. The Internet has become an indispensable part of their blood.

Guo Le is a typical "networm."

After starting up his computer, Guo logs onto his messenger, QQ and e-mail boxes, reading and replying to some of the new messages and e-mails. Then the 20-year-old student kickstarts a popular online game.

Soon, Guo gets lost in the virtual world, acting as different characters in different environments. In the game, he is a warrior. When with his online friends, the introverted young man is very active funny, humorous, considerate and talkative.

"I usually stay online for about five hours a day. My highest daily record of being online is more than 20 hours," Guo said.

"I just like the Internet. It is in my blood. I have fun and fulfillment in that world.

"All those things that seem impossible in the real world can become reality here. I just can't imagine what my life would be like without the Internet."

Guo is just one of the millions of netizens in China, a country experiencing a digital explosion.

With a massive increase in the sales of personal computers, more than 20 million sets by the end of 2003, China's online community - those who have regular access to the global Internet - has been increasing at an astonishing rate.

In 1996, it was estimated that there were only 40,000 Internet users on the Chinese mainland. A year later it skyrocketed to 250,000. By the end of 2003, the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) put the figure at 79.5 million, with more than half of these netizens below 35 years of age.

Many Chinese youths have become net addicts. The Internet has helped them fulfill their dreams in the virtual world - roaming outer space, travelling to each corner of the globe, for instance, or even doing things they are forbidden to do or are unable to do in the real world.

"I am an Internet addict. Sometimes, I want to hide myself from the real world, and live in the virtual place, where I can get the kind of comfort or content I need," said Liu Qiao, a high school student in Beijing.

Liu's feelings can explain the national obsession with the Internet, sitting more than 10 hours or longer a day in front of a screen.

However, the Internet has gone far beyond the virtual world and is also very useful in the real world.

It has become the major source of information for many netizens. They browse news, do academic research, hunt jobs and read books. Some have not bought any newspapers or books for several years, as almost all the content they are interested in are available on the Internet.

Wang Shengming, 27, an employee with a multinational company based near the Asian Games Village in Beijing, considered buying an apartment near his company last October.

He found an electronic housing map online, which includes almost all the information about various housing projects, from locations, prices to layout of each apartment in each of the projects.

He typed "Asian Games Village" into the location section and the names of all the projects in this area appeared on the screen.

Then he found those that were within his purchasing range, started communicating with people who had already bought apartments in the projects in the forums and chose two candidates.

Online deals

Instead of making trips to all the projects listed on the Web, he only went to the sites of the two projects and purchased the one closest to his office.

He didn't make the purchase right away. He started to search for other potential buyers and found 10. They formed an alliance and went to the developers together, asking for a wholesale price and finally he bought his property at a discount price.

For the interior decoration, Wang also resorted to the Internet. He logged onto a popular housing website in Beijing. In the forums of the website, Wang got to know the name brands in the home decoration industry, the pros and cons of many products, the lowest prices for these goods, as well as where to buy them at a good price.

"In the forums, many people shared their experiences in the whole process with others so that we can learn from their good experiences and avoid making the same mistakes," Wang said.

"For a novice like me, the forums are really helpful. I do not know if I could manage without these forums."

The Internet has also become an important tool for Chinese business people.

Chen Guangjun, a business executive with a State-owned foreign trade company in South China's Guangdong Province, spent less than an hour surfing the Internet and clinched a deal worth almost US$100,000 on April 4.

One of his Taiwan trade partners told him that he wanted to purchase a number of computer desks. Chen immediately sat down in front of his computer in his office and began searching for furniture manufacturers via the Internet.

After reaching an agreement with a manufacturer, Chen offered a price to the Taiwan client. One hour later, Chen received an e-mail from his client and the deal had been clinched.

Chen is just one of a growing number of people who are now using Internet services to do business in China.

Le Qiang, 26, a dealer of air-conditioner parts in East China's Zhejiang Province says that most of his deals are completed through the Internet.

Zhu Jun, a 28-year-old grocery exporter in Shanghai, echoed Guo's words, calling this new way of doing business cost-effective.

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