Taobao is the world’s largest online retailer. It sells more stuff than Amazon and eBay combined. It is powered by another online retail giant called Alibaba, which you may have heard of. Everyone wants to get stuff on Taobao because the prices are crazy stupid dirt cheap but it’s in Chinese so it’s formidable for those of challenged by Mandarin. However, it turns out with a little Google translate and some will, it can be done. My friend Lily helped me buy a bathing suit last year and I was grateful but didn’t want to ask her every time I needed something. One year into my journey of living here in Shanghai, I took a lesson from Crystal Snappy Shopper and got on the World Wide Web Chinese style.
Crystal came over from a nearby compound with her 4 month-old daughter Sophie and they are a good team. Crystal is from Hong Kong but has lived here in Shanghai for several years. She has two small children so she does her Crystal Savvy shopper business out of her home (or in mine) with her infant daughter. Sophie, by the way, was like a tiny doll. She was awake the whole time and never cried. I held her for a while when she needed it and it was nice. It was a two hour lesson including taking me to the post office where I was able to make a deposit into an Alipay account and then make my purchases. I should clarify: nothing is done easily in China. During the day, when some folks are home, the approximately 1000 residents in my building use up all the bandwidth. Internet comes to a grinding halt and we can’t get much done a lot of the day. Then after 6pm until I go to bed it’s also useless. Middle of the night is best, but this insomniac is not allowed on the computer in the wee hours.
Anyhow, we ordered a bunch of stuff I need for Buster, our cat: cat food, kitty litter and a nice kitty condo. So fun! Fast forward one month and I get on the gosh darn computer myself, opened the Taobao site and couldn’t remember a thing. Luckily, with some minor prompting from Crystal via screenshots, I did it! I ordered two cat brushes and two toys. The products arrived in one day and there is no shipping charge, well one item cost less than a dollar to ship. What? I know it’s a miracle. Why didn’t I do this sooner? Next up: wine fridge.
I don’t know if I should get excited or renounce all wordly possessions.