China: Quick adopter, widespread use of technology

By Edward Lim

In the early 2000s, I visited Beijing for the first time and was amazed to see a taxi using a global positioning system (GPS) to get me to my destination. To put things in perspective, this was before the arrival of smartphones and GPS wasn’t even used in Singapore.This year, I visited four continents, including some of the most technological advanced countries, such as the United States, Australia and Taiwan. And my final trip of the year showed that China is well ahead in terms of technology adoption and use.

Upon arrival at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, I was greeted by a terminal for face and finger print recording. This sped up the entire immigration clearance process to just 25 minutes. For comparison, it took me more than two hours to clear San Francisco Airport with an almost similar number of international visitors.

While checking in at our hotel, I was intrigued by a vending machine served by a robot, which can deliver our orders directly to our room. The vendor, who happened to be at the kiosk, told us that the robots are being used in many hotels in China, as well as in Japan, Taiwan and the United States.

e-payment is everywhere and practically everyone — from young to old — is using WeChat, AliPay and the likes. The only ones trailing behind are international visitors because such payment need to be linked to a China bank account. It would definitely be more convenient for merchants and international visitors if the authorities can find a way around this. After all, most visitors also carry smartphones.

Getting a taxi in some places may be difficult but there’s always Didi, an Uber-style ride hailing app. If no vehicle is available, try incentivising the driver with a little extra. We got our ride at just 10 yuan extra.

At Shanghai Disneyland, our photos were so subtlety taken at the turnstile without us noticing. The app also helped us to book Fastpass — which lets us bypass the queue by turning up at a fixed time — without needing to be physically at the ride entrance.

Overall, I have been very impressed by what I have seen and experienced in China. It’s not just a creator but a leader in using technology.