Sexless, Senseless & Cashless

It’s the Straits Times again:

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say was queueing up to buy chestnuts at a roadside hawker stall in Shanghai a few years ago.

When he saw customers ahead of him waving their mobile phones, taking their chestnuts and leaving without paying any cash, he thought they were showing their phones to get a special offer.

He declined to participate, offering to pay the full price in cash.

But it turned out the customers were using WeChat Pay to scan the hawker’s QR code.

Mr Lim felt like a “suaku” (country bumpkin), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday when he recounted the incident….

To be fair, WeChat Pay is a very neat and convenient way to pay for things. You first set up your “wallet”, entering your credit or debit card details. Once your wallet is ready, you can let the vendor scan your QR code to obtain payment from you. Some vendors generate a QR code for you to scan and pay. Check out the two diagrams.

Remotely, you can also send money directly to any of the contacts in your list. There is even a red packet function where you can send virtual ang pows to people you’re in contact with. Of course, you can also receive money. This amazingly powerful, versatile and convenient platform also opens up a broad avenue for exploitation by scammers.

Before I begin, let me share a little eye candy which is related to this topic.

She calls herself “Anna” and frankly, I’m not even sure whether it’s a he or a she. Whenever I see profiles like this, I get suspicious and I suspect that I may be able to milk a juicy story out of this – something which may make Mr Lim Swee Say feel even more suaku.

The conversation began. The usual pleasantries. She says that her Chinese name is “Xiaodan” and claimed to be working at the front desk at some company. So far so good. I wasn’t expecting anything interesting yet. She didn’t seem like your regular bored girl on WeChat looking for friends, but my 6th sense also told me that she wasn’t intending to offer sex services either. What was she after? Let’s find out.

I only replied her the next day. Finally, her cards were beginning to show. It’s her birthday (or so she claimed). She lamented that she was lonely and she couldn’t afford to buy herself anything. She went window shopping until she arrived at this toy shop.

She asked me which doll she should buy. I played along, making a suggestion and anticipating her next move.

She finally dropped a hint. The doll was too expensive. She couldn’t afford it. So…. she remained reticent about it. I was getting a little bored.

Late that afternoon, she messaged me again. Curiously, she asked for honesty and sincerity. Sure, I haven’t told her any lies yet. I even told her my real day and month of birth. Incredibly, she promised to send me a present (via WeChat) on my birthday.

Then she walked into a cake shop and a beautiful birthday cake caught her eye. She attached a video. It was a pretty atas place, but the cakes didn’t seem like they’re worth $88, let alone $108. Or is she actually in China and failed to convert the currency? Anyway, she was “complaining” that they charged $88 for payment by WeChat Pay and $108 by cash. She was hoping that I would use my WeChat Pay to pay for her. I wonder if this would help our government’s cashless argument.

So I persuaded her not to buy the cake. Note that she did not provide any payment details for the cake shop. I could only send money into her wallet. We’ve seen how some crooks create fake profiles trick the gullible with offers of sex. Now, this “lady” is trying to bait me with a birthday cake! She must think that I have the same IQ as some people…

This was getting interesting. I decided to play along and asked her where to meet so we could share the cake. I even offered to bring a bottle of wine. She left the conversation, then returned with a picture of a very cheap-looking cake which looked nothing like any of those at that atas cake shop.

If she could post pics to “prove” herself, so could I. She finally showed her hand. She wanted an ang pow from me. Yes, like I’ve mentioned, WeChat Pay has a “red packet” function. I almost laughed out loud. If she could lament that she could not afford things on her birthday, so could I lament that I have not even met her in person yet. Call me suaku if you want, but I insist on putting physical ang pows into the little hands of deserving children.

I wanted to end this pointless conversation soon, so I asked her if she was just kidding about sharing the cake with me. What was she trying to “prove” again by showing me the picture of a bottle and glass of wine? It’s mind-boggling how anyone can derive meaning and pleasure from a fortuitous virtual “relationship”.

I ended the conversation with a cruel remark. I said that I just remembered that my dog’s (and I don’t have one) birthday falls on the same day as hers and asked her if she would like to celebrate this beautiful coincidence by sending an any pow to my dog too. Dogs also can have WeChat account one meh? Well, I’m sure that pretty soon, that’s going to be a suaku question too.

There are a couple of things I would like to say about this cashless system. Categorically, I am not against it. It’s convenient and it saves time. However, I’m totally against the elimination of choices and options. There will always remain, some ways of giving money that define us as human beings. Take those options away and we may one day end up as idiots who give money to online personas like Xiaodan, imagining that we are in a relationship just by following images purportedly from their personal life.

Of course, as this little encounter illustrates, a powerful platform like WeChat Pay can really empower the strong to prey on the weak. The vulnerable may end up getting swallowed whole.

© Chan Joon Yee

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