Yes as the title suggested, I had only ¥25 cash in my pocket when I landed in the Western Chinese city of Chongqing to start a 2 week business trip.

Apart from Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou are also on the itinerary – I also planned a quick weekend visit to my parents in Nantong (a small provincial city with only 8 million people).

I was not worried about the cash – I had both WeChat and Alipay in my phone, and a power bank to keep my phone charged.

The missing ¥5

After 10 days, I had ¥20 left in the pocket.

Guess where the other ¥5 went?

I bought domestic air tickets on Ctrip, paying with WeChat.

I purchased high speed rail ticket at the ticketing machine, paying with Alipay.

Alipay is one of the methods (along with UnionPay, NFC and cash) to pay for railway tickets

I paid for my bus ride with Alipay as well.

Alipay accepted at a public bus

I bought a new pair of jeans with Alipay, and two books with WeChat.

I paid every coffee, whether at Starbucks or any roadside cafe, with WeChat.

I even bought some tandoori bread with Alipay. The baker just hung the QR code outside for whoever wanting to scan.

Tandoor and Alipay hand in hand

That’s the beautiful part of Alipay and WeChat – they are so prevalent that they do not have to convince merchants to accept it anymore. Merchant would print and display QR codes on their own – because customers demand to pay with either of the services.

And when I was buying breakfast another day, the stall owner was so busy that he put his QR codes everywhere: “just pick whatever you want and scan the code to pay yourself.” And whenever a payment is made, a voice notification goes around the stall: “¥6 (or whatever amount)” has been received.”

Pick whatever you want and pay by WeChat

And of course, he is happy that he doesn’t need to tally the cash at the end of the busy morning.

Guess where did the ¥5 go?

Earlier today, I told a friend about the ¥5, and she said “you must have donated to a buddhist temple”.

Well, I did visit a buddhist temple, and gave some donation. But here is how I did it:

Scan the QR code to donate to the temple

OK, I gave the ¥5  to a street artist playing flute along the river dike in Chongqing – a popular tourist attraction. He had a QR code displayed next to his donation bowl, but my phone (and power bank) was out of battery then. So I gave him some cash.

Cashless works well… so far

So would the ¥20 I have left in my pocket enough for the remaining four days?

Apparently not – the  society is not entirely cashless yet, as I realised on my eleventh day here.

I was going to my parents 300 kilometers away from Hangzhou. I rented a car and paid with Alipay on my mobile.

As I was already on the expressway, I suddenly realised …. These guys at the toll take only cash or their store valued cash, no Alipay, no WeChat, no UnionPay Quickpass (an NFC payment method).

Cash or stored value card – no third option

It took me two hours and visits at four service areas to find an ATM. In the end I had to park my car, and walk through a tunnel to a supermarket outside the expressway area to withdraw cash.

Fortunately all ATMs are connected thanks to UnionPay – you don’t need to hold that bank’s card in order to withdraw from their ATM.

Somehow this reminds me of Touch N Go in Malaysia, if you know what I mean.


Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].


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Jianggan Li is the Founder & CEO of Momentum Works. Prior to founding Momentum Works, he co-founded Easy Taxi in Asia, and served as Managing Director of Foodpanda. The two years running Rocket Internet companies has given him a lifetime experience on supersonic implementation, and good camaraderie with entrepreneurs across the developing world. He holds a MBA from INSEAD (GMAT 770) and a degree in Computer Engineering from Nanyang Technological University. Unfortunately he never wrote a single line of code professionally - but in his first job he was in media, travelling extensively across Asia & Europe, speaking with Ministers & (occasionally) Prime Ministers. Apart from English and his native Mandarin, he is also fluent in French and conversational in Cantonese & Spanish. He tried to learn Latin (for three years) and Sanskrit (for six months) as well. In his (scarce) free time, he reads, travels, hikes and dives. Pyongyang, Tehran & Chisinau are among the interesting cities he has been to.