I flew back from America to a ghost town. My normally bustling, vibrant school becomes a desolated wasteland in the summertime. Students are allowed to stay in the dorms if they want to, but with heat indexes of more than 100 and no a/c in the rooms, most opt to leave. Can’t blame them.
I’m stuck here for another week (waiting for the police to return my passport with my new work permit) and I’ll admit, I’m slightly bored. But I would be going absolutely up the wall insane if it weren’t for social media. Specifically Chinese social media. I thought I’d run down the basic companies and tell you how they have, well, if not saved my life, made it much more interesting anyway.
I’ve written about this before so I won’t go into much detail about it. But it’s great for chatting. I’m often on QQ, but keep my status as hidden, so no one can see me and I only chat with those I have something specific to say. But now that I have more time, I go online, show myself, and just wait for others to contact me. With QQ, like Facebook or MSN, you have to ‘allow’ people to talk to you so you know all of your contacts. I used this a lot in America and it was the primary way I kept up with my Chinese friends and student during my recent trip home.
I said before that QQ was like a chinese facebook, but that isn’t exactly true. More like a chinese MSN I guess (though I don’t use MSN messenger, so I’m not totally certain). Anyway, renren is the chinese facebook, and they have the stolen features and layout to prove it. I like using renren because it is more intuitive than QQ. Both are all in Chinese, but because renren looks like facebook, and I’m an avid facebook user, I can figure it out much more intuitively. And like Facebook, this website is a great place to just keep in touch with everyone, see what they are doing, and if you have something to share with everyone, like a picture or an announcement, this is the best website to do it so everyone can see it at once.
This is a new app I just started using and I’m totally in love with it. It’s a chat program for your phone, and you can send texts to other people using weixin for free anywhere in the world. And not just texts, but photos and voice messages as well. So, you can hit record, talk for a few seconds, send it to the other person, they listen and then respond.
And one of the best things is you can get several people in on one conversation. I went to Hangzhou to meet a bunch of my former students one night and beforehand we talked and arranged it all by using weixin. We were spread out over about a 50-mile radius in southern China and we were talking and laughing like we were all in the same room.
But, the total best thing is a feature I just learned about, thanks to a fellow foreign teacher. Weixin has a ‘look around’ feature in which you can see all the people close to you also using weixin. It’s slightly creepy, you can see how many meters away they are in 100 meter increments, and feels like a total stalker tool.(Although you have to specifically sign on to see the people around you, you aren’t automatically signed in.)
Creepy or not, I still love it. The day I discovered this feature I spent 6 hours, 6 hours, chatting with about 4 different people. (Some might say texting for 6 hours is a total waste of time, and normally I might agree with you, but I was texting all in Chinese so I consider it more ‘study time’ then wasting time.) And after meeting them on weixin, I’ve met some in real life because they live right in the same area. It’s super convenient.
As renren is the chinese facebook, this is the chinese twitter. I have no personal experience with this website, but it is interesting as it is emerging as a very important social tool. Since, like twitter, news can spread far and wide in seconds, people have been able to sneak things past censors. As a chinese owned company, the gov’t controls it pretty strictly, and can block certain words from being written, but it can’t block new things. For instance the recent 7-month abortion scandal was “broken” on weibo and became one of the biggest trending topics for days causing a huge outcry. The chinese government issued an official apology, and a ton of money to the victim and it would never have happened if it didn’t get so much in-country attention thanks to Weibo.
Playing around on Chinese social media is yet another thing I didn’t expect to get into while I was here in China, but I’m glad I did. I have new friends, easy ways to practice my chinese and stay up to date with everyone because of it. And while online interaction isn’t the same as social interaction, it is a good cure for a lonely empty school.