The Dating Gun God Machine that's too good to be true
Updated: 2013-02-19 14:21
By Jules Quartly (China Daily)
So I downloaded WeChat because every other Chinese person I know is buried in the thing. Even at dinner when there's conversation, a lot of it is on the phone with third parties. I felt like the odd one out.
Known as Weixin locally, the app is a huge release from the tech behemoth Tencent and allows you to mobile message free of charge on Wi-Fi, send photos and videos, make "walkie talkie" calls and hold video chats. I'm on roaming at the moment and using WeChat doesn't cost a lot, so telecom operators are either quaking in their boots, or working on legislation that will cut them more profits.
The other function WeChat has, which interested me, was the geolocation option. Turn it on and everyone else who wants to be "found" in a roughly 1 km area pops up, with a photo, a tagline about who they are and often enough an album of photos illustrating their lives.
It didn't take long for me to find out why the free mobile instant and voice message application was age restricted and why it's colloquially referred to as "Yuepao Shenqi" - loosely translated as "Dating Gun God Machine".
In the interest of research, of course, I replied to the dozens of "friending" requests and was only slightly surprised on following up that they were probably nice girls but would be charging for their "services". Gay guys would not be charging, by and large, and were not necessarily discouraged by the fact I'm married to a woman.
While some of my new friends turned out to be "ordinary" people with regular lives, the conversations dried up after a while, partly because of my poor Chinese, and also because there's only so many smiley emoticons one man can take.
"X" was different. She was funny and engaging, and while I was whiling away a stray hour at a coffee shop she took the initiative and said she was nearby and would come visit. Crossing the line from virtual "friend" to real person was a little unsettling, but, well, I thought, why not?
She arrived an hour later, by which time I needed to get to work. So, we shared a taxi back to the office and I dropped her off on the way. She was "passionate" considering it was just 30 minutes of face time, but she seemed normal enough.
The next time we met was for dinner, but she kept changing the meeting place, and we ended up outside her house, at a nearby restaurant. She told me about her job selling insurance and asked if I wanted to buy a policy. Not really, I responded. To cut a short story even shorter, over the next few days she got increasingly angry at my refusal to hand over 2,000 yuan ($320) a month for the rest of my life and I had visions of a Fatal Attraction scenario - without the attraction.
When I told Chinese friends the story and suggested that WeChat seemed to be geared toward solicitation and nutters, they reposted that expat men had a reputation for using WeChat to hook up with local women, not unlike the way Grindr is used in the US by gay men and women.
I do have a Western friend who would fall into this camp, though not the gay one. He had a local girlfriend who he was really keen on, but somehow, her friend managed to get hold of him on WeChat and started flirting with him, outrageously. My Westerner "sort of encouraged her for a laugh", at which point she told his girlfriend and that was the end of that. Yes, he admitted to friending about 30 girls, but only met one. She turned out to look nothing like her photo and after an uncomfortable 30 minutes they mutually agreed it was a bad idea.
His comment about the whole hookup game scene was: "If it's too good to be true, it isn't true." New technology, the old Veritas.
I'm told that locals love WeChat more for flirting rather than hooking up, but if you go on the forums it's blamed for a million breakups, as secret lives are laid bare. I suspect Tencent wasn't expecting its service to be used as it is, but they're certainly running with it.
After playing around on WeChat for a month or so, I have calmed down, but do find it to be a useful communication tool, innovative, and with an intuitive interface.
I've tried out similar apps like Whatsapp, Momo, Skype, Line and others but WeChat is on steroids and outmuscles them all.
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