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We wed on wechat

Updated: 2014-06-06 06:59
By Tiffany Tan ( China Daily)

Some days, the beeping of incoming messages gets overwhelming, but technology does facilitate quick communication at little cost. Tiffany Tan writes.

I resisted as long as I could, but two months ago, I finally threw up my hands and became one of WeChat's 400 million users worldwide. For almost a year prior, I'd gotten used to receiving quizzical looks from both locals and foreigners whenever I told them I didn't use China's most popular messaging app.

Last summer, out of curiosity, I actually installed it on my mobile device. Five minutes after signing up, I was inundated with around 40 "friend requests", some from people I'd already removed from my phonebook. I quickly closed the app and de-registered my account.

As a reporter, I have to keep an eye on text messages and e-mails from interviewees, editors and readers. I also monitor stories on various websites and news feeds, as well as keep up with friends and family on social media - with their own messaging apps. Once in a while, I receive instant messages on Gchat, Skype and Yahoo!

Did I want to juggle, on top of all these, another communications platform? Not really, especially since I needed uninterrupted quiet time for writing.

I continued to say no to WeChat even after friends in Beijing told me it had become the best way to know of gatherings within our circle.

"Whatever happened to text messaging?" I thought. "Wouldn't even the small cost of an SMS mean that your friends really want to get a hold of you?"

My resolve wavered a bit, but I stood firm, when one interviewee asked to make initial contact on WeChat - known in Chinese as Weixin. Whatever happened to phone calls or even instant messaging on Tencent QQ? The means of reporting were definitely changing, I thought as I watched one Chinese colleague conduct an interview on WeChat, asking questions via short voice messages and receiving similar responses.

Then, this spring, I got engaged and started planning my wedding back home. Many wedding vendors in Manila, such as gown designers, makeup artists, planners, florists and musicians, now prefer to use smartphone messaging apps to communicate with clients overseas.

One planner I met, Bernalyn Yap, can be found on three IM services and six messaging apps, including Line (a product of Japan that claims 420 million users) and Kakao Talk (South Korea, 140 million). I was surprised to learn that she also uses WeChat, which she discovered at a wedding planners' conference in Beijing this March.

"I mainly use it to get in touch with business colleagues and friends from Beijing," she says in an e-mail. The various messaging apps, Yap says, are "very helpful and cost-efficient" for businesswomen like her who have clients living abroad.

I eventually gave in. Overnight, I installed WhatsApp (the leader of the pack, a US company reporting 500 million users), Viber (Japan, 300 million) and of course, WeChat. Some days, the beeping of incoming messages gets overwhelming, but the apps do facilitate quick communication and cost practically nothing.

Besides helping me to discuss business with wedding vendors, the apps have also enabled me to chat with family and friends all over the world. They include a former Chinese roommate working in South Africa, a 62-year-old aunt who beat me to Viber by a year and a 2-year-old niece who cannot read or write but knows how to send photos and smileys.

I've realized that the apps are particularly handy when you're traveling overseas. A Pakistani journalist friend ran out of cell phone credit while visiting Shanghai last week, but she had hotel Wi-Fi and was able to ask me travel-related questions on WhatsApp.

Animated stickers also make the apps fun. After all, who can resist the image of a dancing Garfield, a snoring Hello Kitty or Spiderman spinning heart-shaped webs?

Contact the writer at tiffany@chinadaily.com.cn

 We wed on wechat

Li Min / China Daily

(China Daily 06/06/2014 page20)