My Mandarin classes start in a month. In preparation, I’m pushing myself to read and write more Chinese on the computer. I’m finding quite a few applications for this. You see, since I’m the ultimate cheapie, I can spend hours online “researching” the best deals. Recently, I was surfing some local travel sites (the Chinese equivalents of Travelocity and Expedia) scoping out the latest specials. Both Ctrip and Elong offer Chinese and English versions, but I’m always paranoid the prices will vary, so I actually check all the language formats. Fortunately, I didn’t find any price discrepancies, but to my irritation, I discovered that the same exact fights we booked a month ago for our trip this weekend to Harbin (where it’s currently -10 F) were now half price. When I first got the tickets, the agent told me the flight was booked, and the limited remaining seats were full fare. Now, three weeks later, there was suddenly greater availability? What the hell? Sure, maybe some people canceled their trip due to the benzene spill in October (the city’s water supply was shut off for three days)… Whatever. All I know is, I didn’t get the good deal. I almost resigned myself to getting gyped but then I figured, why not try for a refund of the price difference. After all, the Shanghainese are super price conscious; surely, such a request isn’t beyond what they would do. So I called Ctrip, and can you believe, I got to return the tickets? I was shocked. Usually in China, you can’t return crap and in this case, I fully expected to get screwed. I guess it was my lucky day. Mind you, the fix wasn’t exactly logical: I had to pay a 5% return fee and turn in the physical tickets to Ctrip. Then, I was re-issued tickets for the same exact flight. Totally roundabout, but hey, saved us about $200 USD!
This evening, I got to use my written Chinese on an all-Chinese site. I went to Taobao, a domestic site similar to Ebay, searching for Cetaphil cleanser. I first encountered Taobao a few months ago when I went there looking to replace my lost cell phone. Back then, my Chinese literacy was completely useless, so I called on the help of a multilingual friend to contact the seller. This time, I hunted down a Cetaphil seller in Shanghai and just started MSNing him. Sure, he probably would have preferred that I just do the transaction using the Taobao shopping cart, but given my limited literacy, I still needed to ask questions using words I knew, using my limited vocabulary set. I was ridiculously slow in typing my responses, but hey, one hour later, the transaction was done. My first online purchase done completely in Chinese. I’m sure the seller thought I was mentally challenged, because I likely asked questions whose answers were already listed on the posting. Oh well. I’m having a good time going in cognito. Ok, I guess I should still give credit where it’s due: thank goodness for Adsotrans, a superhandy site that gives me new special powers in Chinese-English translation.