It’s the little things that show how influential and powerful a country really is.
There is a monumental change underway that we are not really noticing. One day it will all just be normal and seem like it’s always been that way.
China has gone international.
I don’t just mean the country’s new cities, infrastructure, and other off-shore investment projects or even the new wave of outward Chinese migration that we’re now seeing, but the little things — little things like Chinese bank compatible ATMs all over the world.
I do editing work for the China-side branch of an incredible global research firm. It’s good work — interesting subject matter and good pay. The only catch is that they have to pay me to my Chinese bank account. This is fine when I’m in China, but since I’ve been doing research for the New Silk Road book I’ve been outside of the country for an extended amount of time with no solid plan to return.
So getting paid has been a hassle, which has even required having my money sent to a random Chinese friend who then forwarded it on to my US bank account. Then one day one of the representatives from this company was like, “Why don’t you justice t withdraw money at an ATM with your Unionpay card?”
I was kind of dumbstruck — “What? I can really do that?”
Unionpay is China’s equivalent to Plus or Cirrus, most of the debit cards that are issued by a Chinese bank is connected to this network. I had no idea that they’ve gone international, and I can just stick my Chinese bank card into an ATM in some random country and access my money.
I tried it at a gas station in Lodz, Poland. It worked. I withdrew a big wad of cash from my Chinese account at an ATM on the street of Tbilisi. It worked too. Apparently, Unionpay also has a partnership with Discover card, but I haven’t tried it yet in the USA.
China is different now, and even I — someone who makes a living documenting the country’s changes — sometimes has a difficult time keeping my paradigm of the country current. It is still moving that fast. But now, China’s evolution is becoming more subtle. Soon the world will be watching Chinese movies, showing their cool with Chinese electronics, investing in yuan, and nobody is going to talk about how the culture lacks creativity and just copies anymore. China is getting close to being “on global par” with the over-developed fringes of the world, and someday we will just think they’ve always been there.