Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Meet the Professional Queuers: Shanghai’s version of the PA [CNNGO]

With Shanghai’s population of 23 million people (that’s a number bigger than the whole of Australia) set to double within the next 40 years, services like professional queuers are taking off. A dramatic shift indeed – sepia-toned postcards of bicycles now replaced with one of the fastest growing skylines in the world. And now – ‘minions’ available to be despatched for the most mundane of tasks. Laziness or enlightened users of time? Or are we looking at symptoms of a city too big and busy to be sustainable using its current model.

An example of the service in question – Paotui (Chinese only), can be found here – with help to buy fast food like KFC inclusive; now finding help to buy fast food does illustrate some telling characteristics.

– – –

Meet the Professional Queuers: Shanghai’s version of the PA
Time is money and a handful of “paotui” — paid professional queuers — may just help save a few hours of your life
By Debbie Yong
Source – CNNGo, published 13 June, 2011

Source – CNNGO: You could wait on this line, but why? Hire someone to do it for you.

In a city of 23 million people, standing in line (although calling them lines is often a stretch) is an inevitable part of life, be it at the bank, at the hospital, for limited edition festive dumplings, famous mooncakes or for the latest i-gadget.

But for anyone who gets tired of being elbowed and shoved while awaiting their turn, a handful of “paotui” (or errand-runner) agencies have cropped up in Shanghai offering to get in line so you don’t have to.

Queueing for health

A check on local classifieds such as Baixing, Ganji and e-commerce site Taobao turns up between 10 and 20 paotui agencies, ranging from one-man shows to outfits with more than 30 errand runners.

Prices start from RMB 5 for a 10-minute task and can go up to RMB 200 for a 26-hour wait, and most agencies say they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Li Qicai (李启才), 29, who set up Paotui 360 three years ago, says he gets about 60 requests a month from customers who have no time or patience for queueing. His most common request from clients? Getting in line at the hospital.

For an average of RMB 20 an hour, Li or one of his runners will take a queue number and physically wait in line on your behalf. They will then call you when it is almost your turn so you can rush down and take your place in the line, just before your number is called.

“Shanghainese hospitals are known as some of the best in China, and people come in from all over the country to be treated by local specialists,” says Li. “Getting in line to see the doctor takes at least five hours and can sometimes stretch overnight.”

His personal record was standing in line for 26 hours for an out-of-town client who flew into Shanghai just to see a reputed traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctor.

“TCM is getting increasingly popular, especially among the young and wealthy, but there are fewer reputed TCM doctors compared to those practicing Western medicine,” says Li, who cited Longhua Hospital, Shuguang Hospital and Yueyang Hospital, all affiliated to the Shanghai University of TCM, for having notoriously long lines.

If you are not sure which doctor is best for your ailment, Li will even recommend one based on experience and can arrange all the paperwork for an extra fee.

The business of queueing

The waiting game is spread out among Li, his three business partners, and a roster of about 30 temporary staff, who get paid about RMB 15 an hour. Most of his employees are students looking for some extra pocket money, or shift workers with a bit of spare time.

While a good build, patience and a good attitude are what he prefers in employees, he has no hard-and fast-hiring criteria.

“Let’s face it, you don’t need to have much culture to do this job — standing in line is boring and nobody really wants to do it,” says Li.

Employees who throw in the towel are rare, and Li says he will simply assign substitutes if a runner calls in requesting an urgent rest.

“Those in this line are doing it for the money,” he adds, “and they know they won’t get paid until they complete the task.”

Former software salesman Feng Junjie (冯俊杰), 26, was a part-time runner for the past three years before turning to it full-time late last year. He now runs his own agency, Paotui888, with three other partners.

He ropes in three to four other neighbors on a part-time basis to tide over busy periods.

Besides getting in line, Feng and his runners can also help with grocery-shopping, paying bills, fetching friends and family from the airport and — a service which Feng gets many frantic calls for — buying gifts for anniversaries and birthdays remembered at the last minute.

He barely made RMB 1,000 in the first month, but says that he averages more than RMB 3,000 a month these days. Better established competitors or those who choose to specialize in a specific area such as lining up at hospitals can easily make RMB 6,000 a month, he estimates.

“I’m making less than I did in my former job, but I get a lot more freedom and get to meet all sorts of people,” says Feng.

With Shanghai’s population predicted to double by 2050, Feng expects the demand for this service to increase exponentially in the next few years, and hopes to enlarge his business into an efficient city-wide network beyond his current base in Changning district.

Why wait?

Feng says that wealthy Shanghainese businessmen who have no time to pencil in trivial administrative tasks make up half of his clients while the other half are mostly people from other provinces and tourists who have limited time in the city.

“Most of our clients are not familiar with the city, so they may have to waste some time looking for the place, on top of lining up,” says Hong Yan (洪燕), 28, a cheery hotel receptionist who started her agency, Happy to Help, three months ago.

There is the odd request too, such as a client who employed people to queue outside his newly opened store so it would look popular.

Hong, a Guangdong native, and her three business partners are not in it for the money — they all have full-time jobs in the service industry and simply “did know what to do with our spare time.”

Lining up at the visa office, buying air tickets and even personally delivering a fast-food meal for a client past the delivery hotline hours are just some of the tasks she has already crossed off her to-do list.

But this trade is not without its risks. Illegal products and transactions are a definite no-go, says Hong.

A system of trust

“We will try our best but we may not always be successful in all tasks, shops may be closed or products may sell out before it’s our turn to buy it,” says Zhao Ting, 27, who is an independent runner, “so we have to make sure clients accept this.”

“Customers can choose not to show up and waste all the time we have spent waiting, or they can disappear and not pay for an expensive item of clothing they asked us to help queue for, but this business works on a system of mutual trust,” says Paotui 360’s Li.

Xiao Xiao (小小), 28, who is a runner with Daza, one of the bigger paotui agencies around, said that the upsides of a long wait are the chance to have a moment of quiet in the a hectic day to take a nap or catch up with friends on the phone while in line.

Toilet breaks are allowed, but the key is to remember who is standing behind and in front of you and make friends with them if possible so they will help you keep your place, shares Xiao.

Books, magazines and a cell phone are crucial tools of the waiting trade.

“But just don’t forget your phone charger like I once did during a 20-hour wait,” laughs Paotui 360’s Li.


Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Chinese Model, CNN, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Lifestyle, Population, Social, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,575 other followers

East/West headlines of Rising China

East/West headlines of Rising China

About Wandering China

Click to find out more about this project

Support //WC

Support Wandering China now - buy a Tee Shirt!

Be a champ - Support Wandering China - buy a Tee Shirt!

The East Wind Wave

China in images and infographics, by Wandering China

China in images and Infographics, by Wandering China

Wandering China: Facing west

Please click to access video

Travels in China's northwest and southwest

Wandering Taiwan

Wandering Taiwan: reflections of my travels in the democratic Republic of China

Wandering China, Resounding Deng Slideshow

Click here to view the Wandering China, Resounding Deng Slideshow

Slideshow reflection on Deng Xiaoping's UN General Assembly speech in 1974. Based on photos of my travels in China 2011.

East Asia Geographic Timelapse

Click here to view the East Asia Geographic Timelapse

A collaboration with my brother: Comparing East Asia's rural and urban landscapes through time-lapse photography.

Wandering Planets

Creative Commons License
Wandering China by Bob Tan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at Wanderingchina.org. Thank you for visiting //
web stats

Flag Counter

free counters
Online Marketing
Add blog to our directory.
%d bloggers like this: