Weird and wonderful things from Taobao for 20 yuan or less each
Taobao, like its name suggests (literally “sifting for treasure”), is a trove of weird and wonderful things, some useful, some useless, some great for a laugh, and others just plain terrifying. Recently, my colleague Song and I set a challenge: we each had to buy five unique things on the massive shopping platform, without spending more than 20 yuan (US$3.10) apiece.
Taobao, an online shopping platform founded by the Alibaba Group way back in 2003, has become one of the most popular websites in the world, even giving birth to the world’s largest annual shopping festival, the now infamous Singles Day (November 11) sale which last year racked up 498 billion yuan.
But apart from the usual stuff like mobile phones, make-up, consumables and clothing, what else can be found in the deepest, darkest depths of Taobao?
English study toilet paper
This is definitely more aimed at Chinese students of the English language, but could definitely be used for those of us studying Chinese, too. It’s a roll of toilet paper conveniently printed with thousands of entries from a Chinese-English dictionary. Who says you need to bring your phone when you’re sitting on the bog, especially if you’ve got an exam coming up? At 12.50 yuan, this toilet paper is a bit more expensive than your ordinary roll, but chatting to that guy or girl you quite fancy at the coffee shop in their native language is priceless!
Yes/No flip coin
This hefty coin, with YES engraved on one side and NO on the other, is perfect for those of us who have trouble making decisions on a daily basis. Can’t decide if you want to go to that party you were invited to on Saturday night? Just flip this coin, and let it decide for you!
This coin comes in gold or silver, and also comes in YES/YES and NO/NO varieties. It will cost you just 9.98 yuan.
Mona Lisa fly swat
Why does art have to be limited to the walls of the Louvre? Swatting flies can also be done with the elegance and poise afforded by the Renaissance, especially if you get your hands on this Mona Lisa fly swat. To be honest I don’t quite understand the appeal, but many people picked this as their favorite of our buys. It seems to be quite popular on Taobao, too, with one buyer commenting that any flies or other insects who meet the unfortunate fate of being swatted with this piece of art will die with a Mona Lisa smile. 19.90 yuan.
Spider in a box
No, it’s not a real spider! But it does give one heck of a surprise if you’re looking to trick a loved one, or maybe even someone you despise. At just 10 yuan, this tiny, wooden box with a sliding lid on top is spring loaded with a large, rubbery spider that jumps out onto the hand of whoever the unlucky soul is who was curious (or stupid) enough to open it.
This also comes in the scorpion variety, but I think the scorpion is a little too fake. I don’t recommend giving this to pregnant women or anyone suffering from heart issues!
Cat skeleton badge
Personally I think this small, plastic badge of a cat’s skeleton comes under the “cool” label, but others might think it’s a bit creepy. Even though this pin only cost 10 yuan, the store sent another cute pin of a small yellow plane for free. Nice!
If cat skeletons aren’t your thing, why not try a bird, rabbit, rat, penguin, or pig? After all, it’s not like this is going to send you into the red.
Quick Taobao facts
Taobao was launched by Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group in 2003. By 2019, Taobao had reached nearly 800 million active monthly users. That number might sound huge, but it’s even more impressive considering China has 989 million Internet users. Taobao is the eighth-most visited website in the entire world.