Today on Twitter, we explore the very strange world of Deep Taobao.
For those who don’t know, Taobao is China’s leading e-commerce platform, specializing in the sale of secondhand goods and new (sometimes pirated) merch sold by third-party vendors. Bigger brands will have official stores on Tmall, a related e-commerce site operated by the same parent company, Alibaba. But for most purposes, Taobao is the eBay-and-Amazon-in-one for sourcing everything from toupees to toothpaste.
One ardent class of Taobao’ers is the Maker community, who can source even the most esoteric bits and baubles they need to feed their 3D printers and wildest soldering dreams on the platform. Naomi Wu, probably Twitter’s most prominent Chinese Maker, recently came across this sweet find on Taobao, a set of Mahjong tiles with cheats only visible by someone wearing special contacts:
Weird TaoBao find of the day- Mahjong tiles with invisible marks for cheating that can only be seen with special contact lenses. pic.twitter.com/cF9z5FXY49
— Naomi Wu (@RealSexyCyborg) October 15, 2017
Cool! Spy shit.
Speaking of eyewear, if you have 1598 RMB (about $240) to spend, you too can rock the look of ex-Chinese President Jiang Zemin, whose signature frames have earned him meme immortality:
For those of you looking for same model of mag glass that Jiang Zemin is using, it’s German brand Schweizer Optik, for sale 200$ on Taobao pic.twitter.com/xE52kzREQ8
— Keith Zhai (@QiZHAI) October 18, 2017
Taobao can get very meta at times. A few months back, one reader let author Duncan Clark know that he found a counterfeit version of his book on Taobao. The ironic part is that Clark’s book is Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built, a profile of Taobao’s parent company and its charismatic founder that includes an entire sub-chapter about the lengths to which Ma has gone to address piracy concerns.
— Matthew Brennan (@MattyBGooner) August 18, 2017
“Interesting, let me know how it goes when you inform Taobao,” Clark replied. We’d be curious too!
What else… oh here’s some fizzy Pokemon juice:
— Vlad🕹卫德@ Chinaland (@Stutsies) October 16, 2017
That’s all I’ve seen in the last few days but Taobao is full of this stuff. Go to the site itself and search around on your own, you’ll land on a weird rabbithole to Deep Taobao in no time. Or just scan the #taobao hashtag on Twitter, always a reliable source of surreality.
If you wanna jump straight to the weird, you can also follow the Taobao Media tumblr run by Shanghai-based artist Kim Laughton. I interviewed Kim a few years back, and he said then about the Taobao experience:
As far as Taobao in general is concerned, it’s really hard to pick out some items that are stranger than others; you can browse for hours trying out different keywords and finding what a factory in Guangdong has made. It’s also about the presentation; a fairly normal product can be presented in amazing and bizarre ways.
Many, many examples of those “amazing and bizarre ways” here. Some highlights:
Cover photo: Screenshot of Taobao Media tumblr