[Sponsored article] With modern society’s obsession with youth, it is easy to dismiss someone as being “too old” to learn new things. This mentality is so prevalent that it has led to the saying – “You can‘t teach an old dog new tricks”. However, a group of traditional food vendors in Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang province, and a durian-selling entrepreneur in Singapore are living proof that people really are never too old to embrace change. Digital payment tools helped these 5 businesses overcome struggles of Covid-19 pandemic to thrive They are not only happy to adopt the use of new technologies, including digital forms of payment, but also use them to stay connected with younger generations. Got your pancake coupons? Along Hangzhou’s South Zhongshan Road, a queue of young people – many who have travelled from all over the country – forms each day at about noon as they wait to taste one of the city’s most famous foods: deep-fried scallion pancakes. Even if you fail to spot the queue outside the food stall, you will not miss the big handwritten signs in red and black words, including, “Internet celebrity”, “Granny Sun” and “scallion pancakes”. Sun, 75, is the shop’s owner and skilled cook, who serves up the delicious aromatic pancakes. And yes, she is trending on social media. Another sign hanging outside the entrance says: “Good news; from now on you can pay with Alipay and get 2 yuan [30 US cents] off when you spend 10 yuan.” Sun is not only embracing the Alipay digital payment app owned by Ant Group – the fintech affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding, which also owns the South China Morning Post – but also reminding each patron to check if they have digital coupons for further discounts. Her children often wonder why she does not simply retire and take things easier, but Sun thinks differently. The banter and interaction with her customers keep her young, she says. Wake up and smell the tofu Stinky tofu – made from cured bean curd and known, as its name suggests, for its pungency – is a controversial dish in Chinese cuisine. It is also a local favourite in Hangzhou. If you ask the city’s insiders where to sample the best versions, they are likely to point you to Wushan Road, where 70-year-old Granny Shao serves the snack, deep-fried to a perfect golden colour, with home-made sweet and spicy sauces. However, Shao’s stinky tofu is not just a hit among Hangzhou’s residents: it has attracted devotees from across the country. It has become so popular that some of her customers encouraged her to set up a digital shop on the Alibaba-owned e-commerce platform, Taobao, so that she can deliver the smelly yet tasty food to those unable to buy it in person. Technology was something that Granny Shao had to adapt to, but the dedication she has shown has helped to make her business a success for more than two decades. Vegetarian internet star On Dama Alley, another of Hangzhou’s busy market streets, a legendary figure known as Granny Xu runs a stall serving authentic local dishes, such as vegetarian chicken rolls and vegetarian roast duck – all made from tofu. The 73-year-old is so popular online that she has become a bit of an internet celebrity, but she does not think that much of it, although she is happy to embrace the technology as long as it helps her business. “My hearing is not good, so my son got me a small speaker, so that it can announce to me whenever an Alipay payment is made,” she says. That way, Xu can focus on the cooking. Many of her loyal customers are drawn there not only by the food, but also her uninhibited personality. In fact, you are likely to hear her playful banter before entering the shop – especially after she has had a few sips of Shaoxing wine, a local favourite made from glutinous rice. Xu truly embodies the saying: “Do what you love and love what you do.” Unassuming culinary master Hangzhou‘s Chengtou Alley is home to a restaurant visited only by those that are in the know. There is no sign hanging outside, and it looks like an ordinary residence. If you are lucky enough to be brought here by an insider – or find out about it from social media – you may get to meet the owner, 79-year-old Granny Zhu, who is regarded by the locals as a “master among us”. Many of her customers are people who work long hours each day and have no time to cook for themselves, so they come here to enjoy Zhu’s renowned home-cooked dishes, such as poached chicken and fish in pickle broth. This unassuming restaurant gets rather busy, but Zhu has been quick to make good use of digital technology, especially when collecting payments from customers. “We used to collect cash while cooking and we’d get our hands dirty,” she says. “Now that we use Alipay, it’s clean, there is no need for giving change, and we don’t have to worry about fake notes.” When Zhu has finished cooking for the day, she often likes to sing a few songs for her customers, something which has made her an internet celebrity – which she clearly loves. Success found in smelly, prickly fruit In Singapore, digital technology has also helped a small-business owner adapt to changing customer needs. When you visit Chinatown in the city state, it’s hard to miss a shop called Sweet Musings: just look out for its famous giant durian sculpture – which trends on Instagram – beside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum on Sago Street. M.J. Heng, the owner who is in his early 60s, started the business six years ago by initially selling specialities such as cakes and tarts. But sales did not go well, despite the shop’s prime location. “Business was tough in the first six months: it almost went bust,” he says. “Chinatown lacked a distinct character. I knew that we needed to offer something that is unique to Singapore to attract customers.” So he turned to offering durian, and came up with the motto: “If you don’t try durians, you’ve never truly visited Singapore.” The decision was anything but random. As Singapore has become a popular destination for tourists from mainland China, where durians are seen as a delicacy, it provided Heng with a steady stream of customers. Ever the resourceful entrepreneur, he knew that he needed to find ways to make it easier for his customers to pay in the shop. “I started hearing talk about Alipay and mobile payments on the news and my own personal travels to China,” he says. “I tell anyone who comes to me for advice, as long as your business is … looking to attract Chinese tourists, they should definitely adopt Alipay or they’ll be missing out on a huge opportunity.” His shop’s popularity has also been helped by “Koubei” – literally word of mouth – a feature in the Alipay app which allows people to offer free recommendations about places of interest. However, Sweet Musings has never been simply a business for Heng. “It’s more of a passion,” he says. “I love to communicate and interact with people. The happier my customers are visiting my shop, the more joy and self-satisfaction it brings.” All sources and information in this article have been provided by Ant Group and do not necessarily reflect the research work, official policy or position of the South China Morning Post. Any content provided by our sponsors is of their opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organisation, company, individual, or anyone or anything.