Christmas morning mega-surprise: an iPhone for me from my dear husband. Lost in Shanghai? Look at the map — even translated into English. In the back of a cab and can’t remember the address of that little cafe tucked down an alley on Fuxing Lu? Google it. Sick of printing out my address book to carry around when I return to the States? It’s all there in its sweet little memory. Finally I could leave home without the heavy bag stuffed with files and namecards and maps that has given me backaches for four years. (But I can still get the curative massages — right?) And my sweetie had already set up service with China Mobile.
For months he had been watching me pop into Apple and AT&T stores in the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia. I wanted to purchase a phone to use here in China where you buy a little slip of a SIM card from the mobile service provider and pop it into your own phone. (You can pay in advance for time, or set up an account.) Free market, open competition, no tie-ins. But no, I couldn’t buy an iPhone (ironically, I wanted it for my husband) at any price unless I subscribed to a plan in one of those countries we don’t live in.
But the sleuth I am married to (with guidance from our sons) had discovered that Apple is required to sell unlocked iPhones in Hong Kong, albeit at top dollar since there is no lucrative contract. He had asked a colleague on a business trip to pick one up.
With trepidation I popped in the SIM card from my trusty Sony Ericsson and …. the screen complained “No SIM Card.” Although it was fun to play with all the buttons, it was impossible to make a call. Problems with the phone, the screen suggested, might be solved by restoring its original settings. Following the prompt, I agreed to “reset and upgrade software.” BAM! No home screen, just a blaring notice that I could use the phone “for emergency use only.” I had bitten the tempting but poisonous Apple and the phone was locked up tight.
Annoying, but not an insurmountable problem, I thought. After all, I live in China. And I headed over to the nearby electronics market, located in the basement of a large globe-shaped building.
It’s the place to go for a new camera, an ink cartridge, or a thumbdrive — all brands can be found at one of the small counters.
Sure enough, they were selling iPhones everywhere.
I approached a stall. For 150 yuan (about $20), the young man behind the counter said that he could make the phone work. I didn’t even try to bargain. He plugged the phone into his computer and got to work with confidence. But at the end of his efforts, my phone still said “No SIM.” The problem, Mr. Fixit said, was that the phone was American. He could tell by the LL at the end of the serial number. So much for a legit Hong Kong phone, bought at a premium. He pulled out a sliver of metal and laid it under the SIM card in its tray and fiddled the whole thing into its slot. “No SIM,” my phone still complained.
Using his teeth, the young man pulled out the SIM tray again and peered into the narrow slot. Then he invited me to take a look. Inside I could see a flash of gold color — apparently an organ surgically implanted in Hong Kong that would now have to come out. 280 yuan, he said. I figured I was already in too deep to argue and hoped that that was the total price for both procedures. (It wasn’t.)
He led me to another stall where he called on his buddy to perform the operation. A small crowd circled around to watch, chatting in animated Shanghainese that I couldn’t follow at all. The surgeon used a magnetic screwdriver to lift the screws and reveal the guts of my baby. There was nothing I could do each time someone cracked a joke and he laughingly waved the screwdriver — with an itty screw attached — in the air before recovering and resuming the surgery. All I could do was pray when he yanked out the piece of golden foil and closed up, pausing to locate a screw on the floor.
I cheered when, miraculously, China Mobile trailed across the top of the screen.
It lasted for about 45 minutes, after which No Service took over and followed me all the way home.
When I returned the next day, the young man pulled out the SIM card and popped it into his old phone, where it worked fine. It also worked again in my phone. Until shortly after I left.
I called the local computer guru who set up this blog for me. Can you get my iPhone to work? I wailed, and relayed its medical history.
Sure I can, he assured me. Those little things you lay over the SIM don’t work so well. You haven’t upgraded the software, have you? Long pause. Because if you have, I can’t help you. You have got an iPod.
Still a nice gift, I assured my husband and myself for the next few days as I played with the iPhone but used my old Sony when I actually needed to make a call.
But on New Year’s Eve came another Christmas gift. Somewhere in the world, jailbreakers released a program called Yellow Snow. My computer guru sent me an email. I visited his office and the medicine was administered. Another 300 yuan and I left thrilled with my fully functioning toy and repeating my new mantra, Do not update the software, Never update the software, When asked about new versions of software, click No!
The next day I returned to the electronics market to buy a protective screen cover from my favorite counter.
And this photo of my new friend?
I took it with my iPhone.