Tuesday, May 30, 2006


It finally happened after 8 months in China - I had something stolen. First, let me explain that this was very upsetting to me, not because I was particularly attached to the item stolen, but rather because I have never been pickpocketed or had anything stolen from me prior to this, and it was a blow to my feeling of being aware of my surroundings. The whole ordeal left me feeling very un-spy-like. I think I'm going to be even more alert that I used to be from now on.

That said, my cell phone was stolen. I realize that this happens all the time, but the way in which it happens in Beijing is particularly agonizing. On a college campus in the US, if you lose your phone, there's actually a fairly good chance that you can call it and get it back. Sometimes, even if it's been stolen, this will work. In Beijing, though? There's a very special process that unfolds after you realize that your phone is gone. This feeling of mine was confirmed the next day as I serendipitously came across an article about precisely this subject in the back of That's Beijing, the magazine I'm working for.

The loss of a cell phone usually begins in a cab or in a club. If you're in the cab group, the phone's usually fallen out of your pocket or bag, and you realize it after you close the door. If you're in the club group, you've either left the phone unattended somehow for a minute, or you have it tucked into a pocket that isn't quite deep enough to keep it from sticking out of the top. I fell prey to the latter situation. You have to understand that two things were working against me in this situation: 1) that phone was a bloody monster. It was huge, and it had a giant antenna sticking out of the top of it. 2) Girls' pants' pockets are notoriously shallow and basically useless. I want all of my pants to be cargo pants so I never have this problem again.

So I checked to make sure my cell phone was still in my pocket throughout the whole night. My friend Stefanie and had been dancing and talking, and eventually (around 3) decided that we would get going. She came over to where I was dancing so we could get going, and I checked my pocket again. My phone was gone. I had checked it not three minutes ago, and it was gone. We looked around on the floor and asked people around us if they had seen it.

This is where the second stage of cell phone loss comes in. Everyone does this. Stefanie got out her cell phone and called mine. It rang! We waited for someone to answer as we kept looking around. No one answered, but the music was loud, so maybe they just didn't notice it ringing. We waited another five minutes and called again. Nothing. No answer. The same thing happened on the third try, but with every ring, we thought someone might pick up. We looked around for someone agitated by a phone. No one.

On the fourth phone call, the third stage of cell phone loss kicked in. instead of a ring, we received a power off message. The person who had my phone turned it off so we wouldn't bother them with calling anymore. This is how we knew for sure that someone had it instead of my having just lost it. At this point, I gave up. I resigned myself to having lost my ridiculous looking phone, and told Stefanie we should just go home.

I sent a text message to my phone from Andrew's phone the next day that said in both Chinese and English, "If you found my phone, please call Andrew or Stefanie." Of course, we received no reply. I realized that I was going to have to buy a new phone. Luckily, having read the That's Beijing article about losing phones, I was armed with the knowledge that I could get my old number back. I went to China Mobile and purchased the cheapest phone they had. That phone isn't even on display. They showed me a 500 kuai phone, and I said, "I know you have a cheaper one. It's a Motorola. Where is it?"

They went to the storeroom and got it for me. It was only 388 kuai. It's actually a nice little phone, too. Getting my number back on a reprogrammable SIM card was only 20 kuai, also. When I turned on the phone with the SIM card inside, I received the text messages I sent to the thief. That means the person never turned the phone back on.

What happens when the phones get stolen is that the thief/phone collector turns it off, trashes the SIM, and then takes it to a vendor for resale in illegal stores. The stolen phone vendors have huge stockpiles of phone accessories in their shops, too, so it doesn't matter that the thief didn't steal the charger. How do I know this part? Because my friend who had his phone stolen on New Year's Eve went to one of the shops to replace his.

The unfortunate thing about doing that is that the phone you're buying are either a) stolen, or b) fake. How can you have a fake phone? I wondered the same thing, but when my friend's phone stopped working, I went with him to shops to try and get it repaired. Every shop's repair person said the same thing.

"The main board is fake. You see this here? This is obviously fake. The board should be blue, not green. And look at how they wired this together. Plus, it has three boxes, and it should only have two. We can replace the board, but the entire phone is fake, too. The faceplate, the LCD screen, even the buttons."

The phone looked like a Nokia. It was perfect looking, and it was all fake. China can counterfeit anything.

So, I guess, in conclusion, watch your phone here. Watch where you buy it, watch where you use it, and watch where you store it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sign in Dorm

I walked into my dormitory after class today to find a small chalkboard with the following written on it.

Tonight from 12.15 - 1.15 the power will be out.

This happens with water all the time in my friends' dorm. It never fits within the time they say, though. It's usually much longer. Yay! No electricity!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I haven't blogged in almost a month. I'm terribly sorry. Many things have been happening lately, and I haven't had much time at the computer. I've had even less time at the internet. Allow me to give you a brief summary of recent events.

Wuyi: Wuyi is what we call the week-long break I had the first week of May. Wu stands for wu yue, which is May, and yi stands for yi hao, the first of May. Wuyi is International Labor Day. There were also several holidays within that week in China, such as Youth Day. During this week, Andrew and I hung out a bunch in Beijing. (He got here on April 30th.) My biggest triumph in this time was facilitating Andrew's cell phone purchase. I feel much more confident about my Chinese every time I have to do something real-world like that.

Andrew is going to be here until June 10. He's studying Chinese at PRC Study in Wudaokou. I checked it out ahead of time for him, and it seemed pretty legitimate. He started yesterday, and seems pretty happy with the program so far. I'm interested to see what four weeks of Chinese does for someone who starts at zero-level.

Apartment: I searched for and leased an apartment for Andrew's time here. Apartment hunting in Beijing is a real pain when you only want the place for a month. Keep that in mind if you're coming here. No one wants to lease for less than 6 months, and it took a lot of arguing for me to work this out. Luckily, the place is pretty nice, and not too expensive. The downside is that there is no internet because of the short lease period. No, let me correct that. The downside is that there has been terrible communication on the part of the woman leasing me the place on behalf of her friend, and that I was extremely angry for a while.

The day before moving things over to the place from the hotel, I still didn't have the key. I was supposed to have the key a week prior to that day. I couldn't get a hold of the leasing woman. I started to panic a little and called my teacher, the person who told me about the apartment. She gave me an alternate number to try the leasing woman at, and so I finally got a hold of her. When I did, she said that my teacher will have the key for me to pick up. (Did my teacher know this ahead of time? Of course not.) And then she said (and I translate):

Oh, Ding Mei, there's one other thing. Sorry to bring this up, but, well, I talked to my friend a while ago, and I originally thought the leasing dates we agreed on were fine, but it turns out that she's leasing the place to someone starting on June 1. So... that's how it is.

I couldn't really start screaming on the phone when she told me that. I mean, yes, she unapologetically tore 10 days off of the lease we agreed on without any alternative and without offering to lower the price, but at the same time, this is Beijing. I've come to expect problems, and take them as they come. Furthermore, I would be ruining some guanxi (roughly: relationship. It's more complicated than that, though.) with my teacher by yelling at this woman, so I had to bite my tongue and be reasonable. I'm going to approach this like I approach the market. I'm telling her the price to be paid now, and that's all that will be paid. If one month was 2000, ten days less will be 1600. The end.

Scholarships: Barring the apartment hassles, time has been quite good lately. Back over winter break, I applied for a scholarship at IU that I forgot about, and then I ended up winning it. Many thanks to the College of Arts and Sciences for awarding me the Abels Scholarship. Furthermore, a couple of weeks after that, I received an email from the Department of East Asian Languages and Culture to inform me that they were awarding me the department's Uehara Prize. I am greatly honored, and very thankful to EALC. They've been wonderful to me throughout my undergraduate career.

Internship: On a whim, maybe a month ago, I sent a sample of my photography to That's Beijing, local arts and entertainment magazine, for review for a freelance position regarding an upcoming city guide. I forgot about that because I knew nothing would come of it. I just thought it would be good to put myself out there. However, about a week later, I received an email from the editor of city guide informing me that although I had inquired about a photography position, he felt that they had a different project that I would be perfect for. We corresponded via email about it, and I ended up being hired as an intern in a writing position.

I'm going to be working with another girl, and we're going to be writing a 4-page spread for the Insider's Guide to Beijing regarding Chinese language instruction at universities in Beijing that have high foreign student enrollment. This means we're going to be going to those campuses and interviewing students, administrators, and teachers, and eventually coming up with a profile for each of about 5 schools. I'm really excited about this. I met with everyone yesterday in Chaoyang, and the people who are providing the support for the project are really great. We've got a kind of tight deadline of less than a month, and that makes me extremely happy. I love working with deadlines like this. I think this is going to be a good experience.

Again, I apologize for the lack of updates. Homework on top of everything is making my life very busy. I'll be sure to try and get better about this.