Monday, August 27, 2007

In Memoriam - my lost phones

I have often seen the figure cited (although I am duly sceptical of any statistic I see about the Chinese economy) that the average life expectancy of a mobile phone in China today is less than 6 months.

Now, a lot of this might be down to the emerging fashion-consciousness of the young urban middle-class, an inane "keeping up with the Zhangs" mentality, or a techno-geek itch to keep always on the cutting edge, etc. "There's a new phone out? Gotta buy it!"

But most of it is down to the very high rate of wastage. The build quality of modern phones tends not to be great (ah, yes, they're all made in China these days!), and most of them will simply wear out in under a year of heavy use. And they don't like being dropped at all! A single hard landing may kill your phone these days. Heck, in China, some of them give up the ghost within a few weeks of you getting them out of the box (and you've got bugger all chance of getting a replacement).

And then there's the THEFT issue. Pick-pocketing is rife here. Mobile phones are the one commodity that almost every urban dweller here now owns (even if they have very little use for one, and they can't really afford it - it's become a 'face' thing); it's the one thing they have worth nicking.

This, I think, is the major argument for not spending too much on a phone. Yes, sure, if it was going to be one-off, good-for-three-years purchase, I might consider getting an all-singing, all-dancing Web-connected MP4 camera-phone for £200 or £300. But - for me - that is rather a lot of money to write off in one instant of clumsiness, inattention, ill luck, or malign intervention. If I know that the odds are I'm going to have to shell out again for a replacement in under a year, maybe in just a few months or even weeks, then I am going to buy the cheapest possible phone.

I've actually been pretty lucky (or just careful), I think. I managed to make one phone last me for nearly 2 years. And the back-up phone that replaced it was with me a lot longer than that, although it hadn't been in continuous use. But when I review my overall record, I realise that I'm really not doing much better than the national average for phone longevity.

Here is the roll of honour.

My first phone - stolen from the bar in the old Get Lucky music bar at Taiyanggang. OK, it was dumb of me to put it on the bar, but it was right next to my elbow, in full view of two barmen, there was no-one else anywhere near me, and I only took my eyes off it for a few moments. I soon identified the thief (table-hopping furtively), but wasn't able to get any satisfaction in the matter since he was operating there with the full knowledge and support of the management.

My second phone - broke down, in stages, over a few months (it had been a "secondhand" one in the first place, never really giving peak performance). The coup de grace was my flinging it against a wall in rage..... but it was pretty much 'dead' before that.

My third phone (actually on loan from a friend - oh, the shame) - pick-pocketed on a bus up to Wudaokou.

My fourth phone - the really long-lived one: finally died of 'old age' just shy of its second anniversary.

My fifth phone - dropped in a taxi, and immediately appropriated by the driver. (I had noticed the loss almost immediately, ran after him trying to flag him down as he drove off, contacted him via his company within 5 or 10 minutes - but he was denying any knowledge of it.) Particularly galling, as I had only purchased it a few weeks earlier.

My sixth phone - the long-time back-up, elevated to principal use (somewhat by accident; only because I was unable to find anywhere selling a decent, cheap Sony Ericsson to replace No. 4), lasted a creditable 14 months...... until I dropped it in a cup of tea.

My seventh phone - still in use: I'm hoping this is going to be another long-term survivor.

My eighth phone - my brand new 'work phone', pick-pocketed in a 7/11 in Hangzhou last month.

My new, new work phone.

My spare phone, to provide instant replacement in the event of my next (inevitable) phone disaster. (Buying a replacement phone in China is an horrendous ordeal.... but that perhaps is a topic for another post.)

So, yes, 10 phones in 5 years. Admittedly, three of those are still in use (4, if you count the tea-dunked one, which still has some residual functionality, so I'm hanging on to it as an emergency extra spare); but I'm maintaining the average consumption rate nicely, and doing my bit to sustain the 'economic miracle'.

But I really don't want to have to be buying another one any time soon.


moonrat said...

geez. you're worse than i am. (although there was that phone down the toilet episode, wasn't there...)

Anonymous said...

I over-flipped a flip phone once, but it continued to function afterwards, even if it was a little difficult to maneuver.

I think that the next time you get a phone you should also invest in some cargo pants. Lots of pockets with buttons, a little more difficult to pick your pockets. Of course, there is always the knife-slice to get around those buttons.

Froog said...

Actually - the tea incident aside - I really am pretty good with phones. Most people I know here probably suffer loss/theft at least 3 times a year.

Moonrat, you didn't really drop one in a loo, did you? That is super-klutzy.

I did once have a girl use this is an excuse for breaking a (blind) date with me. My paranoia went into overdrive. I did finally meet her a couple of days later, and she insisted that the phone story was perfectly true.

It was actually a very good date, and I would have loved to see her again. But I was leaving for China a few days later... When I sighed that it was doomed to be, if anything, only a cyber-relationship, my Mum (my Mum!) remarked, "Well, it is the safest kind of sex, dear."

Froog said...

The last 'spare' here - very venerable - seemed to have given up the ghost by the time I next tried to fire it up, two or three years later.

The main phone in use at the time of this post died of 'old age' (er, probably being dropped one too many times; I'd been plagued for some months by a loose connection in the microphone which meant that callers often couldn't hear me, though I could hear them just fine).

And the then back-up phone, elevated to No.1 status for the past year or so... well, I fear I've just killed in circumstances far more embarrassing than the cup of tea incident.

While out in the 'hood early evening yesterday, I was suddenly - very suddenly - overwhelmed by an attack of loose bowel. I did my best to walk home as quickly as possible, but... it was an agonising journey: it takes about 25 minutes, but on this occasion it felt like about 2 hours. And my sphincter didn't hold up. I probably should have attempted to relieve myself in a public toilet, but I can't really use squatters (the dodgy cartilage in my left knee tends to pop out if I bend my legs that far!), and I didn't have any toilet paper. I tried to hold on until I got home, but began to leak. In the last 100 yards, the leak became a tsunami. I have never shat myself like that before, and I hope I never do again.

I staggered through the door, straight into the bathroom, on to the loo. There was not much left to come out by that point. It was all in my trousers. I had to spend about 20 minutes hosing them down in the shower to get them into a condition where I could even consider putting them into the washing machine.

Now, I thought I'd removed everything from the pockets: wallet, handkerchief, pens, house keys - CHECK. But I was ill, and operating under conditions of considerable stress. I had overlooked my mobile phone!

At least I hadn't put it in the washing machine. I left my soaking trousers hanging up to dry, and await a further inspection this morning before I decided whether they were fit to be washed. A couple of hours later, I realised I didn't know where my phone was. Oh yes I did: it was still in the left pocket of the sodden (and appallingly contaminated trousers).

I have gone to elaborate lengths to try and dry it out, but I suspect it is a lost cause.

For now, I am getting by on my UK phone (which I am pleasantly surprised to discover does accept a China Unicom SIM card, although it does not recognise Chinese text). But I fear I am shortly about to have to purchase a new phone here - for the first time in over 4 years.