Friday, February 27, 2009

Why I carry three mobile phones

Either China is one hell of a weird place, or I am not very receptive to alternative ways of doing things (like quietly walking down the street as opposed to having to hack up and spit globules of imaginary phlegm every 5 steps). Late June last year, when Jean and I were stuck in the Guilin airport, I was most unfortunate to touch someone else’s spit.

After boarding the plane, we waited for the plane to receive clearance for take off, but that never came. Apparently the weather at the destination was nasty and incoming flights were delayed. After sitting like 150 idiots in an idling aircraft, we were finally herded out and given something to stuff our mouths (a can of Sprite, a tub of instant noodles1 and a large pack of sa kei ma – some sort of sweet confection with a description that defies my limited vocabulary). Nothing like food to placate a herd of agitated travellers.

We milled around the departure lounge eating the rather tasty noodles in MSG water, stretching our legs and generally enjoying the relative spaciousness outside the confines of the cabin. Shortly after, the boarding call was announced. Of course I took my time – I always take my time when it comes to such queues. No point rushing to queue in line when I can sit around and just stroll up to the gate when the queue has shortened considerably.

When almost everyone was done entering the gate, we went towards the gate. Along the way I chucked the empty noodle tub into a rubbish bin. Somehow, my hand nudged the top edge of the bin, and felt something gooey. Instinctively I pulled back and turned the hand around to see what I have touched. One of the fingers was coated with slightly murky and very thick mucus. I made a disgusted face, accidentally let out a rather audible “eeyer” and rushed to the washroom while Jean waited.

When I came out after a thorough wash, everyone else had boarded and the ground crew were glaring at us to hurry the fuck up.


Right, three phones as suggested by the title.

One of the oddities in the way the Chinese telco operates is in application of roaming charges. When the user takes the phone out of the province from which the phone line originated, all calls received will be levied a roaming charge.

Of course, this is very inconvenient if one travels and is uses the phone a lot. The first week, I managed to burn 75 RMB in 4 days. By then, by credit balance was almost depleted. On the way to dinner, I saw a China Mobile dealer and went in to get my phone topped up. After giving my phone number to the counter attendant, he asked if it was a Shanghai number. ‘Yes,” I told him. “I’m sorry, we can only service Jiangsu numbers. You may go to our office at [some building].”

That was a curve ball.

“Then I’ll buy a new prepaid line.”
“Ok. We’ll need your identification document(s).”

Shit, I left my passport in Shanghai.

On my next trip to Suzhou, I brought along my passport to register for a prepaid line. This is in addition to the Shanghai line and the Malaysian line I carry with me.

Whenever one of the phones beep, I need to fish in my pocket for it. If it’s not the right one I dig again for the other, and the other.

That large ugly one in the middle is the spare phone. I have a spare phone because the two 6510 phones are rather old and may expire any moment.

In fact, they did expire at a most inopportune time. May’s phone died first: the microphone stopped working and it was only good for texts. Which was not a problem, the Malaysian line was only used to receive texts anyway. Then when I arrived at KLIA, Hou called me to arrange where to pick me up etc. I was not yet pass customs, so I asked him to call back later. And when he called the microphone was dead - I became mute.

And I couldn’t text him because I had no credit at all. Cleverly, he got a top up card and sent me the number, after which I could send messages.

Ok enough rambling for tonight. The phones have been repaired.

1. Instant noodles are available in a large paper tub package. Very similar to cup noodles we have at home, except that the size is actually good for one reasonably filling meal.

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