Losing a mobile phone can mean a suddenly shrunken social circle, especially for people who forget to back up their address books.
But not so, for Matt Stopera, 27, an editor at the online magazine Buzzfeed.
The theft of his mobile phone from a New York bar in February last year ended up with Stopera developing a massive new following in China. And he even gained a Guangdong-based “brother” as part of the bargain.
The weird and wonderful story goes like this. After cursing the disappearance of his iPhone, Stopera bought himself a replacement. He forgot about his old phone and went about his normal life, until a year later some images of a stern-looking Chinese man standing next to an orange tree popped up in his online photo album.
Stopera mentioned it to friend who said that stolen smartphones often end up in China. Because he hadn’t deleted the old phone from his iCloud account, Stopera was seeing the new owner’s images turn up in his personal photo selection.
He found it amusing and blogged about it in a story titled “Who is this man and why are his photos showing up on my phone?”
Enterprising netizens then translated the story into Chinese and set about helping him find his “Brother Orange”. All they had to go on were the photos of the man next to the orange tree, a downloaded image of Canadian singer Avril Lavigne, and a sign announcing the opening of a new building.
The Human Flesh Search Engine – as Chinese netizens on the trail of unidentified persons like to call themselves – caught its quarry nevertheless.
Within four days they had found Li Hongjun, the phone’s new owner. Both men opened weibo accounts and Li invited Stopera to his home town, where they took mud baths together, planted trees and ate Hakka food. Everywhere they went the two were mobbed by fans.
“A tale of two men and one cloud!” wrote one of the 77 million people who followed the story on weibo.
“A story of true trans-Pacific friendship,” smiled another.
A few found the bromance harder to deal with. The Wuhan Daily sniped that Stopera and many of his American following were interested in Brother Orange only because he was a “loser” who they felt superior to in cultural terms. Perhaps embarrassed about the trade in stolen phones that underpinned the friendship (and clearly misunderstanding cloud technology), the article said it was outrageous that Li’s personal photos were visible to Stopera, hinting that American hacking was to blame.
How the phone came to be in Li’s possession – he says it was bought for him by distant relative — was barely touched upon by the Chinese media. But Li did make sure to present Stopera with a new handset when he arrived in China.“I think Matt will need a phone with a local sim card in it” he explained.
This week the story continued, with Li travelling to the US to visit his newfound mate.
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