You have to hand it to Apple. A nicer set of shop assistants in Beijing it would be hard to find. Especially my new found “friend” Kevin Zhang.
For some weeks my poor little iPhone 5 has been feeling sick. Bloated. Overweight. And getting to the point where she looks as if she has got pregnant when my back was turned. (Could it have been that Huawei phone that had been lying around recovering from a cracked screen? Or the unnamed Android from Hong Kong that had such low self esteem that it didn’t even have a brand name on its body?)
As her tummy gets fatter and fatter I know the time will come when I have to take her to the Apple doctor, and so I head off to Sanlitun, where the bright and spacious store that positively reeks of money is located.
I arrive at five minutes to 10 o’clock and already a queue of people is forming outside, while on the other side of the door another queue is forming – or perhaps it would be better to describe it as a line-up – at least ten people that look like they are fresh-out-of-college techie nerds who have landed their first job in the real world.
There are also at least eight security guards whose job it is to intimidate the would-be pilferers in to not even thinking of doing such a nasty thing as casting covetous eyes over the products on display inside the hallowed portals of Apple’s palace of dreams.
The clock strikes 10 (figuratively speaking), the doors open, and the techie nerds greet each of the shoppers and pilferers with a smile, and wave them over to the right display where another army of techie helpers descend on them to offer their unwavering help and support.
I am approached by a techie female nerd, who appears intent on showing off to a security guy who obviously has the hots for her, how good she is at handling foreigners. Can I help you? she says in near flawless English…
I explain the problem of my pregnant iPhone and ask if someone can take a look at it. And she walks me over to introduce me to Kevin.
You have made an appointment with the Genius Bar, yes? Kevin asks me in heavily accented English. The what?
No, I simply want to know if they undertake repairs here.
Yes, that’s right. You need the Genius Bar.
I find out later that this is a world-wide branding that Apple uses to describe its armies of techies who “have extensive knowledge of our products, and work with you face-to-face to provide technical support and troubleshoot hardware problems…. During your session your Genius will gather information about your system… etc etc blah blah blah.”
Is Kevin a Genius? No, he just works here.
Can I see a Genius?
Not without an apointment.
How do I make an appointment?
Kevin smiles the well rehearsed smile that shows that Apple really cares about its clients, even if they are stupid enough to even think about coming to see a Genius without an appointment.
Kevin takes me over to a computer and asks me to fill out a form. Problem is, the form is totally in Chinese. Oh, you don’t speak Chinese? No problem. Let me help you. I fill in my name and date of birth. Kevin looks on in amazement. I am asked the serial number of my device. Kevin looks it up for me. I am asked for my passport number Oh, you don’t have your passport number to hand? Kevin asks in dismay.
So I cannot see a Genius to ask about my iPhone without giving my passport number? I ask in amazement.
Oh, you cannot see one anyway today. There is a three day waiting list.
I wonder why I have even bothered to fill in the form. But I persevere and ask Kevin if bloat is a common problem with iPhones, given the appalling reputation that Apple has with its batteries. Oh no. He has never seen this kind of thing before.
How much would it cost to fix?
A minimum of 800RMB (that’s $130 FGS!) plus whatever it costs to fix any damage inside.
I do a quick mental calculation and wonder if it is even worth repairing the phone, rather than going out and buying a new one.
I return home and wrap a couple of elastic bands around the casing to stop the screen being pushed out of its socket by the ever fattening innards of my beloved iPhone. And two days later I am off to the Gulf to work in Qatar for a week.
The phone continues to get more pregnant day by day, such that by the third day in Doha I feel it necessary to ask if there is a local repair shop that might be able to take a look at it. I walk into two phone shops, both of whom tut tut over the poor patient and tell me that a conservative estimate for such a repair would be around 1100 riyals (that’s $300!!!!).
Worried lest my friend and companion for the past two years should expire before my return to China, I start copying down phone numbers and other data from her memory banks; and then head on to Carrefour to check out replacement phones. But I discover that phone prices in Qatar are about 20 percent higher than in Beijing.
Disaster strikes. I am already up to level 213 in Candy Crush – something that exercises what passes for a brain when I am sitting in a Beijing subway train or in a Doha taxi – but when I switch on, all the levels have disappeared and the game has reset itself at level 1.
With tears in my eyes, I coax my companion to just hold on in there for a few more days, determined to get her in to see a doctor just as soon as I can.
I rush her round to a Mr Fixit a few of days later after my return to the Central Kingdom, but get a few more Tsk Tsk Tsks and a rambling explanation (translated by a helpful assistant) that it would be much better were I to junk this old phone and buy a new one – which, surprise surprise, he just happens to have a whole load of that he can sell me at a bargain price.
I make my excuses and leave.
The next day I am taking an afternoon constitutional around the UIBE campus (University of International Business & Economics) with a couple of companions from work when Yifei has the bright idea of popping in to a phone shop on the campus to see if they do repairs. They don’t… but the shop two along does. Try there.
We try there. Do they replace iPhone batteries? They do.
But is it an iPhone 4S, an iPhone 5, an iPhone 5S or an iPhone 6?
It’s an iPhone 5.
Excellent. They have a spare battery in stock.
But how much.
I rush back to the office, pick up my pregnant iPhone and rush back, hoping the price hasn’t shot up in the meantime. It hasn’t.
A crowd of students gather round, none of them having seen the innards of an iPhone before. Once the abortion is performed, there is a wave of oohs and ahhs as they look on in wonderment at the bloated battery.
A new battery is inserted into the empty space and the phone fired up. It works! Mr Fix-it smiles and hands me the phone. Err, would he possibly mind putting back the screws that hold it all together? Oh, of course. How silly of him!
He battles with the oh-so-tiny screws and eventually the operation is complete. My pride and joy is working once again – admittedly with some specks of dust clinging to the inside of the screen (ie impossible to remove without taking the entire phone apart again); and Candy Crush is still obstinately wanting to show me how I should navigate through level 1.
But finally all else is right with the world once more. With a warning to her not to sleep around again with scheming Huaweis and nameless mongrel phones, I give my companion a big hug and welcome her back into the centre of my life once again.
Apple? Puh! UIBE? Yeahhhh! Welcome back old friend!