I would like to claim that I don’t read BuzzFeed, but sometimes they post good recipes and interesting essays. One essay this week was about a guy from New York getting his phone stolen (in New York) and becoming a minor celebrity in China when he meets the man who ended up with his phone. It’s actually an amazing read and an uplifting story. You should read it. It resonated with me, this week especially, because I lost my phone a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to “meet” a stranger as well. Though as far as I know I am not a celebrity, minor or otherwise, anywhere outside of my own blog.
Before we knew we were coming to Kuala Lumpur for this expat year, we knew we would be in Southeast Asia somewhere. We talked about side trips and made lists of where we wanted to travel. Angkor Wat was Micah’s top destination. (Mine was Thailand.) We did the Angkor trip recently, and it was great. We loved almost every minute of it.
This is not the full account of that trip. This is a lost and found story. On our first day, we watched sunrise at Angkor Wat and then spent about 3 hours exploring the temple. It was really, truly amazing. It was the kind of experience that you worry won’t live up to your expectations because it’s been so built up in your mind. The reality was that it was just as incredible as we hoped it would be, though 4 days was not close to long enough. We’d like to go back at some point in our lives. Micah took amazing pictures on our regular camera and I took some panoramas on my iPhone. I also took some Ranger Duck photos (spoiler alert: he doesn’t really take all his own photos), some “establishing shots” of all the people waiting for sunrise, and a few selfies of us, too. I probably took about 15-20 pictures on my phone in the several hours that we were there. This is the basic pattern we have used on all of our adventures: real camera for the main photos, phone camera for panoramas and selfies. It’s worked really well for us!
When we were ready to leave Angkor Wat and go to the next temple, I put my phone in my pocket, and we got in our tuk tuk and went on our way. We arrived at the next temple a few minutes later and started to explore. I reached in my pocket to take a panorama of the whole scene … no cell phone. We checked all the pockets of our packs and Micah went back to the tuk tuk to check there. We even asked the security guard about it and gave him the name of our hotel in case someone happened to turn it in. It seemed pretty clear that the jostling of the tuk tuk had jostled my phone out of my pocket. It was probably in the middle of the road somewhere, and if it wasn’t in a million pieces, no doubt someone had picked it up already. It was pretty stupid of me to not have it somewhere more secure. I was really upset about losing the phone and the pictures. But there was quite literally nothing I could do, and I was determined to not let it spoil the trip. We kept on with our tour and I did enjoy the rest of the day and the rest of the trip, even though I was bummed.
I had set up Find My iPhone just in case I did ever lose it or it was stolen, so when we got back to our hotel, I logged on to iCloud and reported the phone lost. When you do this, you can enter another contact number in case it does turn up, so we used Micah’s phone number (what else could we do?). I didn’t set the data to wipe yet, because I was hopeful my phone would be found and returned before we left. Two days later when we were leaving Cambodia, there was still no sign of the phone. Once we got back to KL I was sure I would never see it again. Even if someone did return it to the hotel, the prospect of getting it back to KL just seemed really slim. So I requested that the data be wiped. If someone did find the phone and tried to log on to a network, Apple would wipe the data remotely.
Two weeks later, Micah got a text from someone in Cambodia: “Dear Sir/Madam, I found your lost phone and the message said to contact you.” The text went on to ask for my Apple ID so he could log in to the phone and gave his email address. So I emailed the guy, thanked him for contacting us and asked him to mail it to me, offering to pay shipping up front and send a reward when I received the phone. We went back and forth for a few days. Long story short, the guy bought the phone, probably on a “secondary market” – which is really common here and not as shady or stigmatized as it is in the U.S. – and it was broken. The front and back were both broken and he had paid to have them replaced, he offered to send me money to buy the phone.
By this point, I had replaced the phone with Micah’s older model and so didn’t “need” my old one back. As much as I wanted to try to save the photos, I really just didn’t want someone else to have my phone on principle. We finally agreed that I would pay for the repairs plus the cost of shipping up front and he would send the phone when he received the money. We used Western Union so he had a guarantee that it would be actual money; I had a guarantee that he would pick it up and not be able to claim he didn’t get it. I still felt really nervous about this; I was sending a lot of cash to a stranger in another country, but less than 24 hours after I sent the money he sent me shipping confirmation for the phone. The Cambodian Post claimed it would take 3-5 days for it to reach Kuala Lumpur, and sure enough on the afternoon of the 5th day I was notified that there was a parcel at the concierge desk waiting for me to pick it up!
I was thrilled to get the phone back, but equally happy that a stranger was kind and returned it. From his perspective, he had a legitimate claim to the phone since he purchased it and fixed it. But, since I was not going to authorize him to use the phone, he was really in possession of a brick. He was a really nice guy and very easy to communicate and negotiate with. I really appreciate his honesty and good faith in the negotiations. I didn’t get to learn about his life like the guy in the BuzzFeed article got to know his Chinese phone buddy, but I did learn something essential about my counterpart. He’s a good human being.
Unfortunately for Ranger Duck’s sunrise photo shoot, the pictures did not survive despite several hours of my best efforts. The phone did in fact get wiped when someone tried to use it the first time. So, my PSA for Apple and Find My iPhone: the service works exactly as advertised. No one was able to get into my phone and all of my data and information remained safe. Yes, it was disappointing to lose a few photos, but nothing like the problems that could have come up if someone had been able to get into my email or any other accounts that sync to the phone. Smart phones are incredibly convenient, but that convenience comes at an incredible price should you find yourself no longer in possession of your phone. If you are an iPhone user and have not enabled Find My iPhone, you really should.