Wei? – Cell phones in China

The Chinese call the cell phones 手机 – shouji, translated literally it would be “hand device”, so kind of close to the German “handy”. It seems like everybody in town has such a “移动电话” (yidong dianhua, portable phone, their official name but that name seems to be way to long so nobody uses it) to stay in contact with family, friends, colleagues or business partners. You can see them everywhere and using them is relatively cheap, over here I just pay a fraction of the fees I would have to pay in Germany. In all parts of China I have been to so far, the reception is quite well, some remote villages even only do have a cell phone connection because it would be more expensive to connect the village by wire.

When I first got to Beijing I bought a SIM card, or “SIM ka” as the Chinese say. When it comes to pick your number it really matters if you believe in the Chinese meanings of the numbers. It’s cheap to buy a number that contains a lot of “4”s and expensive to get a number with a lot of “8”s. When buying the card I did not expect that even in the official shops of large company such as “China Mobile” it is common to bargain. Just when I went with my friend the other day they wanted a higher price for the exact same card that I had. When I explained that I had paid less, they gave us a better price without any discussion (so it probably was still too high).

Chinese text message
Chinese text message.

Luckily my phone can display Chinese text messages. My friends who took their cell phones from Germany can’t read those messages that are quite popular here. But I only have that considerable cheap, no name phone which was made in China. So although I cannot use it to write text messages, I can at least read them.

Other friends bought a new cell phone here, but when buying a brand phone one has to pay attention whether it really is made by this company or if there’s only a Chinese company “lending” the company’s brand name. Those phones are also sold in regular shops, when we asked at one shop about the cheapest cell they had they even told us, that it’s “not a real Nokia.”

One of the most frequent words used by Chinese when talking on the phone is “wei” (喂). It is a replacement for “Hello” as well as for “Can you hear my now?” (Is this commercial still on TV in the US?!) Chinese also assume that it’s hard to understand them when the other person on the phone cannot be clearly understood. So people often shout at their phone that loud that I sometimes asked myself why they are not simply using the shouting to communicate…
So when walking through the city or a park or sitting in a train – by now I am used to the ringing of a cell phone and the shouting that follows afterwards.

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