November 28, 2011

T is for Telephone

These days you rarely walk the length of a town block without seeing a person walking with a cell phone plastered to his or her ear.  Everyone in China – from CEO to driver – is busy.  On the phone.  

Bride & groom, Guangdong, 2006

Face-to-face meetings are blithely interrupted when a cell phone rings, with not the slightest trace of apology.  Your life is in your driver’s hands; all the while his hands are glued to his phone instead of the wheel.  

Even drifting down the little Yulong River on a bamboo raft, our boatman’s burly voice on his phone blasted away our peace and quiet.

Boatman, Guangxi, 2007

It wasn’t always like this.

One morning about 25 years ago, in my early trade consultancy days, my partner and I took the earliest train from Shanghai to Hangzhou to visit a dial caliper factory on behalf of our British client. It was customary in those days for the translator of the factory to greet us at the train station (or airport, as the case would be), but this particular morning, scanning the hustling crowd of bodies in blue Mao suits and black heads all cropped short, we found no familiar face.

There must have been puzzled or searching looks on our faces, because it wasn’t long before a pretty young woman I’d guess to be in her early 20s dressed in the same Mao suit, the same bluntly cut hair as the rest, approached us and asked in hesitant English, “Can I help you?”

We briefly explained the situation and then said, “Perhaps you can help us find a telephone and call the factory?”

“Of course, I will do my best.”

Luck had it that there was a public phone not too far from the station, just across the street. Don’t imagine anything like a telephone booth. In those days this meant an old-style black telephone placed on a tiny wood table outside some commercial establishment, in this case a small filthy private eatery, the kind even I think twice to eat in.

She dialed, found the right person to talk to, spoke a few lines, hung up and turned to us to say, “The factory is only a few minutes from here.  Someone is coming to pick you up.  Please just wait a while.”

We thanked her, with our big western smiles, and then were stunned by her reply. 

“Please don’t thank me.  Today is a very special day for me.  You see, today is the first time I ever use a telephone.  So I must thank you.”

Whew.

Another time, another reality.  But just twenty five years ago.

Every now and then I still wonder what she is doing today.  But whatever it is, I’d bet my last yuan she is carrying a cell phone.

:::

This story joins Our World Tuesday and ABC Wednesday.

42 comments:

J Bar said...

Good shot for T.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

What a great story! I wouldn't wish to be back when there were no cell phones, but they do seem a little TOO ubiquitous sometimes (I can't believe that bride and groom)!

eileeninmd said...

What a great post and so true. Great captures. I hope you have a wonderful week ahead.

Inger-M said...

I had a similar experience in Brazil in 2006; while canoeing up a rain forrest river, in a hollow tree log canoe, and there the canoe handler was, speaking on his cell phone. What an unexpected place to have network connection!
Great post, and great photos!

Andrea said...

Lovely shots Francisca, but the 1st made me smile, the 2nd distract my wonderful view, haha! I slept at 12:00 but still can't wait for the meme. My first visit to China was in 1990 almost close to your 25yrs, and your descriptions of them were the same then. We first stayed in a village in Xiamen and I was really fascinated by the traditions like the flash tank hanging up behind you. A string is pulled to gravitationally move the water down, and you feel like the whole tank will fall on you. We joined a tour group and still saw many coed toilets. I am sure these days, they are very modern already even more than us here!

Rajesh said...

Wonderful write up on one of the greatest inventions.

Vicki/Jake said...

That story makes me remember being stuck in a tiny Amish town in Indiana in 1982. We needed a phone to call for some help and no one we stopped knew where a phone was. Finally we asked a man we passed on the street if he knew and he told us he thought he remembered a phone booth down by that gas pump on the edge of town but since the pump hasn't worked for years, he wasn't sure if the phone would...

It did :)

Now I wonder if I'd see a cell phone in an Amish town...hmmm...

Awww progress.

Ms. Becky said...

what a great story you've shared, it's amazing really. I find myself getting annoyed by people who are constantly on cell phones - it's rare that I see a driver on the road who does NOT have one stuck to their ear. I own one myself, but rarely use it. it's for road emergencies and that's it. I love the story of the woman experiencing a phone for the first time. happy week to you Francisca.

Martha Z said...

The world has changed. Our summer home has no phone line or electricity. At one time there was a pay phone six miles down the road where you would see people waiting in line to make a call. Today the pay phone is gone and you see people parked on top of the ridge nearby where the cell signal is good.

Sylvia K said...

Great post for the day, Cisca! And my how times have changed! The summer before I went to college I worked as a telephone operator, where you asked "Number please?" and then physically connected the two lines! Amazing, amazing!! Hope you have a great week!

Sylvia

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

What a story. Things have certainly changed all over the world.

ladyfi said...

What an amazing story! I lived in China in the mid-80s and only used the phone a handful of times...

Lovely shots too!

Evelyn said...

Sweet story. When I was little, most houses, our included, didn't have phones. For important matters, Mom would go the a neighbour's house. This was back in Malaysia....

Sciarada said...

Ciao Francisca, I understand that the phone is a very convenient tool to communicate, but sometimes you need to turn it off and look people in the face!
Beautiful your story!

Have a good day!

cieldequimper said...

Oh please don't start me on a rant about telephones...

Both are cool shots, the first one is incredible!

Andy said...

Things have changed so rapidly in China. 25 years ago a young Chinese lady used a phone first time. Now the nation is supplying the world with phones. Your second photo has a lot of charter to it. Excellent shot Francisca.

Halcyon said...

The ubiquitous cell phone. It is amazing if you stop and think about it how much people rely on these things. I often hear people talking on them in the bathroom. :S

Jenn said...

Your story is so true. I remember how amaze I am every time I return to China. In just 2 decades, they went from lacking to abundance. From Mau uniforms to trendy.

Cezar and Léia said...

A great post dear Francisca, very interesting!
Nowadays I don't have mobile phone, in fact I don't like it.In Brazil I worked as director's assistant and I was always busy ( working with 2 mobile phones and more 4 telephones lines in my desk), crazy time...
It's a relief now and I'm very happy without mobile phone! :)
big hugs to your heart,
Léia

Mar said...

Great shots and story!! my mobile is very, very old :)

T is for...

Roger Owen Green said...

Do we REALLY need to be in TOUCH that much? I don't THINK so, but we do because we can...
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Karen said...

Excellent captures of the world of technology! Seems a pity the newlyweds weren't focused on each other.

Leslie: said...

Amazing! My husband died 19 years ago and never saw the Internet! He would have loved it AND the cell phones! So much has happened in the past 20 years, most good but some maybe not so much so.

Leslie
abcw team

VioletSky said...

From your story, she seems to have been outwardly very calm about the experience -I imagine it was to her very solemn and important instead of a fun new gadget (that it might be today!)

PatioPatch said...

Terrific shots to match the thread. Fascinating blogger - very glad to have come across your blog

photowannabe said...

Oh my, what a memory story.
How often I forget what life was like even just 25 "short" years ago.
The lovely young woman using the phone for the first time...stunning.
I love your picture of the wedding couple on their phones.
Hubby and I just got new cell phones with far too many bells and whistles. Our son has had to bring us into the 21 century and help us use all the new fangled things. (:0)

Ms. Burrito said...

Hi-Tech!

School's Thanksgiving Feast

Ebie said...

This post reminds us of the progress, and times are changing so fast.

I remember making long distance calls in the RCPI (I am not sure if it still exists) phone booth. Hahaha, and calling from the US in the late 80's we have to go thru the operator in Cebu and connect to Dumaguete.

Not to mention, pedicab and tricycle drives talk and text too!

Traveling Hawk said...

This story is fantastic, Francisca!

The first photo is very suggestive but I like more the second one for the message it conveys: alone, in the wilderness but connected to the world! I miss the days when nobody could reach me...

FrankandMary said...

A preschool teacher told me that some parents had to be instructed that their children could not bring their cells to school. I find that a hoot. When 4 the only thing I wanted to bring to school was my cat. ~Mary

Birgitta - foto CHIP said...

A wonderful story and it sure has happened a lot in the last years.
Your photos today are art pictures Francisca!

Genie said...

Love this post....so much fun to read. I do NOT talk a cell phone walking, riding, or anywhere in public. If I have to talk, I will pull off the road or go into another room. I keep it OFF more than on. I despise them and think they are killers on the highway. Your blog is always such fun to read, and your pictures today are wonderful. genie

Rinkly Rimes said...

It's the same everywhere, but I suppose it's more of a cultural leap in China, where no-phone has leapt to all-phone in a generation.

mrsnesbitt said...

Amazing isn't it? Technology has certainly changed our lives - I know with my husband's business SatNav has opened doors and completely changed our customer care.
Thanks so much.
Denise ABC Team

P.S. No - not sage green carpet!!! lol

Arija said...

Love the second shot but not the constant use of mobiles. In Australia the fine for using one while driving is over $350.00.

EG Wow said...

Nowadays, people just assume you have a cell phone on you. I rarely carry mine with me as I find them very intrusive.

jabblog said...

Oh, this made me laugh - to be so excited about using a telephone, how sweet and innocent.

Linnea said...

What a wonderful story. Love those shots too! I still remember the days of "party lines"...Cell phones have certainly changed the way we communicate! Thanks for stopping by at my "T". Enjoy the day.

Lowell said...

The ubiquitous phone in the ear is disgusting! Whatever did we do when we couldn't talk on the phone every minute of every day?

I really don't care to hear about someone's haircut or latest surgery or superior children...

This is a great story, though. And not that long ago. I remember my grandmother had a party line and all the neighbors picked up every time anyone's phone rang!

lotusleaf said...

What a great post! It is the same in India now, too.

Pat Tillett said...

Now that is a great story! Things have really changed. I see phone booths all over the place with no phone in them. A lot of people are taking landlines out of their houses also. Time flies...

JM said...

I love the bottom shot! What great postrait and setting! WOW!