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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Handy Phone

Nga had asked me to collect a cellphone for her in Singapore, on my way to Vietnam. Specifically, she wanted a Nokia -- a Nokia 6300 (or perhaps a 6230i). "When you come singapore," she instructed me on GMail chat (2008/04/01/15:42, I was strung out between my Fun Club stint in the early morning, and my night shift high on the phones over Shinjuku)... "When you come Singapore can you ask price phone 6230i and 6300 help me because myfriend has just bough. she said me phone in singapore is cheaper than viet nam. Viet nam expensive.i bough for mother V3i 2689000 viet nam dong but myfriend tell me it was expensive in singapore is only 2350000 vnd."

Now I am not much of a shopper generally, nowhere near as good a shopper as Nga, who I have observed in combat - ("Today I took my friend Fauzi's advice and went to Toa Payoh to look at cell phones. I'm not a gadget person and don't care about ringtones, video clips or playing games. For me its purely a device to save time...") - she knows how to bargain hard. Like some other men, shopping fills me with anxiety and dread -- all the more so when I am shopping for something I don't really understand. I have always enlisted girlfriends to help me buy cellphones in Japan, and the one that I did procure for myself, one crisp Christmas Day, was pink. Why did I choose a pink phone? you might wonder... well, it was because I panicked, and just picked up the first thing I saw, hoping rather forlornly that pink didn't mean feminine in Japan, my newfound wonderland. Of course, it did, and it still does, and if I had done the hard comparisons, shopped around, thought about it at least, I would have bought a completely different model. Or the same model in a slightly more masculine color! But I am a hunter, not a gatherer, and when I enter a shop or mall or department store, I think of nothing but getting out of there as fast as possible. I am there for the quick kill, in other words. And shopping for mobile phones is the hardest, most tedious kind of shopping imaginable, because the plans are so complicated, and there are so many pros and cons to weigh. I was only going to be in Singapore one short day en route to Vietnam as part of the Obsessive Love & the Rolling of the Dice, and I didn't know the city particularly well. If I had my way I would have spent the day soaking up the souks in Kampung Glam, or hanging with my feathered friends at Jurong Bird Park. But Nga wanted me to find out how much the Nokia 6300 or 6230i models costed in Singapore, and presumably to buy one of them on her behalf. So, I had to comply. One motivator: if I bought her a phone, I would be able to talk to her on it. And that might help us overcome the inevitable loneliness, caused by living in a long-distance relationship, in totally different countries. But once I got to Singapore I found that everything was more expensive than I had anticipated, and I started to worry, that I didn't have enough cash to pay for the phone.

Train on the carpet, inside Changi Airport, on Night One of Obsessive Love & the Rolling of the Dice (Singapore, 2008)
I -- ("the shopkeeper just simply said the warranty is shop warranty not original nokia warranty...") -- met a nice girl in Ho Chi Minh City and we got to know each other on the Internet, and eventually lust turned to love, of the slightly obsessive kind. I was en route to another round of tropical romance when, in the old trade center of Singapore, Nga asked me to buy her a gift. This immediately threw me into a spin, because shopping is not my forte, especially shopping for cell phones, or hand phones as they called here. I didn't know this city that well, and I wouldn't be staying here very long. As it turned out, finding the phone Nga wanted wasn't really the problem, I saw it on sale all over the place -- the problem was cash. In other words, I was worried that Nga would spend all of it. It should be said, that every residential area of Singapore has a few mobile phone shops -- even the dive where I ended up staying, just off the East Coast Parkway. Nick above recommended Toa Payo -- ("Okay so Toa Payoh is a place with a local market area of small shops selling the usual array of gadgets and things that people want...") -- h, where Blazing the Used Handphone Specialist has six branches. Now used cellphones (or handphones, using the local lingo) may well be a Singaporean thing -- I have never heard of them in Japan. Japanese people would never recycle an item as intimate as a cellphone -- that would be like buying used underwear. (Actually, some men do like buying used underwear in Japan, but that is another story entirely!)

Singapore Dome, down near the harbor, captured by my 1.5MP phone (Singapore, 2008)
The legendary Danny Choo, on his way to conquering Japan, wrote: "In Singapore, people change their phones all the time, usually within one or 2 years or even a -- ("instead of waiting for the future to arrive, why not put the future in your hands right now?") --  few months! That is why there are lot of 2nd hand phone shops around the neighborhood that will greatly buy your phone and resell it."

Parliament House, between bouts of hectic shopping (Singapore, 2008)
I am not sure about these 2nd hand hand phones, but anyway, I found plenty of new models, including the one Nga requested, in my trips around town. ("CnC Mobile is a Singapore based mobile phone, broadband Internet and cable TV dealer, and is a StarHub exclusive partner.") All I needed was her assent, and I would have laid cash down on the counter. "When you give price on 25 i will answer," she had promised me, in our last GMail chat. But reaching Nga has never proved to be so straightforward, or so logical, despite all the wonders of modern technology. We just never seem able to hook up, unless it happens physically. In an Internet cafe downtown, sucking on a dewy iced coffee, I composed her an email informing of her of my discoveries, urging her to respond as time was running out. I wanted her to understand the gravity of the situation.
Hi I am in Singapore now. It is very hot but fun.  I had some trouble finding a hotel last night and had to pay too much money. But I still have enough I think. I checked at some Nokia stores to see how much the Nokia 6300 costs. It is about 3,000,000 Dong or more. Maybe we should buy it in Vietnam? I am worried I don't have enough money because my hotel is expensive. Anyway, see you tomorrow at 9am.

Singapore Bay (Singapore, 2008)
I bought another iced coffee and resumed my seat, wondering what I should do. Cool as it was, my JPhone didn't have web access, so I couldn't check GMail on it as I rambled around town. I tried calling Nga for the 17th time that day, hoping she might pick up my cell... ah, what a futile wish! I only wanted to make her understand that I only had a certain amount of money, and it had to get us both through the entire holiday. The cafe was full of teenagers, and the sound of various conversations leaked into my headspace, in several languages... I couldn't make out the words that were said. Rorschach style, my mind formed the fragments into narratives... ("I'm planning to buy a new hand-held phone and bring it back to my country. I've heard that SIm LIm and Lucky Plaza offer cell phones at cheap prices. However, I also read horror stories of people getting ripped off at these places...")

A few hours later Nga replied: "you buy it for me it is very cheap.i went shop nokia to day it is 4800.000 very expensive..." But I never go to see her mail, because by the time she sent it, I was lying back in bed, in my establishment near the Malay Cultural Village. It wasn't a friendly hotel.

Analogue girl (Vietnam, 2008)
So, I failed in my mission to buy Nga a handyphone in Singapore -- I hope she forgives me someday. ("As we already said the Samsung G800 and Sony Ericsson K850 may be the primary rivals in the 5-megapixel cameraphone battle among feature phones...") To make matters worse, as I was retiring late that night at my hotel near Malay Village, setting my keitai alarm to get me up for my ultra early morning flight, the unthinka -- ("Motorola is closing its Singapore operation, barely 3 months after announcing its expansion plan in Penang, Malaysia...") -- ble occurred -- my keitai died. Maybe I overexerted it with all that texting Nga during the day, and taking photos around town. I could have recharged it, but my gear was not compatible with the Singaporean electricity grid. So, my phone was out for the count, and it was only Day One. I seared with regret at the realization, because my phone was my camera too (just not a particularly powerful one!). In the end, one chilly evening in Đà Lạt, Nga suggested something very old school, but brilliant nonetheless. "Why don't you buy an analogue camera?" she said, or words to that effect. By analogue I mean film based, pre digital. Come to think of it, analogue is not the type of word she would use, it wasn't part of her vocabulary. I am probably putting words in her mouth. We picked up a FujiFilm Q Cam at one of the local shops and it did the job admirably, capturing all those Central Highland highlights. I am slowly scanning all the photos I took and putting them online. The second day after returning to Tokyo, I went over to the Soft Bank showroom in Asakusa, and bought a new phone with points that I had accrued from my past custom. This one is 5-megapixel.

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