Miracle on Qinghai Street

I’m in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, for the Chinese Labor Day holiday, and all I wanted yesterday after trekking around the city on foot for eight-plus hours was a hot shower.

When I got back to my hostel, I set my cell phone on the bathroom sink, so I could charge it and listen to a podcast while I freshened up. A few minutes later, much to my horror, I heard a “plopping” sound. A smartphone owner’s worst nightmare had come true.

My iPhone was completely submerged in an inch or two of standing water. “No, no, no!” I shouted, running over to the sink with the urgency of a mother diving into a pond to rescue her drowning child.

I shook the phone frantically and wiped it with a towel. The podcast was still playing, but it sounded muffled, like the way a voice sounds coming through the other side of a wall.

Only the bottom half of the touchscreen worked, but within a few minutes that began to fail. Desperate, I plugged in a hair dryer and began blowing heat into the speakers. After 30 seconds, the screen began to flicker. Perhaps I had just made the situation worse. “No, no, no!”

I rushed downstairs and asked a woman at the front desk if there were any cell phone stores nearby. “There are several right across the road on Qinghai Street,” she said.

The "authorized" Apple reseller where I took my phone.

The “authorized” Apple reseller where I took my phone.

One of them had a sign in the window saying it specialized in Apple products, but with all the fakes in China, it’s hard to tell what’s legitimate and what’s not. I didn’t have time to judge and handed my phone to the man behind the counter.

I told him what had happened, expecting him to laugh, but he calmly nodded his head, like he had heard my story 100 times before. “Can I open your phone?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said. Jeopardizing the phone’s warranty was the least of my worries.

He took a cloth and began wiping the inside and then removed a small chip. “We’re going to need to replace this, but it’s going to cost 200 yuan ($32). That ok?”

I nodded, and he removed a few small metal pieces from the inside of the phone. He then put it inside a machine that resembled a small microwave. We’ll call it the resuscitator. He set it at 400 — 400 what, I have no idea — and it began buzzing like a coffee bean grinder.

Twenty minutes later, he removed the phone from the resuscitator and popped the screen back in place. He fooled with the screen for another five minutes and then called me over. “OK,” he said.

And just like that, my phone was back from the dead.

Granted, it’s not 100 percent. Every now and then, the apps drift up and down a little, but everything else — the camera, speakers — is working.

Given what happened, it’s nothing I can’t live with.

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