Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bridge Phone

Speaking of exchanging phone numbers and phone calls that have the potential to threaten my marriage, after three weeks in Kathmandu it became time to get my own phone here. I arrived to Nepal with my favorite new toy, the iPhone, excited to hear that it works well with cell networks and wifi here and that it might be a particularly useful tool for international travel (the excuse I used to justify the purchase). The same American ingenuity that birthed this wonderful device, however, also made sure it is "locked" and unavailable for use outside of the AT&T network, at least until someone more tech savvy than I gets his or her hands on the phone to "jailbreak" or unlock it.

Unfortunately, I have been informed repeatedly that no hacker has yet figured out how to unlock an iPhone 4 (version 4.2.1) from the US for use in Nepal. Techie friends, is this true? If so, I wonder just what the hackers of the world are so busy with that they can't crack this code. Finally I need a hacker to do something useful for me, and I feel totally let down. If you have any information on this unlocking business, please leave hints in the comments (and if you are a hacker, kindly avoid stealing my identity).

Not having a phone here at first was a bit disconcerting, nay, terrifying. After being tethered (nay, chained) to my Blackberry for over two years, it was a bit disconcerting at first living without constant access to email, GPS maps, and instantaneous weather reports that negated the need to ever actually go outdoors. But soon I came to realize that this no-phone business was all a bit liberating. For a reformed corporate drone, having no mobile device was sheer, unadulterated freedom. It felt downright illicit to be out of contact like that. This wasn't "I'm on vacation so please refrain from calling" good, this was "My phone was destroyed on vacation so you can't reach me and by the way I'm never returning so have a great life" good. Or, more accurately, "I don't own a phone, you and the rest of humanity cannot reach me" good. On the other hand, with no phone I couldn't give out my number to new contacts in Nepal, I had no lifeline in case of emergency, and (most important) my wife couldn't reach me on demand, so it came time to purchase a "bridge phone" to last me until the promised iPhone jailbreak.

This process was a bit more complicated than you might imagine. Correction: This process was a bit more complicated than you might imagine if you're not from Nepal. As I navigated the journey of procuring a new phone, people here announced things to me with such nonchalance that they clearly saw nothing out of the ordinary with what was coming out of their mouths. "The phone can be purchased here, but you can only get the necessary SIM card from a separate cell company office." "You can purchase that SIM card, but you must provide your passport, a photocopy of said passport and Nepali visa, a passport-sized photo of yourself, your employer, your parent or spouse's name, your grandfather's name (first, middle, last), and your thumb prints (left, right)." "You can wipe your ink-stained thumbs on the questionable-looking rag we provide for all our customers." "Now that you have your SIM card, your phone will only function if you purchase minutes which we do not sell here but you can find at most street-side convenience stalls."

But after all of that, I am now the proud new owner of a cell phone.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Proud is the right word. How else could you possibly feel rocking a phone with the classic no-color screen that appears to have about 16 megapixels. With my ringtone set to Y2K electronic blippery, I am all set to impress my friends when they learn that this baby receives calls and texts. And it keeps time. That's about it.

So if you make it to Nepal, you can now reach me on my new cell phone. Just don't be surprised when I answer you from 1999.

No comments: