One of the side effects of being trapped in the Advisory Board meeting all day Saturday was that I missed calling home when I planned to, and when I got back to my room, there was a message from Diane asking me to call. So I did — and woke Diane up because it was 2:30am in California. I think she was glad I called, but it would have been far better had we been able to get in touch a few hours earlier (or if I had been able to call when I’d originally promised). And I couldn’t call from my room, anyway, because the hotel charges an outrageous fee for international calls — and they also levy a heavy surcharge if you dial the local AT&T access number, so I felt compelled to go to the lobby and use a payphone to avoid being ripped off.
I decided this was not a good situation; the obvious way around this was to get a local mobile phone. I’d spent part of Friday trying to get my UK phone unlocked so I could use a local provider — I even checked the Web for ideas, but all I found were people asking how to get their phones unlocked and no answers. So I decided to buy yet another phone.
I wanted a cheap phone, but one that I could take with me on future trips, so it had to be a dual-band GSM phone. And it had to be unlocked, so I could buy a local SIM in other countries — this turned out not to be a problem; unlike the case in the UK or US, almost all phones sold here are sold outright, and you buy connectivity separately.
I followed a very careful procedure to decide where to shop — I rode the elevator to the ground floor, went out the front door of my hotel, turned right, went to the first phone shop I found, and asked for the cheapest dual-band phone they had. Five minutes later, I was the proud owner of a Mitsubishi Trium — as a properly suspicious consumer, I did make a point of checking out the phone to make sure it worked before I left the shop, and it did.
But when I tried using the phone from my room, I discovered that the phone wasn’t just inexpensive — it was cheap. When I made a call, the phone made funny buzzing noises, as though a circuit board was vibrating; I hadn’t been able to hear the problem in the shop because of the noise there, but now it was obvious.
I was afraid I’d be stuck with the problem — many Hong Kong electronics shops are less than scrupulous (it’s not unknown for a customer to get back to the hotel and find that they’ve bought an empty box). But I decided to go back and complain anyway.
And much to my surprise, the shopkeeper was actually helpful and willing to work with me. At first, he thought the problem might be the quality of the network connection, so he lent me a SIM for a different network and had me make a test call — I couldn’t tell if there was a problem in the shop, so he let me take the phone back to the hotel to try it; it didn’t help.
So then he let me take several different phones back to the hotel to try them — without holding anything as security other than the old phone. I was impressed; I know that I certainly wouldn’t have gotten anything like that service at Fry’s!
Eventually, I bought a much higher-end phone, a Motorola P7689. The phone works nicely and has lots of nice features — I wish I could use it at home, but that would require changing my US mobile service to a GSM provider, which would be a hassle; and GSM service in the US is still pretty spotty.
[Added May 1st: The shop at which I bought the phone was Motech Phone, Shop 22, Ground Floor, Star House, phone +852 2972-2988. I’m still happy with the new phone, by the way.]
After solving the phone problem, I went out with one of my W3C colleagues and wandered through Kowloon for the rest of the day. We even did a little more shopping. At times, we picked random stores just to get into an air-conditioned environment (the weather reminded me of South Florida, and why we no longer live there), but Carl did have some goals in mind, so we spent quite a bit of time in various branches of Yue Hwa Chinese Products.
Then it was back to the hotel and back to work — the W3C Advisory Committee meeting began at 6pm with the New Member orientation (as an Advisory Board member, I felt an obligation to be there), and then the Welcome Dinner. We had a fairly simple dinner, just ten courses (fourteen or more courses are not unheard of!); I ran out of gas after eight courses, and called it a night.