Why I Love China, Reason #297

Letters from ChinaBy Patrick Murphy – April 2009

The internet in China, as everywhere, can be somewhat user unfriendly. Factor in technoglop in a foreign language (like “Make sure the subnet mask is disengaged”) and it becomes simply impossible to achieve connectivity unaided.

Not only was I faced with that challenge, but my old computer had become unstable. Knowing that we would be returning to our Beijing apartment for several years, I decided on this trip to acquire a desktop computer.

Zhongguancun Computer Market by Mike Beltzner
Zhongguancun Computer Market by Mike Beltzner

Yesterday, I walked over to the five story computer store that I usually frequent for repairs and parts. Envision, if you will, a building the size of Whole Foods, and then stack six of them, one atop the other. (The first level is in the basement, a grocery store, food court, and some extremely miscellaneous shops.)

As I wandered around, looking for a likely source and stopping to watch the transplant of some computer guts, I was asked by what seemed to be a passer-by what I was looking for. “A computer,” I said, and he said, “Come right this way.”

We walked over to his nook. “What would you like?” We started with a motherboard, moved on through available choices of CPUs, RAM, hard drive size and speed all the way to power supply. This took five minutes, maybe a bit more. The component price costs were added up, the figure named and agreed to. He said that the machine would be finished in about an hour.

And so it was. Various transporters, gophers, couriers and associates drifted in, dropped off this or that piece of equipment, and a taciturn fellow came in with a case, opened it up, and started chucking in all the parts. I was shown each piece, to be assured of its freshness and authenticity, and then it was stuffed into the case, snapped or screwed in place, and wires attached. In no time at all, the hardware was complete, and he turned to the installation of the operating system: Windows XP Pro (in English). This took longer than the hardware assembly.

That done, he beetled off, and the fellow who had originally found me boxed the thing up and said he would take it to my apartment. He was a nice young guy, having moved last year from Shijiazhuang in Henan, where his family still lived. At the apartment, he assembled everything and turned it on. Could he get the internet working? This he did by calling the internet people and persuading them to give up their secret server address. In moments it was done.

Start to finish, the whole enterprise took maybe two hours and cost no more than it would have back home, save that it would have taken more than 20 minutes to order it, three or four days for it to show up, and a day or so fighting politely on the phone with someone in a city that rhymes with “dumb guy.”

Cheap. Lightning fast. Built to exact specs. No delays for back-ordering. Works perfectly right out of the box. Plus the satisfaction of accomplishing all of that in Chinese with just a smattering of English and some vigorous hand waving. “Pleasant buying experience,” I would write — if they had a Suggestion Box.

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