How a Stolen Cellphone Led to a Friendship for Life

This might have been a super old story for my friends in China, but somehow I haven’t got a chance to read it until this week. And wow…what a story.

enhanced-16155-1427474564-6It all started when Buzzfeed editor Matt Stopera lost his iPhone in East Village NYC. A year later, mysterious photos from a different part of the world started to show up in the photo stream on his new phone. Among those pictures, the selfies of a guy standing in front of orange trees were especially funny.

After consulting Apple Store, Matt realized that his stolen phone ended up in China, and the new user, the orange guy, was still logged into his iCloud. Amused by this experience, Matt made a post on Buzzfeed. But to his surprise, within hours, he started to get tweets from people in China. Apparently, some Chinese people saw the post, translated it, and reposted it on Sina Weibo (Chinese Twitter), which led to a digital manhunt by Chinese netizens. Chinese Weibo users started to call the orange guy “Brother Orange”. Both “Brother Orange” and Matt started to trend on Chinese social network.




Within days, “Brother Orange” was found: a restaurant owner in Meizhou, Southwestern China. Meanwhile, Matt created a Sina Weibo account and attracted over 100,000 followers in a week. Matt and “Brother Orange” started to exchange messages on Weibo, with nice Chinese people translating their messages for each other. They started to exchange messages daily, with thousands of Chinese Weibo users following. “Brother Orange” invited Matt to visit China. Matt set a date.

Matt was totally shocked by what was waiting for him at the airport: he was officially a celebrity in China, chased by hundreds of cameras and fans. “Brother Orange” met him at the airport, gave him back his phone, and put him in a hotel.


In the following days, “Brother Orange” showed Matt around his hometown, followed by media all the way. They did interviews, inauguration ceremonies, press conferences, fans meetings, even endorsed a couple of brands. Even though they were both shocked by the cameras and fans, they embraced it all and had a good time with each other. Matt wrote, “I’m realizing the language and cultural barriers aren’t such a big thing anymore. It’s 2015 and this is the world we live in. I am so happy.”

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After a weeks’ crazy ride in Meizhou, Matt and “Brother Orange” truly bonded with each other. They headed together to Beijing.“By now, we had a sign for happy. Whenever we were happy we would tap our hearts and say, ‘Happy happy happy happy.’ It happened a lot now. We also were very touchy-feely. We always had our arms around each other. It was nice. We are very close.”

enhanced-30733-1427653173-9enhanced-30474-1427653180-7Their last stop of the trip was Sina Weibo, the place that made everything happen. At Sina Weibo, they did a one-hour and a half live chat answering user-submitted questions from the Internet. And they were told their meeting had over 70 millions views on Weibo. Here, Matt realized how similar the US and Chinese Internets were.

“Dinner that night is with Weibo. It’s really bizarre to talk with people who have a very similar job to what I do…but in China. One of the things I’ve learned from this experience is how similar our internets are. They have memes and slang. “The Dress” was super viral there. It caused office fights. It’s just crazy.”


Matt and “Brother Orange” enjoyed their last hours together in Beijing. By this time, they were already totally comfortable with each other.

“In that moment, I couldn’t help but think about the boundaries we had broken down. It’s 2015 and cell phones and computers have changed everything. Language boundaries aren’t that real. We had happily chatted with each other using a translation app. There’s an app for everything. Anything is possible. Thank you, Steve Jobs.”

“Brother Orange” waved Matt goodbye the airport, but that was not the end of the story. Last time I checked his Weibo, “Brother Orange” was already working on his Visa to visit the States. Plus, he was very excited to be contacted by the Ellen Show last week. I guess there’s no better example of how technology and social media bring people together than  “Brother Orange” and Matt’s “digital fairy tale”. Without iPhone, BuzzFeed, Weibo, none of these could have happened. But behind all these, it is our human need to explore, love, and connect that drives adventures like this. I hope “Brother Orange” will have a wonderful experience in the States, and I can’t wait to see Matt and “Brother Orange” dance together again on the Ellen Show.


“We had one of those storybook good-byes. He waited at the gate and waved until I couldn’t see him anymore. Bye, Bro!

In the past, I would have said this is the end. I know now from what has happened to me that you never know what’s going to happen. Who would have ever thought a stolen iPhone would have led to such an INSANE story and a true cross-cultural friendship? I CAN’T STOP SAYING: THIS IS INSANE.

I know there will be a Chapter 4. I know I will see Bro again. This isn’t it. It’s destiny. I now believe in fate.”

This is the link to Matt’s original Buzzfeed post. It’s pretty long, but I promise it’s worth it:)

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2 Responses to How a Stolen Cellphone Led to a Friendship for Life

  1. sydhavely says:

    Can you discuss briefly tonight, Sabrina? How did Brother Orange get the phone? Other than that, I’m totally enthralled with what happened.

    • sabrinawu says:

      Sure~ basically, the stolen phone was sold to Hong Kong first and ended up in Shenzhen, China, the largest second-hand cellphone market in the world. One of Bro Orange’s relatives bought the phone for him as a present, and that’s how he got the phone.

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