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Friday, June 03, 2005

Interlude: Wireless Love and Phone Prophylaxis

So I learned an interesting and valuable lesson in Asia. Protect your phone!

Asia is in love with SMS, that is, text messaging between cell phones. Nearly everybody has a cellular phone, and the average life between upgrades is well under a year. Email is considered cumbersome, since it's hard to carry a computer around, so text messaging is the way to communicate quickly and efficiently.

Text entry can range from challenging to quiet simple, depending on the Asian country and language, but in general people get by.

But the interesting phenomenon is how dating and mating behaviors are now wireless. This ranges from checking on your date by having him or her send you live photographs of where they are and who they are with, to sending little love messages as voice or text messages (all phones have text messaging, most all phones support sending a voice snippet and photographs, and many phones support video.) There are even movies about SMS love. Then there are webcams, which are less popular, but due to the widespread availability of broadband in Japan and Korea, they are used between couples.

Multimedia love. It's a long way from postcards and roses...

An interesting observation is that SMS notes are a common way of introduction. It is less personal than a face to face conversation, and the compact message medium allows for amusing flirtation with plausable deniability in commitment. It's just a short message, after all. And given the perchant for puns in the Asian languages, there are lots of possible flirtatious double entendres to spice up those short messages.

There are even features in handphones for marking certain contacts as "secret friends." Secret friend messages have a separate ring setting and do not show up in your incoming or outgoing log. Their messages show up in a secret inbox that is password protected, and sometimes does not even show up in the menu interface. Hmm... wonder what that's for...?

So a SMS message is often how friends will set up other friends. That, followed by a lunch, or a small group of friends going drinking together. So in this context, let's talk about less savory set ups...

Girls in drinking establishments, especially the higher end ones, are very aggressive. Their path toward success is through successful men, either by marrying them, or, more frequently, by gaining sponsors allowing them to enter sustainable businesses like retail, real estate, or managing drinking establishments.

As a consequence, much of their future is tied up in their ability to contact you and persuade you to invest in them. They, too, are network driven and need to add to their rolodex.

This causes interesting politics inside the drinking establishment, but that's not what this entry is about.

One day I received a call on my hand phone. It was an unknown caller ID number, so I did not answer it. There was no voicemail message, but shortly after I received an SMS message from the same number. The message was in the native language, and therefore a bit difficult for me to understand, but it seemed to indicate that somebody wanted to meet with me. Now the odd thing is, this was not the first time. I had received three unsolicited messages from strangers who appeared to want to meet or talk.

My first thought was this was SPAM. But how did I end up on a SPAM list? I asked around. I showed my friend, Park, one of the messages.

He laughed.

He told me it was one of the girls we had met in a previous drinking establishment, a drop-dead gorgeous woman who had lived in Russia, spoke four languages, and was continuously applying to Singapore Airlines to become a stewardess. I protested that I had not shared my handphone number with her, although she had asked (the reasons for this unusual behavior on my part -- not sharing my number with an interested woman -- will become clearer in a later posting).

Park told me that women would routinely capture handphone numbers by waiting until their target male went to the restroom. Then they would quickly take the man's cell phone, call their own number, and save the caller ID that appeared on their phone. If they had time (and the phone supported the feature), they would then erase the call from the man's phone local log.

It reminded me of an incident many months ago when one of the newer gals in a drinking establishment passed out in a car outside with my cell phone in her hand. The proprietor and several girls were sent searching for my cell phone, which I thought I had lost, repeatedly calling it until she woke up and brought it back. She was pretty embarassed, and in fact I never saw her in that establishment again (being able to handle your liquor is a pre-requisite in the higher end establishments.)

Park recommended that I not leave my phone unattended.

Lesson learned.

Of course, little did I know that my lack of oversight on my phone would lead to even greater complications... but that's another post.


Blogger SBB said...

People leave handphones sitting around unattended in bars?! That is a new one. Wherever I've been handphones remain in pants

6/04/2005 12:18 AM  
Blogger Sigmund said...

Ah, a clarification is in order. These are not typical Western bars. People sit together on long comfortable couches, usually in a "U" shape around a low table. Sometimes it's a couch and several chairs. So it's far more relaxed. Because most of these places are more like "clubs" (not just anybody can wander in), you feel less worried about people stealing things.

6/05/2005 12:24 AM  

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