How a blogger’s stolen iPhone led him to a new best friend in China

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When your smartphone is stolen, it’s unlikely you’re going to get it back. It’s even more unlikely you’re going to get it back with a new best friend, but that’s exactly what happened to one blogger whose iPhone wound up in China after being snatched in New York City.

That blogger is BuzzFeed’s Matt Stopera, and the story begins back in February 2014, when he was sat in the EVS bar in the East Village, enjoying happy hour.

“Anyway, it’s like February 2014 and I’m out drinking my $20 happy hour bottle of wine when someone comes into the bar and swipes my phone off the table,” Stopera writes. “Honestly, it’s genius. I applaud the person who took my phone. I bet you he stole 20 phones that night. It’s the perfect place to steal phones.”

Stopera attempted to call his iPhone that night, but of course, it had already been switched off and went straight to voicemail. He eventually accepted that it was gone and never coming back, so he bought a new handset and carried on with his life.

Then, about a year later, Stopera was “sitting on my couch with some friends going through my photo stream on my new phone,” when a bunch of pictures he didn’t take suddenly appeared in his Photo Stream.

Many of the images were selfies of “some dude and an orange tree.”

This went of for about a month, with new pictures appearing almost daily. At first, Stopera didn’t think much of it — he actually assumed that maybe his Photo Stream had become crossed with someone else’s somehow. But then it clicked.

“I don’t really do anything about these mystery photos until I talk to a friend of mine and he scares the shit out of me,” Stopera writes. His friend pointed out that his stolen handset was likely in China, where a lot of stolen iPhones end up to be sold in the black market.

But what was worrying is that Stopera’s device was clearly still logged into his iCloud account — not only uploading images to his Photo Stream, but also accessing his emails, contacts list, calendars, and more.

Stopera had the handset wiped and blocked remotely at an Apple Store so that all of his data was deleted, and the device could no longer be used. Whoever had purchased the device now had little more than a shiny and expensive brick.

But the story doesn’t end there. Stopera wrote a post on BuzzFeed asking, “Who Is This Man And Why Are His Pictures Showing Up On My Phone?” Within hours, he was inundated with tweets from China.

The story had been translated and posted on microblogging site Weibo, which is essentially the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. All of a sudden, hundreds of thousands of people in China are trying to help Stopera track down the man who has his phone.

Quite incredibly, Stopera becomes a trending topic on Weibo, and in turn a minor celebrity in China. He decided to setup a Weibo account of his own, and within a week he had gained more than 100,000 followers.

A day later, “Brother Orange” — the guy who had Stopera’s iPhone — had been found.

Stopera arranged to visit the man last month, and this is where it gets really good: The pair hit it off instantly, exchanging messages on Weibo every day, and attracting a huge following of fans who want them “to fall in love together.”

After lots and lots of traveling, Stopera arrived in Brother Orange’s hometown of Meizhou, which is home to around 4.5 million people. He was greeted by a “Welcome Matt” sign at the airport, as well as a crowd of cameras and fans.

“I have no idea about the literal insanity that’s just ahead of me,” Stopera writes. Somehow, he was famous.

Stopera learned from Brother Orange that his iPhone was purchased from a secondhand phone market in Shenzhen, as a gift from his brother. For reasons unknown, Brother Orange decided to just carry on using the device without actually wiping it.

Stopera spent a week with Brother Orange, hanging out over dinner, posing for photos, and even enjoying mud baths. Stopera even got to meet Brother Orange’s family. Everywhere they went, the pair were met by huge crowds — as if they were rockstars. It’s crazy.

“At Weibo, we are treated like total celebs. We are attacked for selfies,” Stopera describes. “It is overwhelming and insane. It is the perfect ending to a crazy trip.” There was even a bus with Stopera’s face on it.

“The mud bath is when me and Bro really start to bond,” Stopera describes. “Even though we don’t speak the same language, we still talk a lot. He’s always showing me things and teaching me something about where we are.”

After nine days, it was time for Stopera to go home.

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

The story is now being made into a documentary. You can watch the trailer — and read the rest of Stopera’s tale over at BuzzFeed.

I highly recommend you check it out, because it’s a fantastic and touching story, and it’s amazing how a stolen iPhone sparked an unlikely friendship between two people living thousands of miles apart.