When Matt Stopera, Buzzfeed editor, had his iPhone boosted in New York City, he assumed that it had fallen into a black hole from where it would never reappear. But in a sequence of events that brings together globalization, the instant interconnectedness of the world and the better angels of social networking, he found a friend and celebrity on the other side of the globe.
After the phone was taken in a bar, Stopera noticed curious photos appearing in his Photo Stream. Miniature orange trees. A balding Asian man. A fireworks show. It was completely unexpected. He finds out the device is most likely in China and he shoots off a story about the mystery images.
The story is translated into Chinese and posted onto the country’s version of Twitter, Weibo, where it goes viral. Stopera becomes the top trending topic on the site and becomes famous.
Stopera, who speaks no Chinese, joins Weibo and has over 100,000 followers in a week. He’s also told that followers in China has found the mysterious, Asian man with the orange groves. Stopera finds out he’s not a Chinese Noah Cross, but “Brother Orange” (a nickname; brother, as a term of endearment, and oranges because of the fruit.)
Brother Orange invites Stopera to visit him in China and Stopera — who gets his own nickname, “Doubi” (essentially Mr. Bean) — accepts. The two communicate via Weibo. On the flight to meet Orange in Southern China, he meets his first fan on the flight.
When he lands in Orange’s province he’s met by Brother Orange…and a crowd of well-wishers and cameras. He’s overwhelmed, as if being recognized on the flight wasn’t enough. He’s swooped up and taken away amid camera flashes into a car with Brother Orange’s likeness on its side to Orange’s restaurant, recently renamed “Brother Orange’s”. As it turns out the fruit in the photos weren’t oranges but kumquats, but Brother Orange has a better ring to it. Branding, it seems, is the real international language.
Brother introduces Stopera to his family and the stern-looking Asian man turns out to be quite friendly. They visit a local soccer player, get a mud bath, have a pre-press conference, a press conference and probably crash a wedding shoot all under the eye of the press.
Stopera told NPR:
“This is one of the hardest things for me to explain because a lot of people – did you really become friends with Brother Orange? And it’s one of those things that we went through this experience together and I bring it back to a big part was this Chinese idea of fate and destiny. And you can’t help but understand that and really believe in that at the end of this trip that, you know, this whole thing was kind of meant to be.”
By the end of the week, the pair has over 70 million views on Weibo. Chinese state TV, CCTV, says that Orange’s city, Meizhou, is now famous in addition to the Hakka people, who make up the population of the area. Appropriately enough, Stopera also forgets his iPhone at a Chinese restautant — though Orange gets it back for him. The two aren’t friends — they’re bros, with their bromance (hey, that’s a real word, according to Pages) on the internet for the world to see.
All of which were because the insatiable global appetite for Apple’s smartphone, social media and nicknames.