Stolen-phone bromance blossoms in China

Updated: 2015-03-19 11:36

By Lia Zhu in San Francisco(China Daily USA)

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Stolen-phone bromance blossoms in China

BuzzFeed writer Matt Stopera (L) of the US reacts as he looks at a mobile phone held by "Brother Orange" (C) of China, at an airport in Jieyang, Guangdong province March 17, 2015. Reuters / Stringer

The two players in an international social media phenomenon that started over a stolen iPhone met for the first time on Tuesday in China.

Matt Stopera, 25, an editor for New York-based media website BuzzFeed, and Li Hongjun, a 30-year-old restaurant owner in South China, met in Li's hometown after they were connected two months ago.

The "bromance" began in January when Matt Stopera noticed strange photos in his iPhone's photo stream -- a man taking selfies before orange trees, fireworks, Chinese menus and girls with long hair.

For the next month, such strange photos kept showing up, mostly of the man's life. Stopera was told his last iPhone, stolen about a year ago, ended up in China, and the Chinese man must have been using his iPhone and logged onto his iCloud account.

Then Stopera posted the photos in his story Who Is This Man And Why Are His Photos Showing Up On My Phone? on BuzzFeed. He wrote that he was "excited going into my photo stream and seeing what he had done that day".

The article was picked up by a Chinese social media user, who found it bizarre enough to translate into Chinese in a humorous fashion, with popular Chinese Internet buzzwords. The netizen put it on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website.

This story immediately went viral on Chinese social media. In his second story, How I Became A Minor Celebrity In China, Stopera said he got numerous tweets from China, and some people told him they had spotted the Chinese man, dubbed "Brother Orange" by Weibo users, in Meizhou, Guangdong province.

Stopera also was contacted by Weibo staff, who invited him to use Weibo so he and Brother Orange could communicate directly.

Many Weibo users called for a "happy ending" for the two "long lost brothers". Li invited Stopera to his hometown for a taste of the oranges.

In a Weibo photo, Li posed in front of a banner, reading "Welcome, Matt" in Chinese and English. He even started learning English. Stopera said that he has been studying Mandarin, too.

The story culminated with a hilarious encounter on Tuesday evening, surrounded by reporters and curious crowds. Stopera was greeted with a flower bouquet and hugs from Bro Orange.

"I am so excited to hang out with Bro Orange all day. This is the experience of a lifetime and the noodles were so delicious!" Stopera said in a Weibo post after he arrived for the weeklong adventure.

On Wednesday, Bro Orange showed Stopera around places of interest in his hometown, where Stopera took in the local culture, tasted the cuisine and tried his hand at the famous local craft - statue sculpture. Later that day, they planted an orange tree together, a token of friendship, as shown in Stopera's Weibo posts.

Stopera's Weibo account has attracted more than 19,000 fans in less than a month, and the story of the encounter has been read more than 16 million times and generated more than 17,000 comments as of Wednesday.