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I've gone from technophobe to Mr Gadget

By Chris Peterson (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2017-04-16 14:36

Chinese ingenuity and wizardry fuel the tranformation of onetime holdout

When I returned from a posting in Hong Kong in 1991, my personal effects included 40 - yes, 40 - cardboard cartons of books. I love books, especially those on Asia and British maritime history. I love the smell of them and the sense of adventure when you open a fresh one.

Others may seek out beaches and swimming pools on vacation, but I was the one with a bag full of books, looking for somewhere quiet to read.

As recently as five years ago, I could be heard ranting about the evils of e-readers, which I claimed would destroy the whole literary world. The same rant would include the evils of Apple's iPhone, iPad and heaven knows what else on the technical front.

Then it all changed. My wife, deaf to my entreaties, bought me an early Amazon Kindle e-reader one Christmas. That was it. I was hooked. No longer did I have to stagger up the stairs of a departing plane with a backpack full of books. Within weeks, I had downloaded dozens of books.

I've gone from technophobe to Mr Gadget

I became, for want of a better word, a Kindle bore. Complete works of Shakespeare? No problem. The entire canon of my favorite author, Patrick O'Brian? Easy-peasy.

Then things got more complicated. Kindle brought out a device that doubled as both an e-reader and a Wi-Fi tablet. I was hooked, although still at this stage ranting periodically about the evils of the iPhone and the iPad, clinging to my distinctly second-generation Samsung mobile phone.

Now China comes into the equation. I joined China Daily nearly two years ago and discovered that, from a technical point of view, I was still a dinosaur. Here, we use WeChat as a fast, convenient means of communicating, both with each other and with our colleagues in Beijing.

My tech-savvy colleagues looked on fascinated by my miserable attempts to load the WeChat app onto my mobile. Finally, I gave up, bit the bullet, and acquired an iPhone. A whole new world opened up.

Then, things changed again. Acutely conscious of the shortcomings of my Kindle - I am now on my fourth - I was presented with an iPad Air. That was it. St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus had nothing on me.

I have embraced iPads and iPhones - and, of course, now I need a phone with a bigger screen to accommodate my less than slim fingers. Whoever invented the term Fat Finger Syndrome was thinking of me.

But things have slipped further - and for this I have to blame Chinese ingenuity and technical wizardry.

When you are immobilized, as I was for a couple of weeks recently, things can get out of control on the e-commerce front.

In short, a 10-day spell in Guy's Hospital, London, produced - from the bored comfort of my bed, and courtesy of the iPad - night-vision binoculars, a telephoto lens for my iPhone, a gadget for cooking eggs, another one for peeling them effortlessly, two leather rubbish receptacles for my car, a miniature high-powered torch, and a watch that, if I could ever figure out which buttons to press, would probably convey me through space.

And you know what? Every single one of them was designed, manufactured and mailed from China.

Thanks guys, at least I'm doing my bit for the balance of trade.

The author is managing editor of the China Daily European Bureau. Contact the writer at

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