A Funny Thing Happened on My First Day in Hong Kong…

PCCW Customer Service Center

What we’re looking at here is the entrance to the PCCW Customer Service Center in Sheung Wan, where my girlfriend and I spent the better part of an hour on the first day of our Christmas vacation. We had a big problem: neither of our Hong Kong Tourist SIMs were working.

It was especially aggravating because we thought we were ahead of the game; my girlfriend’s sister had bought these SIMs and brought them to us in Toronto last summer, so that we’d have them in our phones ready to go from the moment we landed. Months later and exactly according to plan I swapped SIMs in our pair of Nexus 5s (because someone wasn’t yet ready for their OnePlus One) as we started our final descent into HKIA.

What’s especially convenient about these Tourist SIMs is that there’s no required futzing with activation codes; you literally pop in the SIM, reboot and you’re ready to go. So you can understand my frustration when neither of them yielded a signal, even after multiple reboots, manual checking of APNs, and every other diagnostic I could think of. We did have WiFi access on the train into town and likewise at our hotel—but dammit, this was the 21st Century, where the Internet was supposed to follow you wherever you go. Our current predicament clearly wouldn’t do.

As luck would have it there was a PCCW service centre within walking distance of where we where staying; we had landed so early in the morning that even after showering at the airport, taking a train into Central, taking a taxi to our hotel and checking in we still had to wait for the office to open. When it finally did we were the first customers of the day to be served; unfortunately our very junior PCCW rep didn’t really know what to do with us. After rebooting both phones (something I had already done many times by this point) he finally had the bright idea to stick his own PCCW SIM into one of them. And sure enough, it worked exactly as it was supposed to.

Not knowing what else to do he took my phone over to some of his colleagues, who huddled in a circle for about fifteen minutes with no discernible signs of progress. Just as my girlfriend was starting to suggest that we should go, a manager finally joined the fray. Thanks to my girlfriend’s Cantonese we overheard him say what was probably the official company line: there was no guarantee that our phones would be supported. But thanks to the SIM swap performed by our junior rep we already knew that (1) our phones were indeed unlocked, and (2) they supported the necessary bands for service in this part of the world.

At about the forty-minute mark the manager finally sat down with us. After examining our phones for another few minutes he spoke in unmistakable English:

“These aren’t our SIM cards.”

It was only then that I realized precisely what I had done. Despite having my SIMs and SIM ejector tool smartly organized in the carrier described here, in my bleary-eyed stupor on the plane I had not, in fact, put the PCCW SIMs in our phones, but instead the pair of Roam Mobility SIMs we had used earlier in the year in New York and LA. There was little else to do but try to make as graceful an exit as we could, which I imagine looked something like this:

Homer Disappears

So yeah, not exactly this tech blogger’s finest moment… If you’ve a mobile fail of your own that you’d like to share and help make me feel better, please do!