How stolen iPhone sparked American-Chinese 'bromance'

By Alexandra Harney, Reuters

Posted at Mar 18 2015 05:00 PM | Updated as of Mar 19 2015 07:26 PM

BuzzFeed writer Matt Stopera (L) of the U.S. is greeted by "Brother Orange" of China at an airport in Jieyang, Guangdong province. Photo by Reuters

SHANGHAI - It was a rare, if bizarre, moment of tenderness in the otherwise tense US-China relationship: an American journalist embracing the Chinese man who had been using his stolen iPhone.

Matt Stopera and Li Hongjun met for the first time on Tuesday night at an airport in southern China, in the latest chapter of what some Chinese are calling an international "bromance".

In February, Stopera, a New York-based writer for website Buzzfeed, became famous in China for an article describing how photos from China began to appear on his phone's photo stream after his iPhone was stolen in New York.

Chinese netizens tracked the photos, and the stolen iPhone, to Li Hongjun, a 30-year-old restaurateur in Meizhou, a city in the southern province of Guangdong. Li and Stopera, who is 25, connected online and planned this week's meeting in Meizhou.

Li, known online as Brother Orange after his selfies with tangerine trees showed up in Stopera's photo stream, said his nephew gave him the secondhand phone as a gift last October, but he had no idea where the phone came from.

Many iPhones stolen in the US end up in China.

Fittingly for a relationship developed over the Internet, the activities of Stopera and Li in Meizhou were exhaustively documented online.

Stopera, whose month-old Weibo account has nearly 180,000 fans, posted pictures of himself eating Chinese porridge and pickled radish, planting a tree, and taking a selfie with Li and tangerine trees.

Weibo users seemed tickled by the duo. "A genuine and slightly serious middle aged man versus an amiable, smiley American fellow - such an interesting pair," wrote one user.

Reached by telephone, Li said his life had not changed much since meeting Stopera.

"It's no big deal if customers want to take pictures with me. People call me 'Brother Orange', or take pictures of me when I'm walking on the street. It doesn't bother me. It feels really good."

Meizhou, a city of about 5 million people about 2,000 km (1,243 miles) from the capital, Beijing, is about 360 km (224 miles) from Shenzhen, where Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn makes the iPhone.