"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
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November 21, 2014
Life in China: A Camera Fail Becomes a Fix
by Jeff Lindsay

My handy little Samsung camera suddenly failed after I took a few photos of the large Young Single Adult group that I was leading on a tour of Shanghai. It was a strange hardware failure, one that would require replacing multiple components.

I was frustrated with this failure, especially since this was the second gadget of mine to fail within a week. Another stroke of bad luck, though like many setbacks in my life, this one would prove to be the answer to a bigger problem I was facing.


A photo taken minutes before my camera suffered major hardware failure.

The bigger problem involved the Samsung tablet that I use every day to study Chinese. Just a few days before the YSA event in Shanghai, my tablet failed because of a disastrous firmware update using Kies software from Samsung.

In the middle of updating the firmware as the tablet was connected to a laptop computer, there was some kind of "unexplained error," rendering the tablet inoperable. Attempts to use the emergency restore feature of Kies also failed, giving no clue about the problem except that an unexplained error had occurred. It would not restart.

The steps to do a factory reset would not work. It was a brick.

I took the tablet to Samsung's nearby repair center in Shanghai (I'll call that Samsung Office A), which was the beginning of a wild goose chase as they sent me to Samsung office B, and they sent me to Samsung office C, and they sent me back to Samsung Office A, who wanted to send me back to Office B again. (Most of the legwork was handled by phone, fortunately.)

Eventually they let me talk to a repair technician, who told me that since my tablet was purchased in America, I would have to send it back there for repairs. It was still under warranty, but the warranty only applied to the U.S.

I told them to forget the warranty, and that I'd gladly pay for the repair, but they still wouldn't touch it since it needed U.S. software, not the Chinese system they had. I protested and tried to explain that the system could be downloaded from the Internet in any nation and would they please just reset the device. No luck.

I called Samsung tech support in the U.S. and learned that what the Chinese office had told me was correct, and that the only way to solve my problem would be to have it repaired in the U.S. There was a repair center there where I would have to ship it. Once they repaired it, they would ship it back to me, as long as my address was in the United States.

They could not ship it to China. I said I would gladly pay the shipping costs and could they please send it to me here? Nope. Not a chance. I even asked to speak with a supervisor to plead my case, but that was futile.

OK, I decided to ship my device to the States and then pick it up a couple of months later at Christmas when we plan to be back. But going two months without my gadget would be difficult, though I could get by with an old iPad 1 that is nearing the end itself after having been dropped several times due to the occasional gravity fluctuations we have in Shanghai.

I contacted UPS to arrange shipping to Samsung in the U.S., but they would only ship devices with lithium batteries if I had a corporate account. Next I called FedEx in China and learned — hurray! — that they could ship it for me.

But I would have to provide a little information, as they explained in a helpful email that was in both Chinese and a form of English. To give you a taste of some of the challenges of life in China, I'll show you the English portion of the text of the email, minus the 5 attachments with various forms and additional instructions:

Dear Jeff ,

The battery belong to chemicals, Chemical identification needs to be done by ShangHai Chemical industry research institute.
If in the name of the private products, you need all these doc for Customs clearance,

Thank you for choosing fedex's services. The following the information you send private items need to be ready to:
1, air waybill, service representatives will offer you take.
2, private goods export declaration a power of attorney (see attachment need to fill in the blanks according to the customer and signed).
3, commercial invoice in duplicate, see appendix.
4, Chinese list (list of items name, quantity, amount) you use to prepare a A4 paper.
5, the sender address in Chinese Your own use to prepare a A4 paper.
6, id:
Foreigner: residence permit (non-resident passengers for a long time) or visa M.F.L certificate (short-term) foreign short-term passenger
A copy of your passport (photo page and your id number and recent entry sign pages)
Chinese citizens: id (long-term passengers by Chinese citizens) or passport () by Chinese citizens short-term passenger
7, the case in duplicate (should be completed by the customer, indicate the waybill number, destination country, detailed Chinese name) see the attachment.
If you have any need help, please contact me or customer service center, thank you!

I don't know if any of you have ever bothered to have your gadgets subjected to chemical analysis by the Shanghai Chemical Industry Research Institute, but getting the proper documentation from them (complete with multiple pages stamped with red seals, no doubt) sounded to me like it might require a) a lot of time, b) a lot of money, and c) the violent destruction of my product in order to complete the chemical analysis.

None of those outcomes sounded desirable. Plus I wasn't sure where to even begin with Step 1 above, which requires an "air waybill." No idea what that is, though "service representatives will offer you take." That's an offer I had to refuse, so I decided I would find someone to take the tablet back to the States and ship it from there, and then I would pick it up at Christmas.

Now, on top of all that hassle, my camera had failed, the second device in a week, both under a warranty that would do me no good in China.

But when I called tech support in the U.S. to discuss the failed camera, they asked me to attempt recharging my camera with a third party cable since the original cable from Samsung was known to sometimes have quality problems. I tried another cable and it didn't help.

None of the self-help steps they would suggest would help, but after they mentioned cable problems, a light went off. What if the firmware upgrade failure for my tablet was due to a poor cable?

I had used the original USB cable from Samsung when I attempted the upgrade and the emergency restore, but now I decided to use a third party cable and try again. Success! The problem was the cable — something the tablet tech support people hadn't considered.

I was able to complete the firmware upgrade without any "unexpected error," and my beloved Pleco Chinese study software was running again. Incredibly, the camera failure came just in time to prevent me from shipping the camera to the States for an unnecessary repair.

Not so fast. Although my tablet was working, it wasn't working well after the upgrade, and would periodically crash completely, powering down and restarting. In fact, eventually it crashed so bad that it wouldn't restart at all. It was a brick once again.

Looked like it was time to send it back to the States after all. Fortunately, after sitting a few days, the battery went completely dead and I found I could restart it, at which point I did a factory reset and now have it working well without the crashes.

It was a painful journey, but now I've got both my tablet and my camera working again. It was the failure of the camera that opened the way to getting my most important Chinese study tool back up without having to part for weeks or months. Life is good, in spite of my gadget scars.

Many times the bad luck we have can help us take needed detours to get to a better place. When you face your next setback, look at it creatively and wonder not only how to cope, but how this might be a blessing not yet recognized.

Being open to that possibility can make life a little more interesting, even when faced with the prospect of having your beloved gadget torn down by the Shanghai Chemical industry Research Institute.

For me, I'll count the failed camera as a blessing that helped me keep a tool that I rely on for many aspects of my life in China. That's a blessing I feel I really needed and one that I'll gratefully accept.

May all your bad luck be so lucky.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.




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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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