News Column

Cell phone armor bedazzles China's women

June 5, 2014

Satarupa Bhattacharjya


Smartphone covers are popular products that sell on e-commerce websites. Provided to China Daily

Discovering Beijing through bicycling 

Running through the haze becomes first Chinese lesson

Since I arrived in Beijing last summer, I have taken to the underground train system like a duck to water. I have used the subway to travel to work, visit tourist sites, run petty family errands, meet friends and even while away time.

The mass transport network is also where I have observed with great fascination the vast majority of Chinese women commuters using cell phone safety cases that range from depictions of warehouse Communist art to the Japanese cartoon cat Hello Kitty.

In the delicate era of smartphones, owners need to take greater care of their devices. But oh! I sorely miss the bygone "dumb" phones for their toughness.

As part of my self-commissioned study, I looked up e-commerce websites to find that whether on Amazon or China's Alibaba, cell phone accessories - especially covers - were priced anywhere upwards of $1. Makers of phone cases have entire categories to sell provided you have the money.

Covers are futuristic, electroplated, waterproof, leather, metallic, animal prints, hard and soft - you name it.

Line 1 on Beijing subway is the route on which I discovered a connection between stops and cell phone cases. Women who board the train from the eastern part of the city are more likely to be found carrying hard and metallic covers while those who live and work closer to the central business districts seem to flaunt gemmed cases.

Most of the affluent young women commuters who alight from trains at Guamao station, for instance, are more prone to coordinate phone fashion with their clothes, cosmetic makeup and shoes as compared to elderly retirees or middle aged working class women who change over to the Batong Line at Sihui station.

Discovering Beijing through bicycling 

Running through the haze becomes first Chinese lesson

My Chinese friend, Liu Xiao, a housewife in her early 40s, and a fellow subway rider, tells me that armor-clad phones aren't flaky fashion statements. "It's creative expression," she says.

The most popular cell phone cover that I have noticed so far is the one lined with stones that shine like diamonds.

In my experience, however, I have found them to be often chunky and capable of threatening the physical safety of the owner and people around her. Imagine how you will feel when the pointed beak of a blue crystal peacock brushes past your skin as you try to squeeze into a packed rush-hour coach.

Crystals bring me to the subject of face masks. Thanks to the smog in China, manufacturers of face masks have already turned it into a multimillion dollar industry. I wonder if companies such as Swarovski ever think of partnering with local businesses to produce diamond-studded face masks.

The bizarre thought aside, I understand that women are fond of gem stones and that John Keats probably would have written an ode to the cell phone case had he been alive to witness China's subway glitter. However, I find it hard to view phone accessory as a thing of beauty.

Last autumn, at an airport in the southern city of Guangzhou, a phone hub, I saw a woman's acrylic nail plucked out of her finger as she struggled with her luggage. The culprit wasn't the suitcase, but a sparkling rabbit on her cell phone case, in her hand.

My foreign friends call me a cynic and accuse me of picking holes in a digital trend on which cell phone companies are spending billions of yuan.

China is leading global mobile subscriptions with about 1.24 billion users, according to the Xinhua News Agency. International Telecommunication Union, a Geneva-based United Nations agency, estimates nearly 7 billion customers worldwide by the end of 2014.


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Source: China Daily: Hong Kong Edition

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