In a hidden corner of Hua Qiang Bei there are two large buildings that are primarily dedicated to cellphones. These, however, aren’t the same as the cellphone malls found in the district’s main street. Here cellphones are traded as a commodity or even as a raw material. Hundreds of small companies work with (and against) each other to squeeze every bit of value out of yesterday’s mobile phones.
Due to the vendors’ reluctance to give up ‘business secrets’, it’s hard to get many of my questions answered or to trace the exact source of the devices that are brought here. Some outdoor vendors have so few phones that it looks like they personally collected them from the trash to sell them in the adjacent street market.
Within one of the main buildings there is a large room dedicated to stalls selling these pre-owned phones. Each stall presents a couple of hundred of them. I often see them bundled together in threes or fours, though not always by type. Most of these phones look like they would still function but there are quite a few with cracked screens or other obvious damage. Apparently, they still hold value for whomever buys them. One entrepreneur I talked to, told me he bought his phones in bulk from a wholesaler who got them from garbage sorters in Hong Kong and other major cities in Asia.
I was most intrigued by the building dedicated to the down- and up- cycling of these phones. Outside, I see a guy sorting through big bags of phone circuit boards. I’m not sure but I think he might be picking out the ones with particular chipsets that are in demand right now.