Greenwood resident Andy Lo says he’s always enjoyed being a craftsman and working with his hands.
“When I was a kid, I liked origami and I liked balloon art,” he said. “I like to do things with my hands. I think it taught me how to focus and concentrate on each thing I’m doing.”
The owner and operator of Handy-Andy Screen Repair, Lo has been repairing cellphone screens for the past four years.
“I always felt like I could do more than screens,” he said.
That’s what led to Lo recently spending five months in Guangzhou, China, at G-LON, a cellphone repair school.
Lo said he researched cellphone repair programs in the United States but couldn’t find one as in-depth as the one he found in Guangzhou, which is in mainland China and about three hours north of Lo’s native Hong Kong.
Lo has resided in the United States for the past 26 years, living mostly in the Delta.
He is a graduate of Greenwood High School, Mississippi Delta Community College and Mississippi Valley State University. In Greenwood, he’s well-known as a professional photographer and is a freelancer for the Commonwealth.
Although Lo visits Hong Kong, he had not traveled to Guangzhou and therefore was not familiar with it. Also, mainland China is different from Hong Kong — the mainland and Hong Kong have different laws and economies.
“My personality, I’m curious, and I wanted to do something more,” said Lo.
He had some concerns before he set off on his journey.
He worried about losing business while he was away, and he wondered about his safety since Guangzhou was unknown to him.
But then he said, “I only live once. What the heck? I’ll do it.”
“I’m glad I did,” Lo added.
Lo left in May and returned in mid-November with many new skills.
Lo traveled to Hong Kong twice last year, once during the Chinese New Year and once during the summer. During those trips, he went through the process of acquiring his Hong Kong passport and his “return homeland” passport, which allowed him to travel to the mainland and stay without having to get a visa.
“It was a long process to get that permit,” he said.
He went to Hong Kong first and then traveled to Guangzhou.
At the cellphone repair school, Lo was one of many international students.
“Every year, students from all over the world go there and study,” he said. “I had classmates from India, France, people from the U.S., people from Canada, Australia, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.”
There were also many students from the mainland.
Lo attended school from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday for the duration of his stay.
To graduate from the program, he took courses on the basics and then advanced to troubleshooting.
Lo said learning the basics was the most important.
He also learned soldering and how to repair the CPU — central processing unit — of a phone.
“The last test, we removed a CPU and put it back in and the phone worked,” he said.
Lo said it took about 10 tries — and destroying 10 CPUs — to master the skill.
A cellphone’s CPU is made of glass and can easily break.
“When you use high heat, you have to know how much time to apply it. Your time is important,” he said. “In a laptop, if you break the CPU, you get a new CPU. In a phone, every phone has a unique CPU. If you break the CPU, you break the phone. You can’t replace it.”
Lo also had to repair a phone that was run over by a car.
“I learned a lot,” he said.
Before, Lo could only do screen repair. Now, Handy-Andy features troubleshooting and repairing power issues, display issues, touchscreen issues and signal problems.
If a phone is not charging, Lo has equipment that can show the problem.
While he mainly works on iPhones, Lo can repair a variety of brands of cellphones.
He recently repaired a charging port of a Samsung tablet.
“Before I left, I tried to do it myself, and I couldn’t because the wire is very small. You cannot see it with the naked eye. You need a microscope,” Lo said.
He also recently repaired the motherboard of an iPhone X that was damaged after a hard drop.
“Before this trip, I could not do all of that,” he said.
In Hong Kong, the main language spoken is Cantonese. In the Guangzhou area, however, only about 70 percent of people speak his native language. The other major language is Mandarin.
Lo also spoke English with those who knew the language and helped his instructor translate from Cantonese to English.
Lo made friends with many of the international students. When they weren’t in class, the students would enjoy the nightlife in Guangzhou, which is a about the size of Jackson, Lo said.
“After class, we all went to get a foot massage,” he said. “You can get a foot massage at 2 in the morning.”
Lo said there were restaurants that would open at 9 p.m. and stay open all night and everything was inexpensive.
The currency in Guangzhou is called RMB, or renminbi, which is widely called the Chinese yuan.
A 90-minute massage and pedicure was $14. Eating out was only $1.50 to $2 per meal.
Lo did, however, miss the Southern hospitality in the Delta.
“People were not as friendly as they are here,” he said. “They don’t hug. I didn’t hug anybody for five months.”
Being in Guangzhou did change Lo’s view of mainland China. He thought it was very traditional and not a progressive place. During his stay, however, he found out that people there have incorporated the use of technology into daily life.
“In China, I didn’t have to carry my wallet a lot, because they have WeChat pay. Even street merchants are able to accept it,” he said.
WeChat is a cellphone app, and Lo paid for everything using his phone — even his rent.
Lo’s initial concern about safety was unnecessary.
“I feel safe in China,” he said. “I can go out at 2 in the morning and feel safe.”
While it was nice to feel safe at night, the reason is because of the mainland’s constant surveillance.
When Lo registered at the border, his face was also scanned.
“Every corner has cameras, and those cameras have facial recognition technology,” he said.
“I could not get on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat,” said Lo. “(The government) blocked it.”
Lo did not enjoy this part of being in Guangzhou, especially when he wanted to post pictures on his social media accounts.
He had to use a virtual private network to use social media.
“People here, we should feel grateful to have the freedom of social media,” Lo said. “We take it for granted. It is a treasure for us to have the freedom.”
While Lo is happy to be back home, he had a fun trip, expanded his knowledge of cellphone repair and made new friends.
“I had a great time,” he said.
After graduating, Lo can go back any time in the next three years to improve his skills.
“I would like to do that and serve the people in this area, because we need it here, and we all have phones.”
• Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7233 or email@example.com.