A Conversation with a Wrong Number

I had the following conversation with a woman this morning after she called my cell phone for the second time:

> Woman: Hi, are you Pan Meihua?

> Me: No. You’ve got the wrong number again.

> Woman: Are you sure? What’s your name?

> Me: Yes. My name is Pan Ji, not Pan Meihua.

> Woman: But do you know Zhang Jie?

> Me: What?

> Woman: Zhang Jie! Do you know her?

> Me: Well, I know a “Zhang Jie,” but it’s a pretty common name…

> Woman: The Zhang Jie that sells insurance!

> Me: Oh, yes, I do know a Zhang Jie that sells insurance…

> Woman: Well, I’m her cousin! I’m in Shenyang!

> Me: OK…

> Woman: I’m moving to Shanghai soon!

> Me: Look, I know Zhang Jie, but that’s only because she’s my insurance agent!

> Woman: Oh. I guess I still have the wrong number then.

> Me: Yes.

> Woman: OK, bye then.

> Me: Goodbye.

I felt almost bad, because this Dongbei woman was so excited about moving to Shanghai, and she totally wanted to talk to me about it, but she obviously had the wrong number. I guess maybe my insurance agent gave her my number by mistake.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Dude, the chick wanted you! You should’ve set up a blind date and scope her out from afar to see if she was ugly or not. Or atleast contact Zhang Jie for advise? C’mon playa.

  2. In the past, I had a sony mobile with a rolling selector that didn’t had a good precision.
    As the phone number on my list were in the alphabetic order, I often get the number before or after the one I selected and it often was a relative of the one I selected.
    John may be in this woman list.

  3. You always have pretty good relationship with Dongbei women. It’s yuan fen.

  4. One one hand that’s an amusing story, on the other hand it’s interesting insight into 关系 at work.. We all know how well-connected Chinese people are, whereever they go. This lady was obviously preparing her arrival into Shanghai by calling anybody she might know there, even if via a third person only. Amazing.

    It’s an admirable system, and yet I don’t really…… like it.

  5. My wife’s cell phone is one number off from a hot nightclub here in Seattle, called Chop Suey. She gets calls on it all the time from people seeking information, reservations, bookings etc. The other day someone called wanting to book the club for a night. My wife said wrong number and the guy got REALLY pissed, and started acting like a jerk, insisting that she was just saying that because she didn’t want to take the time to do the booking. He kept insisting, my wife kept insisting, and then finally, she “admitted” he shouldn’t have called on a Saturday at 10 pm to make a booking, but she then went ahead and did it. We are very much hoping he enjoys it, the idiot.

  6. I got a phone call once from a guy who argued with me that he didn’t have the wrong number. The fact that he was talking to a total stranger couldn’t convince him he’d misdialed or something. I asked if the person he was looking for was a foreigner, and he said no. I said I was a foreigner. Then I asked him if he even knew any foreigners, and he said no. Therefore, I told him, it was impossible for me to be the person he was trying to call. Finally he conceded that he must have made some sort of mistake, and hung up. Then like one minute later he called me back and asked me to chat with him because he’d never talked to a foreigner before!

  7. @MF: Hahahaha… I’ve had similar experiences, except I couldn’t be so articulate. I had a guy call me no less than four times and continue to rattle on in Chinese after I did my best “ting bu dong”… all four times.

  8. In my experience, phone conversations with older Chinese people can be pretty amusing when there is a wrong number.

    Me: Hello?
    Lao Wang: Who is this?
    Me: Um, who are you looking for?
    Lao Wang: Who are you?
    Me: It seems you have dialed the wrong number.
    Lao Wang: Oh. Do you know Lao Zhang?
    Me: I’m sorry, I don’t.
    Lao Wang: Are you sure? Is he there?
    Me: I’m sorry, there is no Zhang here.
    Lao Wang: Well, do you know where he lives?
    Me: I’m sorry, I do not know Lao Zhang.
    Lao Wang: Oh.
    Me: I think you have the wrong number.
    Lao Wang: Oh. Sorry.

    However, it’s much more amusing listening to a phone conversation between two older Chinese people when there is a wrong number.

    Lao Chen: Hello, who is this?
    Lao Zhen: Who is this?
    Lao Chen: Who are you looking for?
    Lao Zhen: Who are you?
    Lao Chen: What do you want?
    Lao Zhen: Lao Wu?
    Lao Chen: Who is Lao Wu?
    Lao Zhen: Let me talk to Lao Wu?
    Lao Chen: Who is Lao Wu?
    Lao Zhen: Where is Lao Wu?
    Lao Chen: I don’t know Lao Wu.
    Lao Zhen: Who are you?
    Lao Chen: I am Chen.
    Lao Zhen: What about Lao Wu?
    Lao Chen: There is no Lao Wu here.
    Lao Zhen: Oh. Well, do you know where he lives?
    Lao Chen: Where are you from?
    Lao Zhen: I want to talk to Lao Wu.
    Lao Chen: Where are you from?
    Lao Zhen: click
    Lao Chen: Hello? Hello?

    It reminds me of a Peter Hessler article where he runs into an old farmer and his granddaughter hitchhiking in the hinterlands. The old farmer asks Peter where he lives, and Peter replies, Beijing. Then the old farmer asks him if he knows so and so. Peter says he doesn’t.

  9. Hm, reading over that conversation again I wouldn’t be too surprised if your insurance agent purposely gave your number to that woman, along similar lines to Ben’s comment, though like yourself I think it is still more likely that she accidently gave 潘吉 instead of 潘美华.

  10. “The old farmer asks Peter where he lives, and Peter replies, Beijing. Then the old farmer asks him if he knows so and so. Peter says he doesn’t.”

    Many conversations I’ve had have gone along the lines of:
    Him: Where are you from?
    Me: New Zealand.
    Him: Oh! Do you know X?
    Me: No.

    It’s a small country, I know, but it’s 4 million people are scattered over quite a large area.

    But that’s completely off-topic, and I’m going to blame Kevin S. for making me think of something so irrelevant, even though it’s not his fault at all.

  11. It’s ok at least you understand each other, my experience was a Henan man called me and God! he didn’t understand any Pu Tong Hua!
    i kept explaining (though useless) and he worked very hard to dial again and again. After it ringing around 10 times, my cellphone went out of power and auto shut down.

  12. @Kevin — dead on. That aggressive “who are you” that gets tossed out when you’re not who they expect is kind of funny. You’d think that the burden of explaining things falls on the person making the call….

  13. Ha, last week I got somebody who called me with a wrong number twice, and I just hung up, I was doing something else. Then I got very sad text messages, this uncle wanted to know why his nephew would just hang up on him like that! He seemed pretty bummed out about it.

    Rather than start some kind of family feud, I was a good guy and messaged him back.

  14. I will make billions when I finally invent the machine that allows you to slap the shit out of people over the phone.

  15. carl, i miss you, you big jerk. 🙂

Leave a Reply