When Matt Stopera looked at his phone in January he noticed something was off.
While searching for a photo to Instagram, he discovered that his supposedly private photo stream had been inundated with photos of a Chinese man taking selfies in front of an orange tree.
Who was this man? Where did this orange tree come from? Stopera had no idea.
Worried that he had been hacked, Stopera brought his phone to the nearest Apple store. An employee asked if his phone had been stolen recently and Stopera thought back to a blearly night in the East Village when he had lost an iPhone a year before. "Yes," he answered, his phone had been stolen a while ago but he had since replaced it.
Um, I just looked at my phone's photo stream and it's full of pics of some guy and an orange tree I def didn't take. pic.twitter.com/s8srj6HCga
The Apple employee explained that most stolen iPhones end up in China and that the reason Stopera could see all these crazy photos was because Stopera's current phone and his stolen phone were still sharing the same iCloud account.
Stopera immediately deleted everything on his phone and the Apple Genius told him that his former phone would be deactivated. Stopera's long-distance photo pal would no longer have access to his account.
"To be honest, I was kind of upset about the whole thing," he wrote last week on BuzzFeed. "I had already parted ways with my phone and didn’t expect to get it back. I kind of liked getting his picture updates and as long as he couldn’t access my info, I was OK with it."
He resolved to put the whole episode behind him and move on with his life.
Going wild on Weibo
The next morning, he awoke to a swarm of tweets. A famous Weibo user in China had cross-posted his BuzzFeed post to the Chinese social networking site and thousands of Weibo users were determined to track this "Orange Man" down.
"People were saying how romantic the story was. They said it was like a fairy tale and perfect for the Chinese Spring Festival," Stopera says.
@mattstopera ur story is very famous in China now，it has been reposted for more than 10000 times on weibo（Chinese Twitter） in one hour。
Within 24 hours Weibo users had found where the photos were taken (Guangdong, China), and had hunted the man down. "Orange Man’s nephew heard about the story and posted pictures of my phone and pictures of his uncle on Weibo," Stopera explains.
By that point the story had blown up and millions were following along to see if/when the pair would meet.
A representative from Weibo reached out to Stopera and aked him to join the platform. The company helped set up his account, gave him a verified badge, and within minutes he had millions of followers.
"Google translates everything for web pages now already, so communicating is easy," Stopera told us "but it's all a little broken. A lot of people are also speaking English to me."
"Brother Orange" also set up a Weibo account and the two began publicly communicating as millions watched on in anticipation.
Stopera's name skyrocketed to the top of Weibo's trending topics and so far over 60 million people have read his story.
People all across China have been messaging Stopera, begging him to visit their country and reunite with "Brother Orange."
@mattstopera hi Matt !!!Bro Orange is reading your message now, although it's hard for him to understand English!!