Husband’s proud photo of me snatching the descending drone in front of his cousins

It actually hurt less when I was accused of stealing a drone because …

P Chang
6 min readApr 20, 2024

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In preparation for the college reunion, I wanted to play the cool kid I used to be. I wanted to use a drone to follow us roaming on the campus laughing and dancing, near afar, like in a movie.

The only problem was that I came up with this idea too late, just about four weeks before the reunion. But I took the shortcut to learn from the best. I went to borrow the drone from one of our photographer friends Johnny and begged him to give me a crash course.

Johnny did accordingly but the class was cut short due to the unexpected rain coming. He showed one most important tricks was to hit the “home” button and allow the drone to come back landing at the same spot where it took off.

“That will be your 911 button in case you think you lost it in the sky.” He looked not very confident in my caliber and added one more piece of advice. “You need to fly practice at least 10 hours before you go.”

I followed religiously counting the minutes every time I practiced in a small busy park in the neighborhood where the drone was allowed to fly. The time was fragmented as I had to squeeze among my piling up daily work I added to myself so that I could go on my three-week PTO without bringing my laptop with me.

But in the end, not only I could make a video of the drone closely following my daughter wondering back and forth in the green blossoming hills of beautiful California but also I mastered the skill of hand snatching the descending drone to avoid it landing to a spot with either too much grass, or too much sand or other things that might destroy the fan.

By the day I was flying out, I merely made it to 5 hours but I gave myself a B+ for the required 10 hours of flying course and felt I was ready to go.

Our first stop in China was my husband’s dad’s hometown visit. It was the Chinese Memorial Week so we visited his father’s parents and ancestors tombs and did the rituals. I carried the drone and couldn’t wait to use it. I did a great video clip of the drone following the husband walking into the village to meet his cousins. It was great, and I showed off to the cousins how I used my hand to snatch the landing drone, hence the photo taken by my proud husband, who did not get a chance to learn how to fly a drone yet.

I was fully ready for the big day visiting the campus that was famously known for the cherry blossoms at that moment.

There we went. That day the campus was shut down from the public. It only allowed high school seniors to get in for their “campus tour” needs. The others allowed in were alumni like ourselves who made the reservation long ahead of time and got the green light after the review process.

photo from my BFF as I was too busy chasing the drone

Even with all these restrictions the campus was packed. We came to the top of the hill in front of the most iconic building of the old library which oversaw the boulevard covered by the snowy cherry blossoms.

I took a deep breath and took out my drone and sent it off. Due to too many people walking around I could not keep the drone too close to follow us around so I had to keep it climbing higher. I turned on the “track the move of the target object” feature and soon discovered the feature got confused very quickly.

So Johnny did not prepare me for scenarios like this — too many moving objects too close to the target one.

I was looking up in the sky to see where the drone was and then down to the control console screen in how it was managing the recording. The drone got confused about the target and the feature stopped and resumed momentarily.

I decided it was time to hit the 911 button to call it quits as my college friends started to get distracted and slowed down on our roaming excursion.

That was when I suddenly noticed my drone in the sky was not responding to my 911 “go home” call. Worse yet, it seemed not to fully respond to my control’s order to fly high, low, left, or right. Sometimes it did respond but in a vigor that I felt not in the way I wanted it to be.

In short, I was losing control of my drone!

“I think I know why. You bought it from the States but coming here you may have trouble dealing with the maps of China” One professor working in one of Shanghai’s most prestigious colleges spoke loudly and assertively.

All my old college friends started to chase it in the crowd running back and forth, along with me.

While I was keeping my eyes glued to my out-of-control drone and running, I overheard my BFF exclaiming loudly to another friend who was running along with us. “Look there was one drone that fell to the ground! This is indeed not a good place to fly drones. Should we pick it up or leave it there?”

I kept chasing the drone and continuously hitting the descending button on my control console. Finally, it started descending and my friends cheered and we pushed the crowd away by forming a circle around it. When it finally came down to my chest height, I stretched out my left arm extended my left-hand palm upside beneath it, and tried to grab its belly.

I snatched it but it was still fanning with full vigor and wiggling trying to escape.

“Stop! Stop! Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it!” Some loud and angry voices burst from our backs. We turned around just to meet two young men in their late teens or early twenties running towards us.

“It is our drone! Don’t touch it!”

I took a close look, it was the identical model of Johnny’s. Suddenly my BFF’s exclamation just two minutes ago rang the bell.

I apologized and handed over the drone to the angry youngsters and immediately grabbed my BFF and turned around running back to the spot where she saw that fallen drone.

It was sitting there quietly on a spot at the corner of the yard twenty feet away from where it took off. It is likely because the spot where I set it off was too crowded with people so when I hit the “go home” button, it chose a spot nearby with much less traffic. (Johnny failed to mention this capability to me!)

But I missed its landing because at the moment while I was looking up and down, another identical drone took off almost at the same place.

While I was turning away after I handed over the drone to the right owners, I overheard them speak to their other friends who were coming their way, loud and clear.

“Guess what, there was a 老太婆 laotaipo trying to steal our drone! “

Ouch!

I was not so upset much about their accusations of me stealing but the word “laotaipo”. There is no exact English translation for that — it means “Old Grandma” or any age beyond a grandma.

When I arrived at the campus, I thought we were young again and energetic as much as the college students passing by. But through the unfiltered youthful and angry eyes of these two young men, my true age was caught, exposed and announced loudly to the public.

That hurts!

😂😂😂

(Note: the commotion actually brought the attention of the guards nearby and we were told later it was not allowed to fly drones on the campus unless we got approval ahead of time.)

photo from my BFF as I was too busy chasing the drone

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P Chang

It all started with the 2020 SIP, when suddenly you became very reflective.