28 Days behind the Great Firewall of China
In July 2015 I spent 28 days in China and it was a very educational experience for me both culturally and academically. I was there for a seminar on 4G Technology for Developing Countries and met with participants from many developing countries in the Africa, South America and Cuba.
Coming from a liberal country, in terms of internet access, I found it a bit difficult to adjust life behind the Great Firewall of China. I relied too much on online services rendered by Google and social media was the hub of my communication with family and friends.
Now, I have been told that restrictions vary. However, when I was there, all Google services had been blocked. This mean no blogging, searching or GMail and Youtube but I had access to Bing (which was a good thing) and LiveMail.
My colleague, Steven, who had lived there for almost two years said when he arrived Google services were available.
The first few days I was completely lost (technologically speaking). I could not access the services that I had depended on so much that it felt like starting over. The Chinese alternatives are available. However, they are all in Chinese! Thankfully, Steven had found a way to circumvent the great firewall and access Google and Facebook.
The answer was simple – a paid VPN service – and they had an account with ExpressVPN.
After buying a month’s subscription for the VPN service, I downloaded it to my iPhone 6 and installed it on my notebook – and it worked like a charm.
Another thing I found out was that there was no Digicel roaming there. This made things a bit complicated because all my mobile banking was done on that number. The only access I had to my account was using an ATM at the Bank of China which unfortunately has a fee.
So if you are thinking of going for trip to China, then here are a few things you might want to do before you go.
- Have an email account on LiveMail, HotMail etc. You can then forward all your GMail to these accounts and stay in touch behind the wall.
- Find a VPN service and subscribe. There are many to choose from but I recommend ExpressVPN.
When you are there, it is also a good idea to buy a SIM card from China-Mobile. I’ve found that rates are cheaper if you use local numbers.
Now, from what I gather China is slowly being ushered into a more democratic society. The recent amendment to the one-child policy is an indicator of their progress, and there might be more changes soon.
Also while you are there, try not to occupy your thoughts with the technological restrictions and enjoy the people and culture.