Is incredibly annoying. It’s also another thing I’ve never talked about.
Yes, the Great Chinese Firewall exists. No, you cannot access Facebook, YouTube, or most western blogging sites. Including the one that hosts my own blog: WordPress. There are a whole hosts of other sites that work sporadically, like Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, and Twitter. And the thing that is genius is that you’re not really aware that you’re being blocked. If you try to access Facebook you don’t get a big notice that says ‘forbidden’ or ‘prohibited’. Instead you get an innocuous ‘Internet Explorer cannot display this webpage’. Which can make you sort of scratch your head and check your internet connection. Then you might try to reload the page a few times. Then you exhale loudly and go get on your VPN.
A VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s like a backdoor, accessing the internet through another network. Don’t look to me for details beyond that. It’s essential for any foreigner in China. I lasted less than a week without one. My VPN was recommended to me by someone else who was already in China. I checked it out, had a free trial and then just bought a year’s subscription for $54. This is quite cheap, really. I’ve seen ads for ones that are $12-15 per month. Having not used another VPN I don’t know if they work any better than mine does. On many occasion I have been tempted to try as mine does not always provide very satisfactory service. Especially lately, which was the impetus for a rant on the Great Chinese Firewall which necessitates the use of a VPN.
In particular, WordPress, the website that hosts my blog, does not work well with my VPN. Some of you might wonder why I don’t add photos to my blog posts. Photos would, of course, make a lot of sense, especially for posts about traveling. Unfortunately loading pictures on the blog has become almost impossible. It just doesn’t work through the VPN. Which is why I usually just post a ton of photos on Facebook and post the link.
If I get an email from WordPress, a blocked site, and I accidentally open it in my email without being on the VPN I usually then cannot return to my email. Suddenly Internet Explorer cannot access that page. Reload, reload, reload. Same. I’ll have to close the browser and start over. Maybe more than once. Imagine yourself in a similar situation. Want to bang your head on the table? Throw your laptop out the window? Scream with agony? All the above.
Google, which butted heads with the Chinese over free access to information, also does not work well here. Fortunately it is not completely blocked. Often I can use Google Hong Kong, but it works slowly with lots of pages not loading or pages timing out. Apparently the innocuousness of it all (no clear indications of a firewall at work) and the extreme irritation it engenders is supposed to send you running into the waiting arms of the Chinese search engines which are nicely programmed to allow you access to the information you are supposed to find. Or that’s the scuttlebutt, anyways. I, of course, have no problem with Chinese search engines other than the fact that they are in CHINESE.
A round of applause for the Great Chinese Firewall.