Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

Live from China: Tech+Lifestyle Is Back

Hong Kong Intl Airport

Hong Kong Int'l Airport

The past two weeks have been interesting, to say the least. I’ve been in China since February 23rd, experiencing all sorts of new stuff. Being the nerd that I am, one of the very first things I attempted upon getting here was to get online – my laptop’s battery had given out at the Hong Kong International Airport, and my iPod Touch gave up the ghost not long after.

I was somewhat dismayed to find a complete lack of Wifi here – none in my dorm, or anywhere else on campus, for that matter. I’ve got a single ethernet connection in my room, which I’m obligated to share with my roommate until I can find a cheap switch to use. Even with a wired connection, though, I wasn’t immediately able to get online. For some reason, my MacBook absolutely refused to yield internet access. I endured a week of no access in my room except for two occasions when I borrowed my suite-mate’s computer to check email, and once when I went to a shady internet cafe for a couple of hours.

Long story short, after dropping by my school’s IT office, it took four of their technician’s approximately 3.5 hours of peering at my computer at fiddling with various settings which I’d already set to every possible variation before I got access, and even then I’m not using a standard connection – I’ve got a jury-rigged PPP0E set up, which the head IT guy was kind enough to make a change in his server to support.

This is what Ive become accustomed to staring at for several minutes at a time

This is what I've become accustomed to staring at for several minutes at a time

So now I’ve finally got internet, right? It’s by no means fast, and I’m thinking about trying to get a local company to set my room up with some decent broadband. I’d known previously that among other sites, China deems it necessary to render WordPress inaccessible, so I began experimenting with various services, all illegal in one way or another, in order to gain access to my blogs. I started with web proxies, which are an absolute nightmare, by the way – hideously long load times (around 15 minutes for the WordPress dashboard), and barely reliable. After giving up on those, I started trying to manually set up proxies on my computer, and eventually stumbled upon one that works decently well. It’s based in South Korea, so I won’t have access to Hulu or similar sites in order to keep up with US TV shows, but at least I can blog, which was my first priority to begin with.

In case you’ve never experienced censored internet, China is remarkably sneaky about it. Instead of flat-out telling you that they won’t let you access a site, they mostly just let the connection time out, or give you some sort of ‘connection interrupted’ message:

For other subjects, they’re a little more obvious – for example, when trying to get information about Psiphon, which is one of the better bits of proxy server software out there, the entire results page of Google yields a bunch of “your connection has timed out messages.

Psiphon results

Psiphon results

This obsession with restricting the Chinese people’s access to the internet is regrettable, but what is even worse is that many of them either don’t realize that they’ve got a castrated experience, or simply refuse to admit it. Most people I meet here have denied ever having had their access to sites blocked, and think I must be doing something wrong (trust me, I’m not). I’m not advocating that the government encourage them to all go out and download a bunch of porn or anything, but they should at least have the freedom to access ideas that counter those of the Chinese Communist Party. The best and brightest of China already have a certain amount of exposure to alternate ideals, as they are the most likely to be sent to study abroad in Western countries; it only makes sense to allow others a chance at a more informed opinion. As it is, many Chinese have a vehement distaste of certain parts of Western culture (ex: the phrase “Don’t CNN Me” is popular among many in China, referring to a believed distortion of the news related to mainland China).

Furthermore, many Chinese use proxy tools and servers similar to what I’m currently on to access blocked content. If the government really wants the population to form poor opinions of Western culture, unblocking sites and having frank discussions over the content might do more to advocate their viewpoints than pulling a Wizard of Oz with the stuff and saying “disregard the man behind the curtain.”

In closing, I’ve got an interest in assisting those who either are currently in China, or are planning to go to China in the future. This site has a list of relatively reliable proxy servers that you can use; the best I’ve found so far is a South Korea server, using the IP address 125.245.196.194, on port 8080. Each browser/operating system has slightly different steps for manually adjusting proxy settings, so I won’t list them here. Do a bit of resourceful searches, though, and you’ll find a simple method easily enough that will work for you.

Look for my next post in the coming days – I’m putting together a tech review for the Microsoft Arc Mouse. It should be good.

P.S. You kids in the Western world enjoy your Daylight Savings Time. I don’t have to put up with it in China.

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March 8, 2009 - Posted by | Personal, Politics, Tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. No daylight savings! I’ll be cool, too!

    Comment by Zach | March 8, 2009 | Reply


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