On that Great Firewall

When I managed to get the Stanford VPN to work and could access my Gmail and Facebook for the first time in 3 days, I was simply ecstatic. I just about collapsed on the bed and started shrieking with laughter and mirth for a good whole minute. If you know me well, just imagine that! Brady was looking at me with wide eyes, trying to figure out if I was okay.

It’s scary to think how big of an impact this restriction had on my person. I figure most Chinese citizens aren’t really affected by it, since for every service we depend on, there exists a similar service – Youku for Youtube, Baidu for Google, and so on. I, however, felt so frustrated when attempt after attempt to connect through to the Stanford VPN failed (Turns out that we were using the wrong settings.) I felt so isolated from everyone in my life, I was worried about being unable to communicate with anyone, and most of all it was so crippling being disconnected from all these services and websites that I, in a sense, needed.

Little triumphs:

  • Realizing that Skype wasn’t blocked
  • Realizing that I could use Youku for music/videos and Baidu for looking stuff up
  • Somehow managing to get gtalk on my phone even though it was blocked in browsers — huge shout out to Stephen for helping me to get an SOS out, and hearing out my many complaints
  • Managing to download WeChat to be able to communicate with people within China, and to keep in touch with everyone I was meeting — no surprise that Google Play didn’t let me download apps. Turns out I had to go to the website itself to download the app. I’m actually really impressed by WeChat — it’s easy to use, it’s not just a messaging app (you can share ‘Moments’ — photos, basically), and you can add friends by scanning their QR code, by shaking your phone, and by scanning for people nearby. Ooh, and those stickers!
  • Finally getting a Chinese cell phone number. Our department gave us phones to use while we’re here; Lenovo ones of course. Work at a company that designs/manufactures/produces phones, get free company phones! The funny thing is that since the company phones are not the latest models, most of our colleagues carry two smartphones — their Lenovo company phone, and their personal (usually i)Phone. I was telling Brady the other day that we’re now proper Lenovo employees, carrying around our two phones.

Anyway, after our orientation meeting at 北大 Bryson and Alice showed me what I was doing wrong, told me how to configure the VPN properly, and all was beautiful and bright in the world again. So, there will definitely be many more updates and musings from this girl here!

*Random observation: Beijingers call apps ‘A-P-P’, as if they’re spelling it out. We asked one of our local mentors whether they understand that ‘app’ is short for ‘application’, and he said that they probably aren’t. I like that people call apps A-P-P though! It sounds real cute, it’s harder to mishear, and it’s easier to pronounce/enunciate.

On that Great Firewall

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