The Great Firewall of China

page not diplayed1

One of the most annoying and frustrating things about living in China is not being able to freely use the internet. Something I used to take for granted when I was living in England. Those of you who have visited China and tried to use the internet, know exactly how infuriating this can be.  This page can’t be displayed appears not because you have a connection problem, it’s because of “The Great Firewall of China”.  The reason for this is mainly down to the Chinese Government blocking information from its citizens and some of this is down to pissing-off the west, because of Chinese social thinking.

Back in Britain I didn’t buy-into that mass populus mind-altering social network program (Facebook to the layman) or Twitter, which is the same, but in only 140 characters (by the way Twitter, I’m still waiting for my confirmation email).  Personally, I think they can have an adverse affect on the mind and it’s not a healthy way of living.  Human beings are social creatures that require interaction with others in the real world, not the cyber world.  I’ve heard about many people whose personalities have changed after long-term interaction with Facebook (yes conspiracy theorists, I’m backing your corner here).  Now, in the UK, many people, including teachers, are under a lot of stress from cyber-bullying, sometimes leading to depression and suicide.  Twitter is also full of abusive people, but in only 140 characters (as if that makes any difference).  What people say about David Cameron (the UK Prime Minister) is astounding!  We’re talking about the leader of a country and the man gets no respect.  That guy is either crazy to sign-up to Twitter, or he’s got huge balls!  To me, the idea of social networking is to meet and greet new people, and to make new friends or contacts.  Unfortunately, online social networking has turned into a cyber bitchfest!

When my students complain about not being able to see Facebook or Twitter, I tell them that their Government is actually doing them a favour, by protecting them from this “poison” from the west.  I then remind them of the Chinese version Weixin (a sort of combined Facebook/Twitter, but I think better).  When I look at Chinese society today, it reminds me of the pureness I felt growing up in 1970’s Britain, a kind of naivety if you like.  A strong community spirit, with the good neighbour you could always rely on.  I support the Chinese Government on this, even though it does affect my surfing.  The Chinese are not yet ready for this part of western culture.

Here in China, anybody can download any movie or song absolutely FREE!  Software can be downloaded onto your computer (or mobile device) that allows you to watch movies, they even have Chinese subtitles.  Popular TV programmes are also available.  You can go to many websites to download songs directly onto your mp3 player.  Yes, this is FREE!  China is a socialist state, and thus believes everyone should have the right to watch movies and listen to songs, it should not just be a privilege for the rich.  Poor people in the rural villages would not be able to afford this, so, its free for everyone.  A true, altruistic ideal and fair to Chinese people, but, also an infringement of international copyright laws and illegal.  China knowingly does this and doesn’t care, hence, western companies are pissed-off with them.  One of my Chinese friends told me that the reason Google pulled-out of China was because of this, and now Google blocks Chinese people from using it’s service.  This, I think we can take with a pinch of salt.  I do not support the Chinese Government on this.  If you want to establish a good relationship with the west, then do the right thing, pay subscription fees.

I see a wasted opportunity here.  Every Chinese household only needs to pay 1RMB (10p) a month to use the download services.  There are 1.4B Chinese people, this is a lot of money every year.  The software developers, translators, subtitle guys, etc can all be paid, what’s left can be distributed to the copyright owners through an agent.

If you do bring your laptop with you on your trip to China, there are some things you should know.  It’s 220V here, so bring a transformer with you if your country is on 110V (or buy a new power supply here, they’re very cheap).  Facebook and Twitter are blocked, so you can have a good break from them too.  Google doesn’t work, but you can surf with Yahoo.  GMX email doesn’t work and Ymail only sometimes, and then it’s very slow.  Outlook works fine and is fast.  Better still, get a VPN or proxy set-up in your own country and working on your notebook, before you arrive.

Chris Just

Froggy I don’t!

As an English teacher working in China, one has to be broad-minded, open to new experiences and of course, sample interesting local cuisine.  So, when one of my Chinese friends invited me out to dinner, I naturally accepted.  He took me to a Japanese restaurant situated in Badaguan (the old German part of the city).  This was undoubtedly an expensive restaurant.

You see, Chinese culture is all about Face.  Whether it’s restaurant dining, entertaining, weddings, clothes buying, mobile phones, cars or anything, it has to be the best and most expensive.  You invited me to the Grande last time, I’m taking you to the Ritz this time.  You invited me to your daughter’s wedding that cost 300,000, now you’re invited to my daughter’s wedding that cost 400,000.  You have the iPhone 5, I bought the new iPhone 5s, etc, etc.  The Chinese call it Pan bi, the British idiom is “Keeping-up with the Jones’s”.  The only difference is, the Chinese are fiercely competitive about out-doing each other and are extremely proud of it.  I’ve seen quite a few fights at restaurants over who is paying the bill!

If you ever visit China and are invited out for dinner, then please do go.  The Chinese are very well-mannered and polite.  They will open doors for you, find a table for you, eat what you would like to eat and generally be a good host.  My friend is no exception.  In public, well, that’s another matter entirely.  They don’t know how to queue, barge in front of other people and have no manners.  Getting on a bus is a fight to the death!

The restaurant’s interior was spectacular, I was very surprised.  It had a planked wooden floor, a central area with a pond full of Koi, wooden beams, a raised dais for the seating area and private rooms around the outer perimeter.  It was also full of potted plants and small trees.

We sat down and I let my friend order the food.  While we waited we drank hot Sake (traditionally, this is a low-alcohol sweet drink that is served hot, it’s actually very nice) and smoked.  Yes, this you can still do in China and one of the reasons I enjoy living here.  Smokers still have civil liberties and are not persecuted.

Well, the meal, if you could call it that, arrived and we started to eat.  I ate the rice, prawns and vegetables (actually, I think it was some type of grass), but the slimy things in shells crawling around the plate I didn’t eat.  I let my friend eat those.  The Chinese will, in fact, eat anything.  If it swims, crawls or flies, they’ll eat it!  Then the waitress brought us each a bowl of soup.  It was thick, almost like a porridge, with white stringy meat.  I tried some.  A sweet, meaty taste that I’m ashamed to say, was quite delicious.  I asked my friend what it was, but he didn’t know, so he asked the waitress.  He told me he didn’t know the English name, but I heard them talking in Chinese and I knew what it was, so I told him.  Qingwa tang – Frog soup.

When I knew what it was, I felt sick.  I’ve never been so disgusted with myself in all my life.  My friend said “Don’t think about it.  Just eat it.”, but I couldn’t.  I’m usually very careful about which restaurants I go to and what I eat.  I was quite angry with my friend, but in fairness to him, he didn’t know.  This was a complimentary dish the chef had prepared for us.

Chinese people, for goodness sake, by all means invite me out to dinner, but please, don’t feed me endangered species!  Thankfully, the younger people are better educated and more in touch with the environment and eco-system, so frog-eating will eventually become a thing of the past.

Chris Just