The Chinternet vs. my VPN

This is about why I began to suspect that switching our China ISP might make our VPN work better, what we planned to do about it, and why in the end we didn’t make any changes. (And I know it’s kind of dumb to write about this. But I have my reasons.)

If you want general info on VPNs to use in China, including price and usage comparisons, I know of no better place than‘s Top 5 VPNs for China.

In the endless struggle to get the Chinternet to do what I want (i.e. give me access to Gmail, Facebook, Instagram and the news whenever I want it on my phone or laptop), I’m beginning to wonder if some Chinese ISPs are more VPN-friendly than others.

Or, more accurately: if some Chinese ISPs are less VPN-hostile than others.

Our first year in Qingdao (2012) we were on one of the three major telecom companies (China Mobile 中国移动中国联通、China Telecom 中国电信), but it was so slow and unreliable that we ditched it. After a pointless one-month stint with Great Wall Broadband 长城宽带 (never again; they’re blacklisted along with Delta Airlines), we went with a different main telecom company because Jessica had picked a phone deal from them.

Initially the speed was noticeably faster. But like all the other foreigners using various VPNs, ours was spotty at certain times of the year, and often pointless to attempt using between 4-9pm.

But here’s what’s got me wondering if not all Chinese ISPs treat VPNs the same. Via our home wireless I can fail to connect via PPTP on my phone, or I can maybe load my Instagram feed but pretty much never upload. If I switch off the wireless and connect the VPN via my data plan (different ISP), I can often upload an Instagram photo no problem over PPTP. And if I walk two minutes to my workplace, I can connect over their wireless (a third ISP) and upload photos to FB or Instagram with little problem. (We’ve since given up using PPTP, but that’s what our phones were doing at the time.)

But how could you even really know if the level of internet restriction consistently varies between ISPs, aside from performing some serious internet kungfu? The Chinternet’s degree of tolerance for VPNs isn’t static. Each province is its own unique situation. (You can ask Josh at about the internet, or lack thereof, that they’ve endured. He’s not the China VPN expert for no reason.) Restrictions also tighten or loosen according to the political calendar and sensitivity of current events. And, in your neighbourhood, you might only have one option for high-speed internet anyway.

I’m nearly illiterate when it comes to computer tech and the internet (obviously). But the VPN difference between home and work (different ISPs) looked suspicious enough that we had planned to ditch ours for theirs.

But then we discovered that in our neighbourhood, our current ISP is the only one offering 20 mb/s (which in reality is around 8-to-12), while my work’s ISP only offers 10. So until the ISP competition heats up, it’s all moot and we’re stuck with what we’ve got — aside from trying different VPNs.

Anyone have a preferred Chinese ISP?

Facing Ebola… in Chinese [updated]

A Chinese friend translated missionary doctor and Ebola patient Kent Brantly’s public statement, which he wrote from the Ebola isolation unit at Emory University Hospital. I’ve pasted both it and the original English version below, plus some related links (Chinese & English). Click the photos for sources.

Ebola = 埃博拉病毒 (also sometimes 伊波拉)
Kent Brantly = 肯特 布兰特利






A related Chinese article 《了无遗憾?》
“”肯特‧布兰特利医师(Dr. Kent Brantly)因救助病人而染上伊波拉病毒,他坚持把可能救他一命的实验血清,让给另一位染上伊波拉的女宣教士。这不是女士优先的时刻,而是生死攸关的时刻;而这血清是从他所救活的一个病童身上抽取血液制成,只有一剂,他比任何人都有资格使用它来增加自己活命率。但他坚让。






A third Chinese article: 《勇敢的心——感染埃博拉病毒的美国医生布兰特利的故事》

Kent’s statement:
“I am writing this update from my isolation room at Emory University Hospital, where the doctors and nurses are providing the very best care possible. I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease. I also want to extend my deep and sincere thanks to all of you who have been praying for my recovery as well as for Nancy and for the people of Liberia and West Africa.

“My wife Amber and I, along with our two children, did not move to Liberia for the specific purpose of fighting Ebola. We went to Liberia because we believe God called us to serve Him at ELWA Hospital.

“One thing I have learned is that following God often leads us to unexpected places. When Ebola spread into Liberia, my usual hospital work turned more and more toward treating the increasing number of Ebola patients. I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them. I witnessed the horror first-hand, and I can still remember every face and name.

“When I started feeling ill on that Wednesday morning, I immediately isolated myself until the test confirmed my diagnosis three days later. When the result was positive, I remember a deep sense of peace that was beyond all understanding. God was reminding me of what He had taught me years ago, that He will give me everything I need to be faithful to Him.

“Now it is two weeks later, and I am in a totally different setting. My focus, however, remains the same – to follow God. As you continue to pray for Nancy and me, yes, please pray for our recovery. More importantly, pray that we would be faithful to God’s call on our lives in these new circumstances.”

Ebola crisis links:

Ebola Crisis in West Africa
Ken Isaacs, Vice President of Programs and Government Relations for Samaritan’s Purse, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee concerning Ebola in West Africa.

Ebola: My last day in the isolation zone (MSF)
“I enter, take in the scene and stop to look back at Sara, who has yet to see what lies before me. She said later she knew it would be bad from my eyes.”

Fighting Ebola for Us All (NYT)
don’t see Brantly and Writebol as reckless curiosities who somehow brought Ebola upon themselves. See them as leaders on the front line of an effort to help and protect Americans and Africans alike.

Infected Ebola Doctor Kent Brantly Is an Endangered Hero (The Daily Beast)
Even atheists could find a guide to goodness in asking themselves What Would Kent Do?

I’m the head nurse at Emory. This is why we wanted to bring the Ebola patients to the U.S.
These patients will benefit — not threaten — the country.

Americans with Ebola should be welcomed home (CNN)
There are two epidemics in the world today. The first is a troubling spread of the Ebola virus in poor countries in Africa…But the second epidemic is a more dangerous one.

Ebola, research ethics, and the ZMapp serum (WaPo)

Ebola in Africa and the U.S.: A Curation
That I am anti-Ebola panic — and especially anti-Ebola media scrum, which was disgraceful — does not mean I am not concerned about Ebola where it is authentically a problem, which is in the expanding epidemic in West Africa. It is a dreadful outbreak, it needs attention…

How to do cross-cultural transitions right: Build a “RAFT”

Moving cross-culturally is a lot of things, but one thing it isn’t is easy. You leave behind siblings, nephews and nieces, parents and grandparents, and friends, plus places and things infused with memories and meaning, like the house where you grew up and park where you proposed.

We did that once, the first time we moved to Asia. After three years we returned to Canada to have our first child, and then we did it again. After another two years in China we returned to Canada a second time for the birth of our second child. And now we’re back in China for the third time.

The return trips to China after each birth were harder than the first time we left. Taking your children away from their grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins, Sunday school friends (never mind all the grass and trees and oceans and lakes and air) hurts.

You realize more what you’re doing when you’re also doing it to your kid.

There’re others you leave behind, too: coworkers, people you don’t like, people you have a grudge against. And there’s the nasty bonus surprise: returning to your culture of origin (like our friend Rob) after a long time away is often harder than leaving your original home ever was in the first place. Not only are you leaving behind so many friends and places and memories, but “home” has changed since you left, and so have you, and it won’t feel the same. Much of the familiarity you’re expectantly anticipating never materializes. But this post isn’t about entry or re-entry; it’s about leaving.

Regardless of which direction you’re going, the experience of leaving so much behind is huge whether you take the time to acknowledge it or not. And how you leave it can have a big impact on you personal development, on the kind of people you and your lover and your kids are becoming. This experience impacts all of you, and some ways of intentionally navigating the experience are healthier than others.

We received some great advice about how to do cross-cultural transitions before our most recent move back to China, advice we tried out a little bit in the months before we left, and we think it’s worth sharing. I wish we’d put more of it into practice than we did. It’s called “building a R.A.F.T.” and comes from chapter 13 of Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken (pages 200-204 in our 2001 edition). Below is my summary/paraphrase/riff of what they wrote.

Building a R.A.F.T.

You’ll see quickly that this process takes some forethought and planning ahead; put it off ’til the last two weeks and you’ll likely not have enough opportunities. You’ll also notice that it’s something for every family member to do, not just the adults.

Closure matters. Festering bitterness matters. Making peace matters. Emotional baggage matters. Guilt and regrets matter. Forgiving and being forgiven matter, and that’s what reconciliation is all about. Reconciliation means growing up. It means attempting to communicate hurts and forgiveness, and initiate apologies.

A cross-cultural move presents a tempting cop-out: to run away and ignore strained or broken relationships. But refusing to resolve interpersonal conflicts sabotages healthy closure, and this lack of reconciliation sabotages the rest of your “RAFT” — the rest of your transition and entry/re-entry experience. You can’t really move away from these kinds of difficulties anyway; you’ll carry the emotional baggage of unresolved problems with you. Bitterness is unhealthy, unresolved relational issues can interfere with new relationships, and if/when you eventually move back, those problems will still be there, and they’ll be even harder to resolve.

A cross-cultural move also provides a great excuse, if you need one, for attempting to make peace: “Hey, I’m leaving for China for who knows how long, and I don’t want to leave a mess between us…” or however you need to do it.

You can’t always achieve reconciliation, of course, because it takes two willing parties. But you can always attempt it, and at least own up to the part of the relationship you’re responsible for. In our recent personal experience we found that the attempt is worth it whether the other side engages or not.

Think through your list of friends, coworkers, supervisors, neighbours, classmates. Do more than just say goodbye. Affirm people; let them know you respect and appreciate them, acknowledge that they matter. This is good for them and for you: it strengthens your relationships into the future and makes you more aware of what you’ve gained from living in the place you’re leaving. Pollock and Van Reken illustrate with some examples:

  • Make time to tell coworkers that you enjoyed working with them.
  • Tell friends how their friendship has been important, and maybe leave them some sort of memento.
  • Send a note and small gift to neighbours, mentioning positive things about your interactions with them.
  • Reassure those close to you of your love for them and that you don’t leave them lightly. Order flowers for the day after you leave.

Affirmation helps with closure by acknowledging the blessings you have in the form of relationships, and mourning their passing.

Making farewells to people, places, and possessions helps avoid deep regrets later. Schedule ahead so that you won’t end up missing anyone or anywhere or any thing that was in any way significant, and make a real ‘official’ farewell to each. It’s a time to acknowledge all the positive things and feelings, and acknowledge that it’s sad to leave each person and thing behind.

People – this is crucial, even more so for children, who will need guidance. You want to say and do something, make some sort of gesture like baking cookies or writing a note, that acknowledges the importance of that person to you, expresses thanks, and lets them know they will be missed.

Some sort of “rite of passage” ritual often accompanies major life transitions like graduation or retirement parties. Taking the time to do something similar in spirit creates a significant memory acknowledging the importance of a person or place, and helps face and process the fact that you’re leaving them.

Places – Visit emotionally significant sites to reminisce and say goodbye. Everything from the tree you loved climbing to the park where you got engaged. Some people plant a tree, or hide some little treasure that they could dig up later if they ever return. The point is to openly acknowledge the time as a true goodbye, admitting that the stage of life these places represent will soon be in the past.

Possessions – You have to leave a lot of stuff behind in international moves. Certainly, adults and kids have to learn about letting go, and we all have too much stuff anyway, but everyone should talk over what to take and what to leave behind. It’s also important to deliberately choose and take what become “sacred objects”, a slowly growing collection of physical objects that connect the different places and stages of your life. When important objects must be left behind, try giving them as gifts to a friend and taking photographs. Jessica and I have a Christmas tree ornament (or something we use as one) from most of the significant places in our life together. Every year we can remember.

In addition to all her teachers and ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’, we had our three-year-old say good-bye to her classrooms, playground, the lake where she swam all summer, places we visited regularly, her bedrooms, toys she was leaving behind, parks we often walked in, and a bunch of other stuff. And we took pictures of it all. This gave us plenty of opportunity to verbalize what was happening then and later after we’d returned to China. It helped all of us put words to the experience and mourn all that we were losing in a healthy way.

Think Destination
During the goodbye process, start shifting gears mentally, reorienting your thinking to the near future: you’re arrival and adjustment in a new place. Think realistically: identify positives and negatives and differences about your destination. List problems you’ll likely encounter. Make a list of your coping resources, both external (finances, support people you can lean on) and internal (your ability and methods of dealing with the stress of change).

Thinking ahead and identifying these things helps make the transition much less rockier than it could be. Forming realistic expectations helps avoid disappointment (from too high expectations) and makes sure you don’t miss out on available resources (due to too low expectations). You aren’t mentally and emotionally leaving so much behind in order to go nowhere; every step away from what you’re leaving can be a step toward what you’re gaining.

Related stuff:

Facebooking in China: SunVPN review [Updated 2x]

[Update 2 — SunVPN sent a fix less than 48 hours after the ‘China problem’ – which affected several major VPNs in China – began. And I didn’t contact them about it to complain, they sent it out on their own. All I had to do was download an attachment and copy the files to the folder they specified. Simple. And it worked! Friends using different VPN services had to wait longer… one up to a week.]

[UPDATE 1 — Right as I went to publish this, our previously flawless VPN service stopped working. I suspect it has something to do with this: Chinese Internet Connections Unreliable in Run-Up to Party Congress and Why Using the Internet in China is So Frustrating These Days.]


As foreigners in China, we automatically have this little problem:

It doesn’t matter if your grandmother wants to see your pictures of her great-granddaughters on Facebook, and the same goes for YouTube. If you want to access those kinds of sites in China, you’ll need a little help in the form of a VPN. Thankfully, you don’t even have to know what “VPN” stands for in order to use them. We’re not all that technologically literate, but the VPN we’re currently on works fine and is simple to use.

Facebook, YouTube and many others weren’t blocked when we first arrived in China, and back then VPNs weren’t that common. But now with tighter internet restrictions, VPNs are becoming standard-issue for expats. We’re probably online less than the average foreigner, but Facebook is where we share our kids’ pictures with family and keep tabs on friends from back home, so access is important.

Over the years in China we’ve used a couple different VPNs to get over the Great Firewall, and right now we’re test-driving SunVPN.


SunVPN installed easily the first time(!) on both our laptops and phones, and works like they said it would. I was surprised how hassle-free it was because I’ve come to expect hassles with this sort of thing. There are multiple servers in multiple countries to choose from, and we only occasionally have to pick a different one when the one we’re trying to use won’t connect or quits working. Either way, there’s plenty of back-up and we’ve never been without a connection.

See the image below for the list of servers. I don’t know what any of that techie stuff means, but I don’t need to. All I do is right-click and choose one that says “fast”, and it works.

Here are their main features and links:

  • VPN service
  • buy VPN
  • China VPN
  • OpenVPN/PPTP VPN available
  • the safest OpenVPN encryption available (256 bit AES)
  • custom OpenVPN/PPTP installer for Windows
  • custom Tunnelblick installer for Mac OS
  • worldwide server network
  • other common VPN features: unblock all Internet restrictions (China, Oman, UAE etc), watch USA/UK TV from abroad, keep safe from Firesheep etc.

P.S. – I did learn, however, that there is one detail in the instructions that must be heeded: when clicking the desktop icon to open the program (after it’s been installed), you can’t double-click it like normal. You have to right-click and then choose “Run as administrator” or “Open as administrator.”

P.P.S. – I’m usually loathe to encourage people to get online more than they already are. If you aren’t on Facbeook and don’t see a specific need, I suggest you just skip it, and spend more of your life having real human contact. I only got on it several years ago to stalk my sister’s sketchy boyfriend, but once all my extended family became users and we moved overseas we’ve been stuck with it.

P.P.P.S. – Apparently even VPNS aren’t invincible. Even as I was going to hit “Publish” on this post, we started having problems connecting for the first time, and did a lot of people using various VPN services: Chinese Internet Connections Unreliable in Run-Up to Party Congress and Why Using the Internet in China is So Frustrating These Days. But SunVPN sent a fix in less than 48 hours that was easy to apply. So we’re back online, despite the ever-tightening Great FireWall of China.

Related Stuff:

Cross-cultural living and the desire to be intimately known

Guest post! Cindy is one of the very few 100% fully bi-cultural people I’ve ever known. She originally wrote this in Facebook, and after reading it I asked to repost it here. I think it connects powerfully with everyone, especially those of us who live far from home, and most especially with Third-Culture Kids who aren’t really sure where ‘home’ is.

Let’s get to know each other

by Cindy
I had a conversation with my girlfriend about the hypothetical situation of whether we should remarry if our husbands died. I know my married girlfriends have had this conversation too, don’t deny it people. Her response was how hard it would be to have to get to know another person as intimately all over again.

Truly one of the greatest gifts in relationships is to be understood by another person. And trusting you will be accepted and loved in spite of the intimate knowledge. However, the process from acquaintance to intimacy takes time. It takes time to tell stories, to react to circumstances in life, to laugh and cry together, to argue and disagree, and then to make up. These experiences build layers of trust and loyalty and compose the patches of material that make up friendship. Through time we weave our lives together and enter together into the depth of relationship that allow us to be known by one another. And we are created to long for that depth. To be deeply known.

The trouble is, then we move. We pick up and move to another town. Or in my case, across the freakin’ ocean. I grew up in a small school where my friends were like my brothers and sisters. We were that small and that close. At graduation we scattered literally all over the world. Our new communities didn’t know our collective history and we had to start over from scratch with the storytelling and the laughing and crying and all that relationship building stuff. Then we’d move again. And start all over again. It’s no wonder people who are forced to move around a lot, like military families, have intimacy issues. It’s simply too exhausting.

Each time we enter a new community, that new place shapes us, molding us into someone different. When I left Wheaton, I was starting to question some of the conservative elements of my beliefs. Fuller helped introduce a broader spectrum of theology and how to incorporate doubt and criticism into a vibrant faith. In a sense, there was a Morrison Cindy, a Wheaton Cindy, a Fuller Cindy, a China Cindy, and a back-to-Taiwan Cindy. As time went on, the world changed and so did I. In the moving river of life, people who stepped in along the way journeyed with me downstream without the knowledge of who I was before I became who I am. Like a diamond, we can only reflect light off of one surface at a time even though we are made out of many facets.

The potential for misunderstanding is alarming. In our limited perspective, it’s too easy to make judgments regarding a person’s comments without a fuller understanding of their background. Wheaton Cindy would be appalled at some of the theological slants of back-to-Taiwan Cindy, and Chinese Cindy cannot hardly stand American Cindy most of the time. The complexities of our biological, cultural, mental, and spiritual identities is what fuels the psycho-therapy economy. And yet there exists inside of me the desire to be wholly known. The impossibility of somebody understanding the nuances of every past experience, every hat I wear, every idea and action and word I exhibit, doesn’t stop me from trying.

So I tell stories. I share my reaction when stuff happens. I laugh and cry. I argue and disagree. And I make up. Then I listen, not only to stories but to the stories behind the stories. I try not to jump to conclusions about people because I don’t know where they’ve been upstream. I look for the other faces of the diamond that make up each person I encounter because seeing only one side is not satisfying. I lean deep into the relationships around me to know and be known. It’s what I was created for.

I’m Cindy. It’s nice to meet you. Let’s get to know each other, shall we?

Christmas Essentials for the Black Hole of China

That’s an image of the Facebook friend connections between cities. The more connections, the brighter and whiter the lines. (See an explanation of how they made it is here.) You’ll notice a few conspicuously dark areas: Brazil and Russia have more popular local social network competitors; Africa has less internet users. And then there’s China.

Christmas is the hardest time of the year to be on the other side of the world from family. Living in a FB black hole would only make it that much worse. We have a toddler, my one sister is pregnant and the other just got engaged, in addition to all the usual family fun that happens during Christmas. That’s a lot of family-ness to miss out on. Thankfully, there are ways to access Facebook (and everything else) in spite of China’s ‘harmonious’ internet. These last two weeks we’ve been burning a hole in the internets with all sharing family photos and videos back and forth. Skype, of course, is getting a good workout, too.

I have issues with FB, and if I could start again with it I would do things differently. After all, they are out to get you (they harvest and calculate your information and behaviour patterns to make you easier to manipulate for advertisers and, one day, governments. I only first started using it to stalk my sister’s then-boyfriend). But, I am thankful — very thankful — that it’s so easy to communicate between continents. We almost effortlessly and instantly share pictures, videos, and make video calls. It’s not as good as being together, of course, but we’re definitely grateful!

Merry Christmas 2010!

P.S. — And Merry Christmas from China, too:

P.P.S. — And Merry Christmas from my rock star soon-to-be-brother-in-law:

November 10K

Just a short post to update on the goal that I had set back in August of running a 10k on the treadmill at my gym by mid-November. The “race” was last Friday, November 14th…so this post is a little overdue.

Anyway, running the 10K (that’s 6.2 miles for you non-metric users) went really well. I’ve definitely gained a lot in endurance and stamina throughout this training process, even if my overall pace for the 10K is a bit slower than for the 5k I did in August. I’ve also been quite excited to realize how well having a specific goal and training plan really helps me stay motivated on a day to day basis. Other than a few days that I was out with a cold back in October…I really didn’t miss any runs! But the biggest surprise of all for me is that somewhere between the end of the 5k and the completion of the 10k, running actually became very enjoyable for me…and something that I would look forward to!!! My time for the 10K was 55 minutes 25 seconds…for a pace of 8 minutes 56 seconds per mile. I’m very satisfied with my time, especially since I had set a goal of 55 minutes or so for the race. Overall, I do believe that would be slower if I were running outdoors…the treadmill really helps me to push it and keep up the pace more than I might if I were pacing myself on the ground outside.

My friend Nicole, who also ran the 5k with me in August, kept going with the goal for the 10k and completed it on Saturday the 15th. She finished with a great time of 1 hr 7 minutes and 8 seconds. I’m totally impressed, as the area she runs has lots of hills and gradual inclines! Best of all, her wonderful husband and daughter cheered her on…they stopped at a few of the places they knew she would run by and cheered for her, and then when she arrived home they had stretched a “finish ribbon” for her to break through. I just thought it was so awesome to see the ways that they encouraged her throughout the process.:D I can’t wait to visit her when we are back in North America for the spring and go for a jog together…I can just imagine that the smell of the fresh air and pine tress will make the run even better!

Now…there were a few others who had planned to participate…but I’m not sure if there were any others that completed the 10K over the course of that weekend. If you did, just add your time and a bit about your run to the comments!!!