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 FarWestChina.com‘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 FarWestChina.com 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

这是这位感染埃博拉病毒的传教医生肯特布兰特利在隔离室写下的书信。跟大家分享一下,并请代祷:“现在我从我的隔离室写这封信,这里的医生和护士提供了他们所能提供的最好的支持和治疗。我每天都在强壮的成长,并且非常感恩上帝的恩典,即使现在我正在经历这样一个邪恶的疾病。

我的妻子安芭和我,以及我们的两个孩子,不是为了战胜埃博拉病毒的目的而去利比亚的。我们举家搬到利比亚的目的,我们相信是上帝想让我们在当地的一家医院去通过服侍当地的利比亚人而去服侍我们的上帝。

通过这件事情,我认识到:跟随上帝,有时上帝会把我们带到一个我们所意想不到的地方。当埃博拉病毒开始在利比亚蔓延的时候,我所工作的医院开始接待大量的传染了埃博拉病毒的病人。我握着这些病人的手,并且亲眼目睹着他们的生命被疾病夺去。我见证了埃博拉的残害性,并清楚的记得每位失去生命的病人的面孔和他们的名字。

当我也开始感到有反应的时候,我立即隔离了自己并做了测试,3天后,结果显示阳性。当我得知我被传染了埃博拉的那一刻,我清楚地记得当时内心的平安,一种我内心深处,超越自我理解的内在的平安。上帝在提醒我,也是他多年来一直在教我的,那就是上帝一定会给我所需的一切让我去保持对他的信心和依靠。

现在,两周过去了。我现在在一个完全不同的环境中。我的专注,同样的没有改变——那就是追随我的上帝。当各位在为我和南希(另一名埃博拉被传染者)向上帝祷告的时候。当然,请为我们的康复而祷告。但是最重要的是,祈祷我们会对上帝的呼召而保持我们的信心,即使是在这样一个艰难的时刻。”

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。

他为什么那么勇敢?是什么原因让他在生死存亡之刻,选择无私?

他是去年10月加入利比亚宣教医疗团队,带着妻儿搬到赖比瑞亚。他美国同事分享布兰特利医师写的电邮,自述面对伊波拉病毒肆虐,真是感觉“惊恐”。也难怪他有这样的反应,短短时间内死于伊波拉病毒已经有七百多人,只要染上,死亡率是90%,且传染率极高。

教会朋友问他怎样面对?他回答:“上帝会救助我,即便祂没有救我脱离,我生命已经为祂而活,我没有遗憾。”

他72岁老母亲说:“这是压力非常大的时候。肯特是美好的年轻人,十分有同情心,他做的正是他预备自己一生要做的事。他把自己的生命交付在仁慈上帝的手上,上帝支撑着我们,给予我们爱来面对。我们不断地为他祈祷,也恳求大家为他祈祷。他是勇敢的人,他尽其所能服事他的上帝。请大家为他祷告。”

让我们为布兰特利医师脱离险境、恢复健康代祷!然而,也在面对最近各样灾祸(诸如接二连三空难、以巴和乌克兰和叙利亚战事、台湾高雄气爆、云南强震等)时,不妨反思自己是否能像布兰特利医师一样,确定人生了无遗憾?”

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.

Reconciliation
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.

Affirmation
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.

Farewells
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: