The “Sleeping Dragon” is wide awake and on the alert. After settling in to my hostel in Shanghai, I tried to connect to my blog. The connection was abysmally slow, but it was infinitely better than the connections to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, which were nonexistent. To my chagrin, I soon discovered that China has blocked access to all the social media sites.
I knew communications might be difficult from China, so I had taken some steps in preparation. One of my cousins, Len, with whom I will be traveling for a couple of weeks in China, set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on his home server, and sent me instructions how to set it up it on my Macbook Pro. A very simplified explanation of this setup is that China blocks access to sites based on ip addresses, the numerical equivalent of website names (urls). So if I try to access Facebook.com, China sees that as an ip address like 22.214.171.124, and they don’t allow Internet traffic to get to that site. However, by setting up the VPN, when I type Facebook.com into my browser address field, I actually go to my cousin’s server back in Los Angeles first, and it redirects to Facebook, so China can’t see that I am trying to access a social network.
Len set up what is known as a PPTP VPN, which worked fine when we tested it from the U.S. Unfortunately, neither of us were aware that China has figured out a way to block select traffic being rerouted through PPTP VPN’s; the only kind of VPN that works in China is an SSL. Frantic emails back and forth between Len and I ensued; thank God China hasn’t (yet) blocked access to Google and my gmail account. He found a company, WiTopia, that offers subscriptions to a VPN SSL service that provides Continue reading