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Embrace The Fake

Picture from Chinese border office — At least there's English on it
Picture from Chinese border office — At least there's English on it

In Burma I met some Americans who were teaching English in China and they told me to "embrace the fake" when I got there. I didn't know what they meant and it wasn't until the end of my last visit to China that I figured it out. I had met several other travelers that were frustrated with China and they also had a hard time articulating why. I think the problem is false expectations. China looks like a modern Asian country. The people are dressed fashionably, the train times are listed to the minute, there's big fancy buildings. Behind the glossy appearance, China is one of the least developed Asian countries. The towering new buildings are crumbling from the inside. Their lions are actually dogs. I believe it's the build up and the let down that makes China so frustrating.

When I was in South Korea I went to go see the new Iron Man movie in theaters. It was alright, but I kept wondering when they were going to get to all the parts about China. My friend who lives in China had told me that she was quite surprised that there was so much pro-China stuff in the new Iron Man movie, including a line about how China is who supports Iron Man. Those parts never came in my movie. I did some research afterward and it turns out that Marvel released a different, modified version for Chinese audiences. China's not the overbearing propaganda machine that most Americans envision it to be, it's more of the underhanded, sneaky manipulator that no one expects it to be.

I don't usually use this site as a travel guide. When I want to post information for others I do it on Wikitravel, but for some reason this information seems more fitting here.

Large statue of Mao in China's politically tense Kashgar
Large statue of Mao in China's politically tense Kashgar

Coping with The Great Firewall (GFW): How to bypass Golden Shield

For those of you that don't know already, China rules their internet with an iron fist. Their more-intrusive version of PRISM, officially called Golden Shield and commonly know as "The Great Firewall of China" employs around 50,000 people and cost well over $800 million USD to build. Golden Shield spies, restricts, deletes and redirects all manner of content from web browsing to emails to social media. The few American web services that China allows are intentionally slowed down, partially as an incentive to use their home-brewed knockoffs. For anyone planning to travel in China, I have this advice for dealing with their idiotic overbearing.

  1. Be prepared. Setup any systems and download any applications you're going to want to run in China before you get there. Not only do they employ several levels of content manipulation to feed you altered information and redirect you to unwanted sources, several weak companies have given in to China and provide you with modified applications when you download them in China. Applications like Skype and Opera.
  2. Configure a VPN and/or SSH tunneling and/or Freegate. Sometimes one method works while sometimes the other does. Traffic running over either a VPN or SSH tunnel is equally secure though not all traffic runs over an SSH Tunnel unless specifically directed to. That said, an SSH Tunnel is far easier to configure and requires less server access. One desperate attempt that China makes to keep their people ignorant is to periodically sever the internet for brief periods of time in order to disconnect anyone using a VPN or SSH tunnel. I haven't tried it but perhaps using SSH Tunneling + Screen would help cope with that.
  3. Switch Googles. Google used to be one of those weak companies that bended to China's whims and filtered their results. Now they redirect all their traffic from China to Hong Kong, but if you're like me and you run linux and like to use Chromium as a browser, you'll get caught in an endless redirect loop which renders your browser utterly useless. The solution? https://www.google.co.uk/ncr For some reason Google UK doesn't get redirected and the ncr at the end may help in case it does.

I should mention that after the first time I went to China and started VPNing traffic through my American-based web server, attacks on my server increased about fourfold in both frequency and severity. When I looked into the heightened attacks further, I found that they were predominantly coming from China. The bottom line is that China is frustrating. It's frustrating for travelers, it's inhabitants, and every country that surrounds it. Unfortunately I don't see this fact changing anytime soon. The silver lining is that I don't see them as any kind of economic threat until they "get with it".

Soundtrack: Keep Your Head Up (Andy Grammer)


September 3rd, 2013 at 6:54 AM

Well said in so many ways! We are crazy for living here full time and we know it! However, you now understand why we get out to travel. ha ha! As for the Times New Roman sign, Zach and I laughed so hard! One of the best yet!

Dan Schumann
September 3rd, 2013 at 9:30 PM

Wait, screen, what's that? Is that like TMUX's hairy grandfather with fake teeth and no colors and seizure inducing screen flashes every time you hit backspace and there's no characters left to delete? Don't even try using vim with it if you feel like scrolling down too far. Tmux is definitely worth it though. None of the bad and a giant workspace rather than a single prompt when connecting to something via ssh.
To non computer people.. tmux is alt tabbing for ms-dos.. jargon.. Fire good!

If you're asking a question, it may be better to just email me at beau@dangertravels.com