If you’re a foreigner living in China or even one coming here for a visit, you need a VPN. Now, my OH constantly pokes fun at my inability to accept today’s technology and to take full advantage of it (‘How did you manage to survive for so long?!’ )so it came as no surprise that I’d had no idea what this VPN thing was. I still don’t really know how it works but I do realize that using this service has become of vital importance to me and ALL my friends.What VPN does, in short, is it lets whoever might be monitoring your internet activity, think that you’re in a different location than you actually are. So instead of showing me as present in China, it shows whatever server I choose, most of the time it’s one in UK.
Once installed, the process of connecting and choosing servers is super easy as proved by the fact that even I’m capable of doing it on a daily basis. Mind you, most days, thanks to my wonderful(*cough*)internet connection and the even lovelier website blocking..the moment of trying to connect to a VPN server is accompanied by the somewhat unprintable exclamations and moans.
You may be thinking-why do I need this? Especially that this service is not free (I’ve heard of free VPN but have yet to find one that a)can be downloaded on my Mac and b) actually connects ). The prices differ from provider to provider, with some better than others, some designed especially for the Chinese market (supposedly) and it’s hard to choose which one would suit your needs best. I relied on the recommendations of my friends and colleagues and am currently using a fairly good one, though it’s not faultless by any stretch of the imagination. Basically, once you’re living in China, you need to accept many things you normally wouldn’t in your home country (burping in public, spitting on the streets, on public transport, rubbish being dumped everywhere,etc.)and this service is no exception to that. Your server will keep disconnecting, some days you won’t be able to connect at all or at least not to the server you wish to use and it’s all annoying as you’re paying for this so theoretically you shouldn’t have any problems,right? The customer service can and do help; the frustration continues pretty much on a daily basis though.
Wouldn’t it be smarter to stop using VPN, save myself the stress and money? NO. Without VPN I can forget about Youtube, Spotify, Google, Facebook/Twitter or WordPress for that matter. Those and thousands of other websites, which are blocked here. You’d be shocked to discover the types of website that, for some inexplicable reason, are inaccessible here, e.g. sites which offer free e-books/magazines and newspapers. We’re not talking some political literature but old classics, urban fiction or criminal novels.
Any expat will confirm that being able to access programmes/books/radio from back home is very important to them. It provides comfort in a foreign land. It offers distraction which we all crave at some point or another, it brings back memories as well as keeping up to date with events and happenings. I remember feeling very cut off when I first arrived in China. I didn’t get VPN until we moved to our own flat and it made a huge difference. My OH uses it too.
Yes, we can download most shows/films online. Yes, the Chinese tv apps offer some foreign shows (the choice between Castle season 5 and Castle season 7…) but there is no substitute for the foreign news, the documentaries, even the entertainment shows. I am not a TV addict but I thoroughly enjoy coming home to a list of downloaded BBC shows and enjoying a particularly juicy episode of ‘The Night Manager‘ or waking up on a Saturday and rummaging in my kitchen whilst listening to Magic FM.
It’s not just about being able to access foreign websites. VPN is also great for keeping your personal data secure in a time when identity theft is a serious issue. So if you think you don’t need a VPN-good for you. I applaud you, I really do, for you don’t have to spend tens of dollars that you normally wouldn’t spend, you won’t find yourself shouting at your laptop/iPad/phone every time you struggle to connect or your connection times out but despite all that, all the winging and moaning and various other forms of expressing my frustration I’ll keep spending my hard-earned money on a VPN service for the simple reason of wanting to stay connected to the rest of the world.