Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Breaking an addiction

My name is Froog, and I am a recovering Internet addict...

I knew things were going to be bad in China, but I hadn't realised - had foolishly forgotten! - just how bad they might be.

Just getting my China Unicom Internet service restored at home has proven to be quite enough of a trial.

My landlord (lovely man) told me I could reactivate the account and pay for it at the same time as I paid for my telephone service from the same provider. That proved not to be the case, because the Internet account is in his name, while the phone is in mine. My landlord (lovely man) then took a wodge of money off me, promising to pay for the restoration of the service for the next three months, but told me he wouldn't have time to do this until Monday or Tuesday. When I checked with him on Monday, he told me he'd done it on Saturday... but hadn't thought to tell me.

As it happened, that didn't make much difference, since I couldn't connect to the service even after it was supposedly restored: my computer was only intermittently detecting a network. It turned out that this was because the connector cable was no longer fully attached. It had been crudely spliced together with bits of insulating tape, which had evidently lost all of their stickiness in the recent humid weather, allowing the connection to simply fall apart. My landlord (lovely man, and evidently well practised in the art of twisting electrical wires together) has helped me bodge up a repair, and has promised to summon a Unicom engineer to build a proper connection socket for me - although we are both sceptical as to whether he'll want to do any more than apply some new pieces of tape. In fact, I'm sceptical as to whether he'll show up at all, or whether my landlord will even remember to make the call. Fingers crossed.

Still, I am - sort of - connected at long last... after being back in the country just four days. Well, except that my wi-fi router is being perverse - pretending it has acquired a password which locks me out (it hasn't, shouldn't have) and refusing to reset to its default password. I eventually manage to overcome this little problem by resetting it 17 times in quick succession while swearing at it continuously. However, I can't handle the configuration because the interface is entirely in Chinese. I have to enlist the services of my landlord again (lovely man, a Chinese native, of course, and an IT professional), but the UI is so obscurely laid out and so hard to read that it takes him several minutes of baffled and frustrated squinting at the various screens before he works out what he needs to do.

But it's all done. Oh yes. After just four days. I now have an Internet service (very, VERY slow), a working connection (bare wires hanging out of the wall, twisted together), and a secure wi-fi signal.

What I don't have is a connection worth having. Because the censorship regime here is ramped up to the max. My longtime favourite VPN is completely squelched. Even their super-secret extra special emergency fallback 'This even works in China' option doesn't currently work in China.

I've just been browsing Google to track down a bunch of other possible VPN services. Of course, I can't actually reach their home websites to download any of them! (The Kafka Boys are getting smart??) Well, I did manage to download ONE, but... I couldn't then access the company's set-up page to acquire my activation code. Frustrating? VERY.

On Monday, I was so desperate to check my e-mail that I took my computer out to a couple of coffee shops(!!) in the neighbourhood to try to use their wi-fi service. The Chinese Internet was especially treacly on Monday, colossally so (massive filtering initiatives butting heads with massive Netizen curiosity about the Gu Kailai case): so much so that even Yahoo Mail was getting timed out. I was occasionally able to see how many dozens of unanswered messages were waiting in my Inbox, but I couldn't get any further.

At least I can now get into Yahoo Mail at home (I'm having to resort to Blogger's post-by-mail facility). That is about the only website I can access.

After three months of fast and unfettered Internet access in the civilized world, this is a very cruel shock to the system. I am becoming resigned to the fact that I basically don't have ANY Internet access at the moment... and might well not have for the rest of the time that I stay in this wretched country.  Sigh.

However, I am trying to persuade myself that this may be A GOOD THING for me after all. The rages of tears I was reduced to on Monday were not, I think, just the result of pardonable frustration exacerbated by jet-lag induced exhaustion but... withdrawal symptoms. A vexing but essentially trivial inconvenience such as this really ought not to be so emotionally devastating, it ought not to be able to induce such a spectacular nervous breakdown. I am concerned at the level of dependence this mental collapse revealed in me. I am trying to be much more philosophical and unconcerned about my ongoing difficulties now. Trying. It will be a long hard road... but at least I've admitted I have a problem.


JES said...

I probably missed the answer to this question, but... You've mentioned making this your "farewell visit" to China. Have you made any progress in deciding where you might settle next?

Froog said...

Ill health and vexing financial misadventures conspired with apathy and inertia to prevent me doing much if any 'job hunting' over the summer. The little that I attempted proved profoundly dispiriting.

I am currently thinking more along the lines of dropping out for a year or two and just doing some travelling.

I'm meeting a friend in a couple of days who might be able to hook me up with a new business writing gig that might give me a little bit of a safety net.

And I was just headhunted for a job as a director of a school.... in Suzhou. Still China, but a much nicer bit of China than Beijing, I believe. Almost anywhere is nicer than Beijing. It's just been apocalyptically vile here almost every day since I got back: I'm still jet-lagged because we hardly ever see any proper daylight.