Disconnected from the Matrix in China

November 11th, 2009

No, Not Facebook and Twitter! My lifelines.
I am so annoyed. It says I’m connected to the wireless router but I can’t seem to get onto facebook. Or twitter. They are my lifelines to the outside world! How else am I supposed to stalk friends and read up on their status updates so I don’t have to call or hanging out with them?! Hey at least I’m speaking the truth. I’ve been without internet for a week in Thailand and jonesin’ for my fix. After about 20 minutes of playing around with my settings, I realize that BOTH facebook and twitter are censored in China! Public enemy number one on the Chinese government’s hit list! Blocking open source content in cyberspace is like trying to clean up all the plastics in the oceans, but leave it to the Chinese to try and suppress freedom of thought.

Ahhh…I am once again reminded that I’m in a communist country, The last time I was here were I was blatantly told that local authorities were after me in a province outside of Beijing for reporting on the AIDS problem in the countryside. Previous to that, I investigated the lack of religious freedom and persecution of Christian missionaries. Our missionary contact’s computer was confiscated and he fled the country soon thereafter our encounter. (The local authorities had been investigating him for sometime). I have had my fair share of run-ins with the Chinese government, and I didn’t intend to this time around.

With its pretty façade, Beijing puts on a good superficial show to convey its openness to the rest of the world, but it doesn’t take much to scratch beneath the surface of this beautifully manicured, new, and eerily squeaky clean city to find that EVERYTHING is monitored.

I give up trying to get online and head to out to explore the city. The bitterly sharp cold cuts through my light long sleeve wrap and yoga pants like a chilled razorblade and I feel completely exposed. I was definitely ill-prepared to battle the bone chilling 1C/32F temp. Anyone who knows me knows I’m like a tropical fish, I need the perfect temperature and environment to keep me sustained. The balmy 30C temperature in Thailand seemed light years away though it was only yesterday morning that I caught my last rays of equatorial sun.

I surrender to the outside elements and sprint to find shelter, careful not to step in the snow. Like an old friend smiling at me, the bright gleaming Starbucks logo in the brand new mega mall on Sanlitun Rd.,(an area frequented by expats and foreigners) invites me in for a non-fat sugar-free vanilla latte. As I look out the window de-thawing with my hot drink in hand I can’t help but think of the irony. The mall is home to legit retail stores like Columbia, Apple Store, and North Face, yet 10 minutes away stands one of the largest knock off markets in the world, Hong Qiao or Pearl Market. Once again, that’s China for you.

Then it dawns on me. In true Chinese fashion, there is also a knock off facebook site. Maybe I’ll check that out.