If you’re anything like me, chances are you’re spending your last days stateside doing what I call the Great American Binge. Going to all your favorite restaurants, having your family make all your favorite meals, and trying to hang out with all your friends before its time to board your flight abroad. Also, you’re probably thinking about how will you conquer the language barrier, how will you get around and make new friends. But if you're going to China, you’re for sure thinking about how will you access all your favorite apps that are restricted like Instagram, Netflix, and Google.
So wait, why exactly can’t I access all my American treasures? Well, you can credit the restriction to the Great Firewall, a law that focuses on internet security, control and censorship. There’s a never-ending list of apps, websites, and news sources that are banned on Chinese networks without a clear line of what is allowed and what’s not. News for example should be “healthy.” Other terms used to describe permitted media are "in pubic interest" and "not harmful to Chinese culture of traditions."
If you need a more relatable example of how free and unrestricted internet access can be seen as problematic to China's style of government, I’ll let my favorite, Beyoncé, teach you.
"The beauty of social media is it’s completely democratic. Everyone has a say. Everyone’s voice counts, and everyone has a chance to paint the world from their own perspective."
But really, there has to be some way for me to post my cool Insta pic while living in China right? Yes! But you’ll need to set up your VPN, or virtual private network, before you leave the United States if you want the best connection. While in the States, your connection is direct from your device to the internet. But while in China you'll need to connect to a VPN from your device to bypass most internet restrictions. When you make this connection you’re giving your data to the VPN to act as the middleman and perform all the communicating to the internet on your behalf. Now you can post that cool ‘just landed’ photo on your insta story!
After updating your friends and family you’ve arrived. The next thing you’re probably thinking about is getting around and doing some exploring. But you won't be using Uber or Lyft. Although there’s a rideshare company called Didi, there are many other options to consider in Shanghai from the extensive metro to bikeshare programs.
While preparing to go to any new country you should be thinking about the currency and how you’ll pay for things. And if you’re heading to Shanghai the answer is via your phone. WeChat and AliPay have been critically responsible for transitioning Chinese cities to a cashless society. On WeChat you can make calls, send text, and of course make payments. You can send and recieve payments using QR Codes, purchase from vending machines and restaurants. This is the equivalent to Square Cash, Venmo, and Apple Pay technologies that you may use in the US.
Although, I’ll have to adjust to a new way of living for a semester I am looking forward to all the cultural differences and lessons I’ll learn. Be sure to check back here for future post detailing my adventure in Shanghai!