Facebook banned? How to Deal With "The Great Firewall" of China

You are probably reading this out of a Facebook post. And as a traveler you can't help but get the word out share your beautiful photo on Instagram or Facebook to tell the world where you are at this moment.

Now imagine yourself traveling to Mainland China. As you connect to their Wi-Fi, you open your Facebook on your smartphone, and all you get is a white black space. You try some other app on your phone, but the result is the same.

So what really happened?

Check out this site to learn more
Whether you already know this or not, but the People's Republic of China (except Hong Kong and Macao) has implemented a country-wide censorship with regards to their internet and restrictions to the most frequently visited websites from the West as a means of protecting themselves from revealing too much activity, getting exposed to "harmful content" and other events to the rest of the world. 

In other words, sites like Facebook, Google and YouTube are banned in your laptops, smartphones and tablets! But that does not stop China from creating its own social media empires. One of the most notable sites used in the Mainland is Sina Weibo.

Want to know which sites work and don't work? Check out this website and it tells you whether a site is blocked or not in China.

This phenomenon has been around for quite a long time since internet became a thing in China that people around the world consider this as the "Great Firewall" of China, in reference to the ancient wall built in the ancient times (details of the Great Wall can be accessed in our blog here).

Every year, the Chinese government continues to expand and develop more sophisticated methods of blocking these websites, and even blocking more sites they feel can be a threat to their internet - and national - security.

When in China, also be careful with the Wi-Fi you connect to. Most of these connections are just open, not password protected, which can be a threat to your own device. You have no idea who else have been through that connection.

So this leaves you wondering, how on earth can you connect with your loved ones and other important matters online with this Great Firewall standing over you? And how do you stay protected and not get hacked and not have a disappointing online experience in China?


Beijing, China Part 2

Happy New Year my dear followers!

In case you got to this part of our review / tips in Beijing, it is recommended that you first check out the first part here, where we talk of the Great Wall and all things history in the capital.

While this part still talks of some attractions that depict Beijing's long history, we turn our attention to one of the most recent must-go places in the capital.

  • The Emperor's Home inside Forbidden City / Palace Museum
Just a portion inside this huge palace, and a lot of people here!
Right at the center of Beijing lies this old Chinese imperial palace - the Forbidden City. This is the official home of the emperor and the seat of political governance in China for over half a millennium. Once literally "forbidden" for anyone except those in direct connection with the emperor, the City was finally opened to the public in the early 20th century and it currently holds the Palace Museum, a collection of artifacts owned by the old Chinese empire.


Beijing, China Part 1

The Gate of Heavenly Peace, the Emblem for the People's Republic of China
After over 1,200 kilometers of bullet train from Shanghai, we arrived at the 3,000 year old city - Beijing. This massive capital city of China serves as a treasure of history that spans from the ancient times (Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City) to the more recent events (Tiananmen Square, the Olympic Village) that shape this country. With a population of nearly 22 million people (not counting the domestic and international tourists that come in and out), the city's sheer size and impressive structural city planning has paved the way for its expansion, while preserving its well-known past and keeping up with the present times.

Beijing may not be as fabulous as Shanghai in terms of futuristic architecture and high rise buildings, the lights and beautiful entertainment - as what our tour guide first said when we arrived - but the city has relatively changed a lot especially after earning the right to host the magnificent 2008 Summer Games. Beijing has established itself as the seat of national government and political power.

In terms of history, China (48) is second to Italy (51) for the country with the most number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Beijing alone has seven of them. If you are a history fan, or if you have studied Ancient China back in your school days, prepare to see your history books come to life!

With the issue of fog and pollution becoming rampant in Beijing over the years, we may not have experienced that when we were there. Perhaps we were just lucky enough to have clear skies all throughout our stay.

Like Shanghai, accommodation, food and public transport are cheap here, and oftentimes even cheaper in Beijing. English is still a bit of a struggle especially when talking to the elder Chinese people, so you may still want to lean on some young adults or college students where most of them study and able to communicate with English.

And of course, for a country with over a billion people, don't be surprised to see thousands of people walk the streets at any given time of day. That is completely normal.


That "Compulsory" Shanghai City Tour

Afternoons at the Yu Bazaar in Shanghai Old Town, with Shanghai Tower on the background.
Our visit in Shanghai has been a reconnecting of the past, present and future for the People's Republic of China. While we have had a delightful experience around the "Paris of the East" in our recent travel, we somehow bumped into a very interesting city tour that does not only include getting an intimate experience with understanding the culture, customs and traditions of the city, but learning about some of the famous products and practices that are "made in Shanghai", and in the end getting offered - and somewhat pushed - to buy one of their own! 

This is a tale of how a significant chunk of our one day city tour was dedicated to understanding the creation of silk, the discovery and sourcing of authentic jade and other hard to find stones, and the practice of traditional Chinese medicine, only to end up getting sold to their products. While the sales pitches were somewhat pushy by some of the vendors, the value of the lessons we got from the guides were more significant to focus on. Below I will share to you the three places we went, learned, got sold to and eventually bought in to some of them.

And if you would be traveling to Shanghai anytime soon via a travel agency, you should decide for yourselves if this mandatory tour should take part in your itinerary.

*Disclaimer: This post is not meant to offend the tourism authority of Shanghai or the travel agency from which we purchased the tour. These are all opinions of the writer and the traveler and he has done his best to give an honest review on the places visited. While this itinerary of the city tour is considered "compulsory" according to them, like most product offerings, you have every right in the world to accept or refuse their offers. the writer may be able to provide details on how he and his companions tried to stay off from actually buying from them in a respectful and polite manner.


Shanghai, China

The world-famous Pudong District as seen from the other side of the Huangpu river.
Mainland China has always been home to one of the richest histories this side of the planet. Tell that to Shanghai and she would be appreciative of the past, at the same time more excited of a bright future for this growing metropolis. A city of over 24 million inhabitants - the most populous city in the world - has Shanghai buzzing over experiencing the blend of the past, present and future all at once. From the Old French Concessions, the Bund, Shanghai Museum, to the fantastic night life over at Xiantiandi, the busy shopping district that is Nanjing Road, and the futuristic Pudong District on the other side of the Huangpu river, and the world's second tallest building just right within the horizon, with "The Happiest Place on Earth" closing in on completion, every traveler going to China ought to make Shanghai part of the itinerary for city-hopping around this big nation.

There are definitely a lot of sights and sounds to experience in Shanghai that even locals and expats alike often refer to this city as the "Paris of the East", the "Pearl of the Orient" and "Asia's New York". Shanghai has also established itself as a global financial hub, housing the biggest financial institutions and stock exchanges in the world, at the same time becoming a favorite tourist destination that certainly puts itself on the map because of its unique environment that sets itself apart from China and from any other Asian city. The best part: China is relatively cheaper in terms of food, transportation, accommodations, shopping and attractions than Hong Kong and Macau!

Just like traveling to any other place, there are always the "best" and "worst" times to travel, and as always, try to avoid  the holidays and other special occasions that China celebrates (Chinese New Year sometime between mid-January to February and China's National Holiday on the first week of October, for example). Because for a country with a billion and a half people and having no work or school on those days, where do you think at least 20% of the population would go? At those famous attractions, of course! And that certainly would not be fun because of the hassle and the crowds that could push and pull you out of that. Before booking that flight, check if your schedules do not time with any known holiday. Even during off-peak seasons, expect large crowds all around as always, because after all, that's China!

And one more thing: make sure to keep your Mandarin in check - if you know how to speak, listen and read one. Not all establishments post English translations and not all people can speak in English. Most younger adults tend to understand English, though, so it is recommended that you can approach any of them when confused with the language.