I knew that various parts of the web are blocked inside of China, but I didn’t realize how much it would actually affect me during my five days there. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TwitPic, Tumblr, Dropbox, Foursquare, Vimeo, various Google services (Calendar, Reader), certain news sites, podcast downloads. All of these things were inaccessible while I was there. I of course tried loads of VPN services and proxy clients but couldn’t get any to connect.
It didn’t stop at the web, though. SMS messages to my family were garbled (this happened to both my friend Karen and me, and we were on different networks: MaxRoam (me) and O2 (Karen), so it didn’t seem to be a carrier issue) or just didn’t make it. I missed loads of incoming SMS messages as well. I can’t explain how frustrating it is to feel completely cut off from your friends and family.
At the Lhasa airport on the way back to Kathmandu, I used Maxroam to call my family and it worked great. I couldn’t wait to get back to Nepal and catch up more with folks. It made me realize that even though I can go weeks without using the web when I want to disconnect, I do miss them when I know they’re there and I can’t get to them.
It felt silly, because how much do you really miss when you don’t read Twitter or Facebook for a few days? Usually not terribly much. In fact I rarely use them or any of the other blocked sites I mentioned above when I’m on holidays. But I returned to Kathmandu feeling like I had been in outer space for a year. It’s a very strange feeling.