Archive for July 7th, 2010

Suzhou Photo Album

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Nighttime traffic in Shanghai, under the lights of the elevated highways.

Virtually every photo I took during the two week trip is here.

China Travel — Technical Aspects

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Road Warrior Tools

Going to China for two weeks requires a bit of technical preparation. In my sparse luggage, I took with me:

  • MacBook Pro
  • iPhone 3G
  • External Hard Drive with Copy of Laptop Contents

I needed to be able to run my business, have confidential communications and surmount the Great Firewall of China. All of these were accomplished with ease.

iPhone screen in China. Note the service provider is China Unicom (the Chinese characters). 3G is active, as is my VPN service. The page showing is my sister's Blogger page, a page which is blocked in China by the Great Firewall.

Before leaving, I prepared two methods of encrypted communication with my server in Southern California. The first one was a standard VPN (Virtual Private Network). This is the gold standard for private communication. It establishes a direct digital connection between my laptop (or cellphone) and the server, scrambling all of the information using mathematical keywords. I installed PPTPD on my Linux server and tested it before leaving. Both Apple’s OS X operating system and iOS for the iPhone have VPN built-in to their systems.

As a backup, I also tested SSH Tunneling, a technique with is not as clean as VPN, but which I used when living in Budapest two years previously.

Mostly using VPN, I was able to drill through the Great Firewall and maintain posts on Facebook and Twitter while traveling. Further, I was able to do so both on my laptop and on my cellphone.

While in Shanghai, I used a blogger‘s instructions to use a China Unicom SIM card in my Apple iPhone. The SIM card cost 126RMB ($19) to purchase. It gave me a month-to-month billing program of 66RMB ($10) which included voice calls, SMS and 300MB of 3G data connection. I used the data connection extensively in my two weeks.

One unanticipated problem I ran into were locked-down WiFi services. There were several WiFi connections I used which only allowed traffic on ports 80 (standard web traffic) and 443 (secure web traffic, used for https:// connections like banking and shopping). Both VPN and SSH Tunneling require non-standard ports, so they were often useless with WiFi. Fortunately, I always had my cellphone connection, which did not block any ports, as a back-up.

Outgoing international phone calls were done with Skype (both through the laptop and cellphone directly). Incoming calls were routed directly to my Chinese phone number.

Posting to Facebook from China, another blocked service