Terrie's Take 820 (Tourism Edition) -- How to Cure Google Withdrawal Symptoms in China
terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Sep 20 23:39:20 JST 2015
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.
Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Sep 20, 2015, Issue No. 820
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+++ How to Cure Google Withdrawal Symptoms in China
On the request of a good friend, who is having problems with his
software distributor, I made a brief business trip to China recently. It
was an interesting experience because rather than the usual
Beijing-Shanghai ports of call, I also needed to visit some regional
locations such as Shenyang in the far north. In doing so, I felt very
much the noticeable foreigner -- something like how I used to feel when
I first arrived in Japan in 1983. There weren't so many foreigners in
Tokyo back then, either, and I frequently got pointed out at by little
kids and their parents. You get used to it, and in as much as this
regional visit was kind of a throw-back, it didn't bother me. Kind of
But what did bother me is the total lack of Google in China. I knew
about the Chinese government's "Great Firewall" but still, I wasn't
prepared for what I actually encountered. Before leaving, I searched on
the Web to understand the situation. Could I connect with Google from
China or not? Unfortunately the great resource of "almost" information,
the Web, gave me the impression that some places in China do still give
you access to Google's search engine and other services (email, Google
translate, calendar, etc.). But now having been there, I can safely say
that as of September 2015, there is NO access allowed by the Great
Firewall. If you type in "www.google.com" you get the response "This
page is not available." Clearly this is not a problem tourists have in
Japan, and you don't realize just how much impact it can have on you
until it happens. For me it was a sharp reminder of just how much Google
has permeated my life.
Lack of access to email was my biggest problem. One day I'm busy
interacting with the flow of life -- 99% of my messaging is on email and
Facebook and other tools are strictly for entertainment -- then I get on
an airplane, arrive, get connected, and suddenly discover that all my To
Do tasks (Calendar), email contacts, and actual emails are no longer
accessible. I have to admit that I felt a little twinge of panic when I
realized just how thorough the Chinese government firewall is. I
couldn't even log in with a remote email reader, because the entire
Google domain is off limits at all levels.
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If your company is producing, selling, or supporting fashion, food, or
high-end consumer goods, then probably you are selling a high percentage
of your products to visiting foreign tourists. Wouldn't you like to know
what these buyers actually think about your brand and those of your
competitors? Japan Travel KK is proud to announce the successful
trialing and now launch of its new Inbound Physical Survey service. Our
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partners (who provide us with legal polling venues) can interview 100's
of tourists in surveys of up to 20 questions. This is NOT an unqualified
online survey service of "maybe" tourists, but rather a physical, proven
set of interviews with real tourists in real retail environments.
For inquiries, email us at: sales at japantravel.com
After 24 hours of doing limited web research through Microsoft Bing,
which is available in China but is not as productive as Google search,
the solution to dealing with being cut off by the Great Firewall came in
The first and easiest was to use Yahoo.com email -- which is unimpeded
in China -- surely not related to the fact they own a chunk of one of
China's biggest internet companies (Alibaba)... Still, although I had
Yahoo available, without type-ahead email addresses, trying to remember
just what addresses went with each recipient I needed to send email to
was a challenge. In the end I Yahoo-emailed a trusted member of my staff
to go into my Gmail account and forward all my email to the new Yahoo
account. That way I'd at least know what was coming in and be able to
deal with it while abroad.
The second solution was a completely secure VPN. Initially I tried both
free and paid VPN providers, but although I could see their ads
everywhere (on Yahoo) the government firewall knows all about their
actual IP addresses, so I couldn't connect, download their clients, or
buy their services. Eventually I asked my network guy to help me
configure my PC to work inside our server domain based in a third
country, via a secure VPN connection, and that worked well. But it took
a while for him to experiment and create a final viable solution, and of
course not everyone has access to a network engineer. So the moral of
this story is that if you want Google services while in China, you need
a VPN and you need to take care of it BEFORE you are inside the
firewall. For me it was "lesson learned".
Another Google service that I sorely missed was Google Translate, which
recently has been upgraded with some awesome mobile functions. One
particular function I was looking forward to trying out in China was the
real-time translation option, where you point your mobile phone camera
at a sign and it automatically translates it for you (into any of the
20+ supported languages) both as text and voice.
If you visit foreign-language countries a lot, I suggest you try out the
new Google Translate functionality in Japan before you leave. You'll be
impressed. My guess is that this tool will become de rigeur for intrepid
foreigners wanting to explore countries that don't speak your native
language. If it does take off, it will mean a lot more foreign tourists
visiting Japan's outlying areas -- so long, of course, as there is 4G
connectivity to support their web sessions. Generally Japan's 4G
coverage around coastal areas is not too bad, although in the
mountainous areas it's very spotty. In China, in contrast, it was
difficult to even find a phone store that would sell me an LTE SIM...
But that's another story. :-(
(example of Softbank 4G coverage)
Then of course, there are Google maps -- an essential app for anyone new
to a foreign-language country. I don't know about you, but I gave up on
Apple maps for my iPhone years ago, and simply cut-and-paste addresses
straight into Google maps. Their maps are admirably detailed and
orientate well enough that you can quickly figure out which way to go.
They also have enough English on them that a non-Japanese speaker can
comfortably navigate themselves, even in remote locations.
Again, in contrast, China has no Google Streetview mapping operation and
thus foreigner-accessible online maps are desperately short of useful
information. Yeah, OK, there is Baidu's Total View service, but unless
you want to use the Baidu translate function, which is tedious and not
really viable when you're on-the-go with a mobile, it's a poor option.
And not being used to Chinese-version Chinese characters, I found
Baidu's menu difficult to navigate.
Lack of access to world-class mobile data and tools makes it difficult
for non-native tourists to find their way around and in particular
discourages them from being adventurous and straying off the beaten
path. Tourists exploring the countryside are good for local economies
and so are a desirable commodity. I understand that the Chinese
government doesn't like Google (and most likely Google doesn't like
them, either), but if tourism really is a point of national pride, then
they should free up some budget to have Baidu or another domestic
service make an acceptable imitation of Google's apps
functionality/usability for foreigners. Anything is better than nothing.
In the meantime, I can say that while the trip to China was
entertaining, I couldn't help sighing a breath of relief as I arrived
back in Japan and everything I depend on in my daily life started
working properly again. It also made me realize that even though in
Japan we need to offer better, easier-to-use interfaces and functions
for inbound travelers, at least the basic tools exist, are freely
available, and you can get the wireless connections to get at them.
...The information janitors/
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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)
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