Definitely a challenge to be digital while working in Shenzhen, China, at least the way I know to be digital. I have been here a week now and am still feeling cut off from digital business (and life) as usual. Let me tell you my story…
Phone Service Nightmare
My first mistake was having a USA Verizon Android phone. My phone has CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) not GSM (Global Systems for Mobiles) radio capability, which means basically, I can’t use my phone easily for calling home or even local in China (remember when that was what phones were for?) There are two different radio systems that mobile phone use to communicate. Most of the world uses GSM, but 5 of the top 7 carriers in the USA use CDMA (Nothing is ever easy when you are American, right?). Why they are CDMA is a long story, but suffice it to say, it makes it harder to move around the world with your USA mobile phone. Since I am very phone depended for business and life, I am not happy at the moment and I am feeling digitally stupid, which I don’t appreciate. (For more info read: CDMA vs GSM: What’s the difference?)
After years of traveling internationally, you would think that I would remember to turn the data off on my phone before I leave the States so that I don’t get charged. Actually, I thought I did (I checked it on the plane coming over and did the switch thing), but I noticed Sunday that my data usage was at 80MB somehow. That means a $$$$ bill waiting for me when I return because of the 5 days of having data on, even though I was using WiFi ($20 per MB while out of country).
I tried to reach Verizon on the China toll-free number last evening to arrange Global Service, but since it was already night in China, I could not reach the 24X7 support line. (很抱歉,您已达到关闭 “Sorry the number you are calling is off”). Being digitally savvy, I figured the next best thing would be their on-line chat. Once I waded through their huge website I finally found where to chat with a live person and was told by the nice chat person on-line that since I already left the USA, I had to call back to the States and that I probably could not get the service now that I left.
I find Verizon one of the most difficult companies in the world to deal with. I am on the phone with them at least 4 hours every week of my life lately (I am not kidding). What a waste! Their people are very nice, and always apologize, but one hand never knows what the other is doing. I miss the old analog days sometimes (NOT!)
I finally got the Global Service ordered on-line after being told I couldn’t do it (yet another person that did not know what they were talking about). Now international calls are ONLY $1.99 per minute and data is supposedly cheaper than I was paying. I received an email a few minutes ago from Verizon trying to sell me the service I struggle to buy just 12 hours ago. But wait, the story is not done yet!
Shortly after ordering the service I started getting weird SMS messages every 10 minutes (or less) to my phone. These SMS messages were coming from a number 6250 and were just saying: VZWNMN: 1 or 2. I got 53 of them between Midnight and Noon. So, tonight I got back on with the chat people (this one was named Chris) and, as you would expect, Chris never heard of this problem and could not help me (but was very sorry for my inconvenience).
With no help from Verizon and constant notifications now from my phone, I googled the code. I found several forums that told me that the 6250 message is a wake up message for the Sync & Connect email component of the Backup Assistant Plus (BUA+) service available on the device. When I finally figured out how to remove the BUA+ (which was no easy feat), it seems to have stopped. No texts now for at least an hour. Yahoo!
The Great Internet FIRE WALL of China
WiFi is freely available here in China but (1) the country restricts what sites you can visit, and what content you can see and (2) being open it is also available to any hacker that wants your addresses. Regardless of my phone issues, I need to computer securely. The next step was to get a secure WiFi hotspot.
I went to this incredible electronics market (floors and floors of everything you could image (my Swedish colleague, Peter, thesocialswede.com, called it ‘Geeks Paradise’) and I bought a private WiFi hotspot (but is anything really private?). A hotspot still needs a carrier, so I bought a 9GB card for it. Now let’s see how long that lasts me. At least the electronics market is only 7 train stops away (toward Hong Kong).
You probably figured out that you can’t blog easily in China. You can’t get to WordPress or FaceBook or YouTube from Mainland China. Most social networking is blocked. This was getting me very frustrated since I am a daily blogger on DogDaz.com and weekly here (or at least I try to be). I was sitting in a lovely water garden outside the hotel on Sunday, starting to type this post on my smartphone (the WordPress app on my phone worked but not the computer). The tiny keyboard was getting harder and harder to focus on, so I needed to do something to get back outside the wall.
To be able to blog freely on my computer, the next purchase (made securely on-line now that I had my personal hotspot) was a service called ExpressVPN. Express VPN routes your communications through any city in the world (for me I am going through Los Angels, California), thus allowing you to go around the great internet firewall of China. You can compute safe from hackers, corporations, or even governments. (NSA please note: All I want to do is blog folks, no espionage here.)
I haven’t focused on getting a local phone yet. I wonder what kind of nightmare that will be?
It was a week before I was able to Skype home (which was always my communications plan because it is free) because I couldn’t coördinate the call times (we are 13 hours different). I used to be able to text from overseas for free from my computer, but now Verizon has changed all that, which is where this whole nightmare began. Me trying to text home to tell them I was free to Skype, only to find out that it would cost $$$$.
Anyhow, I have HungOut on Google+ and Skyped with my daughter in the Middle East and I just got back to FaceBook chatting (but don’t really have time for it)..
One more thing I forget to tell you, I downloaded WeChat so that I can be in contact with my business associates here in China. They can text me, independent of phone service, even though I don’t have a China number.
You might be wondering at this point how I am getting any work done. Being in Shenzhen has definitely effected my Digital Attitude. I am not going to take anything digital for granted anymore.
Do you take your digital world for granted? What would you do if you were disconnected for a day or a week? and not by your choosing?
Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.
– Lorian (from China)
Chinese Translation by Free Translations