Mailbag: China VPN, China Map, China Hard

DC asks: I am leaving for China tomorrow, I have Google Fi, and a Chromebook that doesn’t support VPN. I rely on Gmail for work, will I be able to connect?

Google FI may work at slow speeds, generally foreign phones roaming in China can connect to services such as Gmail and twitter at very slow speeds compared to what local phones enjoy. Those local phones can at high speed find those services blocked to them. It has only gotten worse and the only way for you to partially compensate is to invest in the US tech companies that have sold much of the technology that China used to build the ‘Great Firewall,’ and hope the stock goes up.

Some hotels connect via Hong Kong. This they do not advertise. Everywhere else you need a good VPN. Many do not work in China. VPNDada runs tests within China and their top VPN continues to be ExpressVPN. Cloudwards also gives them a top review. I have happily used ExpressVPN for two years. They have a refer-a-fried program, if you use my link, you’ll get a free month and I will, too.

ExpressVPN reliably connects in China and their app is easy to use on mobile devices. You can tether your Chromebook to your phone to get online.

DC returns: I think another source of my isolation is that I’m addicted to Google products, and they don’t work here.  Google Fi sucks in Chengdu.  And traveling without Google Maps is like traveling without my right hand.  And yet, an Aussie I met today told me that, even in his Hilton Hotel’s Internet Google Maps is hopelessly outdated for Chengdu anyway.  He said Apple Maps is much better, but I can’t load that either on my crummy Google Fi.

If you can load the app maps.me, it is free offline navigation worldwide. You download each map as you need and it works much better than Google Maps Offline. I have used it for directions and even driving turn-by-turn navigation around the world as it functions with just GPS. You put the phone on airplane mode, then re-enable location and are good to go. There maps are generally accurate.

Baidu is the local Google, you can try their maps in a pinch.

DC again: Why, even after 90 countries and 4 languages, do I still feel so brutally culture-shocked and homesick while I visit China?  This place feels SO MUCH harder to travel in, and I feel SO MUCH more isolated than in other places I’ve visited.  Why?

It’s a long answer. Russia, too.

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  • Gene

    china makes a traveler feel more isolated than even ethiopia? or pakistan?

  • Chris

    In Shanghai, it might get worse. They had a poll several weeks ago because they were thinking about removing the pinyin from all the street signage. I’m not sure if they will actually follow through with it, but that would be a little devastating for navigation.

  • Tuan

    Google Fi worked fine for me in Chengdu, Lijiang, Beijing and Shanghai. I connected to LTE most of the time too. Has this person patched their phone and Google Fi app to the latest versions?