Friday, September 03, 2010

This is not my house

Well, I've finally learned why I've been having such difficult Internet issues here in China.  You see, it's not the Internet that's the issue.  The Internet works fine here in China.  Heck my IPTV works fine (a little lag here and there, but very rare).  It's the overseas access that's the issue.

I know that various websites are blocked in China.  I get it.  I get the rationale too (whether or not I agree with it is not my place to say, but I do get the rationale).  But what about websites that aren't blocked, I can access those fine, right?  Sort of there.  There have been issues.  And certain software services are impossible (my Dropbox to date has not been able to sync, and I was forced to completely uninstall Covenant Eyes).  I could never figure out why, I thought I just had a bad net connection.  But how?  I paid for 8MB ADSL!  And like I said, the IPTV seems to work fine!  (Even though I have no clue what I'm watching, so I barely turn the TV on).  So what's the issue?

Wow.  You have GOT to be kidding me.  Seriously?

Blocked sites, fine, OK, I can roll with the punches.  But you're telling me it's ALL foreign sites?  It's true.  My expat co-workers all tell me they all experience the same thing.  Just spoke with a guy right now, he has 4MB service.  300k download speed on Chinese websites, but once you try to access foreign websites, it slows to a crawl.  It's good enough when the site's purely text and stuff, but as soon as you start adding any kind of media or integrated web services, the lag starts to hit.  Pingtest.net usually gives me a D.  Last night, it gave me an F!  And yet, a test on Tudou demonstrated that my net connection is uber fast.

When I visited China in April to research what it would take to find work here and live here, the meeting that sticks out most in my mind was with a guy named Victor.  Victor's from Europe, and he's currently the deputy general manager for a high tech park in Chengdu.  I got to meet him through a real estate developer I met at a European Chamber of Commerce event.  Victor and I had breakfast together the morning I was due to fly back to Vancouver via Shanghai.  Victor said something really poignant: "China has rules, you know."

China has rules.  It's a sovereign state, and one of the intrinsic advantages of a sovereign state is the ability to rule itself independently without foreign interference, especially from the likes of an uppity foreign corporation, let alone from insignificant individuals.  Victor talked about the necessity to adapt to China's perspective of the world and China's requirements if one wanted to live and work in China.  It's China's house.  Therefore, it's China's rules.  Foreigners be damned.  And so many of us still want to come here anyway, because we see China as the growth engine for the next decade (official theme of this year's APCAC conference, organized by the Chinese chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, which I was fortunate to attend in April).

China's a huge place with even huger potential.  Victor's convinced that China will have the world's best infrastructure in as little as five years.  He thinks it's simply because all the top politicians are engineers by training, and so they're just into building stuff.  It's hard to disagree with him when you look at the trends.  The American Chamber of Commerce believes that China will be the world's main economic growth driver for the next 10 years.  Heck, everyone wants in.

Admittedly, China still has its issues.  There are still corruption scandals.  There are still product safety scandals.  There's still a lower standard of living and acceptable quality compared to many first world nations.  However, China's working hard to become world-class and is attempting to deal with each of these issues.  It's just much more complicated when you have a population of 1.4 billion people.  Anything at high scale inherently has high complexity.  It's why being mayor of New York is probably more difficult than being governor of Hawaii (no offense Hawaiians, everyone's jealous of you anyway).  Is it feasible to get this machine organized so that it can keep growing and sustain itself, or will it collapse due to its own immense complexity and issues?

I listened to the presentation of a doctor who had done a lot of work in China this year.  He noted that there's no doubt that China will be the world's next superpower.  The question was would it be a good superpower?  Maybe, maybe not.  But whatever the case, the population is so huge that if it can figure things out, it can run by itself to create a huge economy.  Imports, exports, whatever, who cares at some point.  You've got something potentially bigger than the entire European Union or NAFTA sitting inside a single country's borders.  Foreign direct investment is really useful in the ramp-up.  What happens after the ramp-up is done and China becomes the investor of funds, rather than the recipient of funds?  That's already happening today.  But it's still cheap enough to get a place at the table.  And that's why everyone's trying to get a ticket.

But if you want to play here, you gotta play by the rules.  So maybe my Internet experience will continue to suck, unless China decides to eventually relax some restrictions.  I overpaid for a year of ADSL.  What's the likelihood of China Telecom giving me some of that money back?  Zilch, you think?  Probably.... well, one can always try.  :(

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

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