Tag Archives: Living Abroad

Finding my Joy

6 Sep

Everyone should share their favorite #onthewayhome sight ūüėÉūüėÉ What spot of beauty or happiness guides your steps at night?ūüĆ∑

New #China Phone Number!

5 Aug

Cool news my darlings!

Today I finally got my new phone number for Changchun. No, I’m not telling you what it is ūüėõ ¬†But at least I managed to get it all on my own without help from my company!

For the last 3 years, I have been a loyal customer of #ChinaMobile Рone of the three largest phone companies in the nation (the other two are China Unicom and China Telecommunications).  When I first came to China, China Mobile had a definite stronghold on the market, but since then the other two have come a long way.  Still, I have had a good run with the company.  

Image result for china mobile Continue reading

The New Hotel Security System

9 Feb


Haha!ūüėú Visited a 5‚≠ź hotel this weekend and found that the bathroom was entirely see-through.   Embarassing, no?!?  Asked my students why and got this lovely response ‘Many hotels in China do this. It’s very common.  Because sometimes the men, they come with a strange woman. Or two. Or different ones. And when they go to the bathroom, all their money is taken.  So this way they can see and be safe.’ ūüėí ūüėā That’s hilarious.  A five star hotel arranges its bathroom around keeping rich men safe from their ‘women’.  Sad.  Very, very sad.   #lifeinchina #china #travel #humor #abroad, #whataworld

Life in China ~ Moving Money

21 Apr


I’m back again with a little piece of life in China! ¬†One of the significant issues confronting expats living abroad is the ¬†matter of getting money back into the States. ¬†

Whether it’s because you still have family at home, you want to put it in savings, or (like me) you have US/China bills to pay – almost everyone goes through the process of moving money from abroad back home or vice versa.

First things first, in China cash¬†has three important vocabulary terms¬†– Yuan, Jiao, and Renminbi. ¬†Renminbi (RMB) is the official name of the currency, and if you want to exchange money to the US Dollar (USD), you need to know that RMB abbreviation. ¬†We usually say “I need to exchange RMB to USD.” On the other hand, one Yuan ( ¬•) is the most basic unit of money in China. In use, it¬†is equivalent to our $1 bill although the exchange rate comes out very differently. Anyway, a¬†bottle of soda here costs¬†¬•3 which means three of the 1 Yuan bills (see above). ¬†They also have bills of¬†¬•5,¬†¬•10,¬†¬•20,¬†¬•50, and¬†¬•100.¬†¬•100 is the highest possible bill you can use. ¬†Finally, they have¬†Jiao¬†or¬†fractions of a Yuan (10 Jiao, 5 Jiao, and 1 Jiao). ¬†10 Jiao has the same value as¬†¬•1, so we just call it 1 Yuan. 5 Jiao are 1/2 of a Yuan (i.e. 50 cents). 1 Jiao is 1/10 of a Yuan (i.e. 10 cents). ¬†The Jiao either come in paper or coins. So we have Cash (Yuan ¬•) and Fractions of a Yuan¬†(Jiao) used in the daily, current Chinese currency or RMB.

In some countries, it is probably more simple than others to send money. Perhaps because China is a UnionPay Nation, it can be rather difficult here.  Union Pay is an alternative to VISA, Mastercard, ect. and is used in predominantly all Chinese banks.  Of course, the banks in China are a little different too.  For example, the bank card I was given does not include a security number or expiration date.And my phone number is 1***-****-****.  Note the extra digit in the middle.   So I have an incredibly difficult time using it online with American systems that require those details.  More and more US businesses are modifying their system to accept Union Pay cards, but the additional information required for many credit card entry systems does not always work.  

So how do we get our money from China into America? Currently, I have heard of four different primary methods or systems of transferring cash. One important factor is how much you need to exchange. Chinese nationals can exchange quite a bit more RMB to USD than foreign expats. Foreigners can only change $3000 a day. 


To do any of this you should have a passport, valid Chinese VISA, a Chinese phone number, and your home address written in Chinese characters.

You also most likely need a Chinese bank account. There are many, many Chinese banks but only some of them work in the International Money Transferring business. For Paypal, only China Merchant’s Bank, ICBC, and China Construction Bank. For Bank-to-Bank transfers or Western Union transfers there are a larger group of banks, but still only the primary ones (i.e. Bank of China, China Construction Bank –I think you can only accept money, not send it though-, Agricultural Bank of China, etc.) ¬†I recommend¬†picking your method and then figuring out which type of bank account you need.

To open a Chinese bank account, you need to go during the work week (Monday-Friday) in order to get the right officials at the bank. The bank may be open on weekends, but the officials may not be there. I took a Chinese student and close friend with me. She had us bring our passports, VISAs, and recommended bringing a second photo ID like a driver’s license. We then went¬†to the bank, filled out a lot of information on a form, and processed the account. Had to sign my name a couple times and then got my card.

I highly recommend that when you do this process you do a couple things to simply the process later. First, bring your Chinese phone number and add it to the forms so it is attached to your bank account. You will need this if you ever want to add Alipay, use Taobao, check your account online, etc. That phone number is one of the ways they verify that you own the account Рthey usually send a verification code by phone. Paypal verification process also sometimes requires that you accept the verification code by phone to enter it into the registration process.  Second, ask them to approve you for online banking and tell them you will use the card for online shopping. The Chinese translator can hep, but they have to actually approve you for using your card online or using it to pay for something. So go ahead and get that paperwork filed this first time.


Many people simply use the Chinese bank itself to transfer money over to a US Bank.  Personally, I found it expensive and a bit of a hassle (especially since I work so much and getting to a bank with a Chinese student who can translate gets to be a problem). 

To do this, you need to bring them your Passport (and Visa) and the foreign bank’s name, mailing address, routing number, swift code, account number, etc. ¬†You then probably need to bring a Chinese student with you to translate depending on where in China you are (Shanghai, they might speak English, but I’m in Henan where that ain’t happening). ¬†It usually costs you a few hundred RMB on top of the exchange rate. Sometimes you have to exchange the money first and then transfer it. Sometimes they will do that for you. It depends.


This is the method I find simplest and most effective. It requires a series of steps, but once set up is extremely easy and cheap (4% fee). You can send up to $1000 a day and Paypal will do the currency exchange for you! To do this though, you will need two Paypal Accounts and two email addresses. ūüôā¬†

Set Up

First, set up your US and China Bank Accounts. Make sure (as I said before) that the Chinese bank has approved you for online banking. China Merchant’s Bank, ICBC, and China Construction Bank are the only China Banks that this will work for! ¬†In a safe location, keep track of your account numbers and the full and¬†exact name that is on your Bank Account. This is very important especially for the Chinese bank because the name must be exactly the same or they will reject it.

Second, set up a Paypal¬†Global Account¬†and use one email address.¬†¬† I recommend doing this with Google Chrome and then just right click on the page, hit “translate to English” and the Chinese will go away ūüôā Sign into the account and on the left click “Bank Accounts and Cards.” Now click “Link a Bank.” For country, choose “China-Bank Verification.” Name should be your first and last name as you used for¬†Paypal. Choose your Bank (the list in order is ICBC, China Merchant’s Bank, and CCB). ¬†Continue. They will ask you to verify that this is your bank account. To do so download the pin number software as instructed and refresh the page. Input your Phone Number (per the Bank records) on top. Then enter your ATM withdrawal pin number. Then the “verification code.” ¬†If done correctly, Paypal will tell you the account has been verified.¬†

Third, set up a US Paypal Account using another email address. Go through the same process of linking and verifying your bank account but add the US Bank this time. Paypal will tell you the account has been verified. 


  1. Put your RMB in the Chinese Bank account. 
  2. You can immediately go to your China Paypal Account and “Send Money” to your US Paypal Account’s email address. It’s easy. Just put in the email address, the amount of money you want to send, and under “shipping”, click “no Shipping required.”¬†
  3. Go to your US Paypal Account. The money should be there pretty much instantly with no problem minus 4%. Now just click “Withdrawal”¬†and send the money to your US bank account. It should be there in 3-5 Business days. ¬†
  4. Done! Wait for the money to arrive.


Many choose to send money home via the Western Union Wire Transfer process. Western Union (Ť•ŅťÉ®ŤĀĒÁõü – Xńęb√Ļ Li√°nm√©ng) is an American Financial Company that will allow you to transfer money either from the USA to China or China to USA. You can do this via¬†Money Transfer -You have to physically visit their offices, but they have many agents in the bigger cities. You can locate an agent here. Conveniently, they give you a tracking number for your receipt. Inconveniently, they only accept US Dollars and their exchange rates (I’ve heard) are fairly high if you do it there.

Their fees are 

  • $15 for transfers of¬†$1-$500
  • $20 for transfers of¬†$501-$1,000
  • $25 for transfers of¬†$1,001-$2,000
  • $30 for transfers of¬†$2,001-$9,000.¬†That is the highest they will do.


Last, of course many people simply carry their money home. ¬†If you don’t need to send money home monthly, it is an option to simply carry it home with you. ¬†There are two ways you can do this.

First, you take out cash in China and take it with you via plane back to the USA. I think this is dangerous because you are carrying too much money. Also, remember that RMB has its highest possible denomination in 100RMB (about $16). So if you take your money home in RMB, that’s a LOT of cash. If you take it in Dollars, it is dangerous.¬†

Second, you can use your China bank card in the States. For example China Construction Bank has an agreement with Bank of America where you can withdraw money fairly cheaply and easily at their ATMs. You pay a small fee for using your card outside of China, but otherwise this is not too bad.  Just remember to verify with your bank in China, because not all bank cards will work. 



Life in China ~ the Currency

18 Apr


A new “Life in China” post is here ūüôā . This week, I’m kind of focusing on Money and Banking in China. ¬†I wanted to start by looking at Chinese currency or money and what it¬†is worth. ūüôā¬†

In China there are three important money terms you should know- Yuan, Jiao, and Renminbi.

¬†Renminbi (Ruhn meen bee) ¬†is the official name of the Chinese currency and is abbreviated on the foreign exchange market as RMB. ¬†So if you wanted to exchange money to the US Dollar (USD), you would¬†officially¬†say “I need to exchange RMB to USD.”¬†

The RMB is then broken down into Yuan (yoo ehn), their most basic unity of money which is usually noted with a ¥. Because the Yuan is more commonly discussed, the exchange market will sometimes informally abbreviate the currency as CNY.   Do not confuse this with the Japanese Yen ( ‎¥‎) which has the same symbol or the Korean Won which sounds remarkably similar (the names of both the Japanese and Korean currencies are actually derived from the word Yuan and thus it can be quite confusing).

 Basically, the RMB has its own version of the dollar bill called a Yuan. So if we were talking about the Chinese currency, we would use Renminbi. But if we were asking about specific amounts of money (i.e. how much is that, how much is in your bank, this costs _____), we use Yuan. ¥6  is approximately $1 in foreign exchange (meaning that for every $1 you would get ¥6 or vice versa.  

On the streets, Yuan = Mao = Kuai = Kuai Qian. ¬† Mao because the bills all have the face of Chairman Mao on them–to be honest this is more common amongst expats than locals¬†ūüôā . Kuai (coo aye) because that is the ancient Chinese word for “piece” when they used pieces of silver. Kuai Qian (coo aya chee ehn) because that is the ancient Chinese phrase¬†for “Pieces of Money.” ¬†So just like Americans speak in both¬†“dollars” and “bucks,” the Chinese might at any given moment talk about “Five Yuan,” “Five Kuai” or “Five Kuai Qian.” ¬†Listen carefully when they speak–and don’t mix up the Qian (money) for Qi (7) since they sound similar to us!

Yuan come in¬†bills of¬†¬•1, ¬•5,¬†¬•10,¬†¬•20,¬†¬•50, and¬†¬•100 respectively.¬†¬•100 is the highest possible bill you can use (which makes for a funny sight for companies since it’s not actually a lot of money – $16 – ¬†and most people don’t use cards here. So you are constantly paying in cash, which means that the store always has tons of cash on hand. You’ll see people coming and leaving the bank with hundreds of “¬•100” bills in their purses.¬†¬†I have to deposit a whole wad each time my paycheck. Little dangerous, but makes me feel quite rich! ūüôā

One Yuan (Yi Yuan)

On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 1. On the back is the very famous  Xi Hu Lake or West Lake in Hangzhou.




There is also a One Yuan Coin:

Five Yuan (Wu Yuan)

On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 5. On the back is¬†Taishan Mountain (ś≥įŚĪĪ) in the Shandong Province.

Ten Yuan (Shi Yuan)

On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 10. On the back is the Yangtze River’s Three Gorges (Qutan, Wu, and Xiling).¬†

Twenty Yuan (Er Shi Yuan)

On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 20. On the back is the Lijiang River at Guilin 

Fifty Yuan (Wu Shi Yuan)

On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 50. On the back is the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

One Hundred Yuan (Yi Bai Yuan)

On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 100. On the back is the Great Hall of the People (close to Tienanmen Square in Beijing) which is where the National Congress is held.





Chinese Coins or Cents

Of course, where America has its dimes, nickels, and quarters, China has its Jiao (fractions of a Yuan). Jiao actually comes in either coins or bills as you can see pictured below. There are  5 Jiao (1/2 of a Yuan in value) and 1 Jiao (1/10 of a Yuan in value). For Americans, it would be similar to having a  50 cent piece and a dime.  So we have Cash (Yuan ¥) and Fractions of a Yuan (Jiao) used in the daily, current Chinese Renminbi currency or RMB.

Five Jiao (usually written as ¥.5) (Wu Jiao)

One Jiao (usually written as ¥.1) (Yi Jiao)



Life in China: Apple I-Pad

12 Jun

Apple I-Pad

The Queen is NOT amused. ¬†In fact, I’m pretty down-right Pi**ed (pardon the language). ¬†After all the trouble I’ve had, I thought it pretty necessary to update all future China-Travelers to the dangers of buying/using¬†Apple products here.

I don’t remember if I told you all this, but Lawrence the Laptop has had another revolt. He attempted going on strike via a broken LCD screen; I cut him off at the start via a nice HDMI connection to my television. ¬†Unfortunately, he laughed in my face and promptly refused to work without the HDMI connection. No need to get into it, it was a whole¬†thing. ¬†

So last November, I bought an Ipad 2¬†during China’s version of Black Friday. I’ve had an I-Pod for several years, which lasted pretty well and I figured I’d give their tablet a try. ¬†YES, I checked and it is a legit Apple I-Pad; had it tested by the real Apple Company in Zhengzhou (it’s on the apple website as a legit seller).

WRONG!  BAD! Stupid Olivia!  

Here’s Why. . .¬†

Price: 1800 RMB (approx. $300)

Review:¬†The price was a little expensive for my tastes (almost all of Apple is), but I figured it was worth the bargain. ¬†Apple products in China tend to run a bit pricier than products in America. Go figure given that they are literally produced about 10 miles away in the city I live in. ¬†They have their¬†own personal runway at the international airport they ship so many Apple products out of here. Yet we still get charge at least 50% again as much as American buyers. ¬†So, I had to wait until 11/11, China’s Black Friday shopping day to pick one up from Hong Kong. ¬†

Initial Purchase: Semi-Good; Semi-Problematic

Review: The first shipment I got was not too terrible.   It came with the charger, a cover, a screen protector, and ear plugs, pretty sweet all together.  The I-Pad itself was unmarked and undamaged, it seemed like everything would be okay.

It worked for about 2 hours, and then problems started. ¬†The swiping part of the screen wasn’t working. It would stall up, like the screen was locked. You could go up about half an inch and down about half an inch, but otherwise nothing was happening. Buttons wouldn’t click, etc. ¬†So we tried turning it on and off again (the answer to most issues), which revealed that the lock screen was not working either. Once again, I couldn’t swipe from the screen saver to the unlock screen. When I did finally get to the lock buttons, it froze and wouldn’t click them. ¬†Tried a hard reset and several other options, nothing worked. ¬†

So we called the seller and sent it back.  They kept it for about two weeks and finally sent me a new version.  This one seemed fine, so life moved on.

Use: Final Product

The final I-Pad I got worked fine soft-ware wise.  Sometimes it would randomly shut down songs or the internet would stop working, and none of the VPNs like it at all.  Otherwise, it was great and I was happy.

Hard-ware wise, the screen cracks like crazy. Literally, press to hard on the screen when punching a button and the whole screen cracked.  I put on a super duper safety case on it intended for toddlers, took it off and the whole edges were broken.  I asked the computer fix-it people and they said it sounds like I was sent a re-furbished model that had a cheap screen put on it.  The screen supposedly should not have cracked like that, but they verified the computer was really apple so they think the screen was just replaced with a cheapo version.  

I was not happy, especially knowing it takes 300 RMB to fix the screen. Furthermore, they admitted that if the top screen breaks the second lower screen there may be no fixing it at all?!? ¬†0_0 Don’t you think that’s something they should have told me about before I bought the I-Pad? ¬†I did a ton of research into I-Pads, I asked questions, and this never came up. ¬†

ERROR: Blue Screen of Death

Anyways, along I go using ¬†my ipad for about 5 months, when suddenly the screen goes blue and the whole thing just shuts off. ¬†Black. Off, no charging, no connecting to the computer, no nothing. ¬†Reset doesn’t work. Plugging it in to the computer doesn’t work. It is dead as a doornail for no apparent good reason. ¬†No warning, that would be too nice. Just stops in the middle of a show. ¬†Takes with it my calendar, contacts, messages, photos, videos, notes, everything. So off I go to the computer store to have it fixed.
Continue reading

Life abroad: Vypr VPN

21 May

**I fixed the prices – I was doing it monthly, but I went back and re-calculated the price based on an annual purchase ūüôā Much cheaper that way!

Vypr VPN

A while back, I did a review of Astrill’s VPN service and quite a few of you were interested in learning more about other VPN services! ¬†

The internet is a wonderful, beautiful place full of friends, libraries, travelers, and fellow photographers. It is also a dark and scary place full of perverts, hackers, and identity thieves. Personally, I want to be able to access the first group while putting myself at less of a risk of the second group! Wouldn’t you agree? ūüôā


I’ve now tried a few VPN programs here and there, and I wanted to keep you updated on my findings. ¬†


I had heard about VyprVPN before, since quite a few people at my institution like to use the program instead of Astrill. ¬†If any of you have been following my updates and the news, you would know that Astrill has been off and on recently. ¬†I’ve had a lot of problems where it doesn’t work on my IPad, and it is frequently stopped working on my computer as well. I have days where it is not operating and right now, about once a day I have to turn it off and re-boot the program. Plus, they recently had to put out a warning that a government in Asia had seized their servers in an investigation. While that doesn’t affect me, a lot of users weren’t happy that they were that vulnerable.

So when I recently was given the opportunity to test out VyprVPN, I thought I’d give it a try. ¬†The people I know who use it gave it pretty good references through last year, and now here I’ll give you info on my experiences with it. ūüôā

In interest of comparing this¬†with Astrill, I’ve used the same¬†2+ people on several devices as my basis for both.

Price: $100/year (billed annually).

Review: ¬†There is a basic plan ($80/yr) ¬†that has almost all the features (minus: the Firewall, some¬†cloud storage,¬†other¬†protocols), but it only allows for 1 simultaneous connection. Given that my family has two people online most of the time, 1 connection wouldn’t be enough. ¬†So I need to get the VyprVpnPro system at $100/yr. ¬†It comes with everything I need, and includes 2 simultaneous connections. ¬†You would definitely want to buy it annually, the price almost doubles if you do it monthly.

You can start with a 3-day free trial, and cancel it if you don’t like it. I like this process, because it lets me see if it will really work before I hand over that much money.

If you do decide Vypr is for you, go through this link for an extra 50% off your first month ūüôā

Installation: Easy (very)

Review: There were no problems with Installation, it downloaded smoothly and started right up. One small confusing thing is that the website for Vypr is called GoldenFrog, so go to http://www.goldenfrog.com¬†to set up an account. ¬†You’ll start by setting up the account and getting your username and password. ¬†Then you need to download the program.

Download process is easy, just double click to open the installation program and walk through the steps. Unlike with Astrill, there were no problems with the Proxy Settings on my computer, the instant I downloaded it, it went to work!

Use: Easy (pretty much)

Thankfully, the interface of the program is pretty easy to use. If you have a techno-dummy on your hands, they can use this without too much trouble.  

When I turn on my computer, I open the program from my desktop.  You can set it up to start automatically if you want.  The box will look like this:

Untitled picture

If you want to just connect right away, just click the blue connect button. If you want to change locations, click the exclamation mark looking blue button.  

The little gear in the top right corner is where you can change the protocols.

That’s all there is to it! Just click connect and then close the program when you’re done.

Access: Scattered 

First, let me say that this part may be unfair to Vypr.  Many people in my school swear by Vypr; they claim that it is tons better than Astrill and works great for them.  At least 2 other people though have had the same problem I have Рnone of the servers connect on our computers.

The technology is easy to use but works sporadically and is highly unreliable for me – remember others say it works fine in the same building. ¬†Their website¬†says that if Vypr is not working with a US connection, try hooking in to Netherlands or Hong Kong. ¬†I’ve had a lot of problems with Vypr’s connections in the US, so I tend to rely on the Netherlands or Hong Kong system. ¬†However, that is still very sketchy in regards to successful connections. Plus, there are several¬†websites that require that you be connected to the US for them to work, such as Hulu. ¬†

So far, on my¬†Apple Products, Vypr is more reliable than Astrill. ¬†However, Astrill is more reliable on my Windows Laptop. ¬†It’s kind of a toss-up there. I have not attempted either on a Mac, but I would presume that Astrill is less reliable on a Mac as well.¬†

Customer Service: Good

Actually, I haven’t really had a reason to talk to their technical support. I have asked questions of my account manager though, and he was incredibly personable and friendly. ¬†Vypr has been very gracious when I speak with them, and I haven’t had any problems on that front!

Conclusion: This service isn’t great on my Windows laptop, I have a hard time getting a connection, even through Hong Kong or Netherlands. ¬†On the other hand, it’s been pretty stable on my Ipad, so there’s that. ¬†Other users have conflicting experiences. Some swear by it and others say it’s not working much.

The program is expensive, more than some competitors, but if it works on your Mac when other programs don’t that might be worth the cost. ¬†I don’t have any problems with turning it on and off, it’s incredibly easy to use. I like that I can change servers as often as I want! ¬†I also like that there is a program no matter what device I use. ¬†There aren’t any add-ons you have to pay for or consider which is pretty sweet; they just come with the program.

All in all, if I could figure out how to make the connection work more often, I would really like this system. ¬†Maybe y’all have some tips?

This is my experience with Vyprvpn, anyone want to throw in their opinion of ExpressVPN to give a comparison?  How have you done with Apple Products here? Windows? Android?

CAQ: Is China Safe?!? – The Size Issue

16 Jan

Well, small break in the vacation plans – mom fell yesterday and crashed her hip so I spent 13+ hours in the Korean hospital.¬† Today she is zonked out on pain meds, so I have some time to do a little typing ūüôā

I haven’t really had time to answer questions yet, but I wanted to start addressing some of the Commonly Asked Questions people give me about China.¬† While it may not answer everything, I hope that it will clear up some big misconceptions people have about this beautiful country.


CAQ #1: Is China Safe?!?

When I began telling family and friends about my new adventure plans to teach in China,I found fear and worry was a bit more prevalent than excitement, and I had to do some serious selling of the idea before they would start to get behind me.¬† The most common question I was asked¬†was “well, do you think it’s safe?”¬† After thinking about¬†it, I’ve decided that this question stemmed from concerns of about three things (size/language, health, and security); I’ll address each in turn over the next few posts, but I want to start with the size/language concerns.

Concern: China is massively large and the language is foreign. 

Just looking at a map will tell you that China is one of the worlds largest nations (technically¬†#3, right after Russia and Canada).¬† Then there is the fact that it is actually the #1 largest nation in terms of populations (1.3 billion in 2015, making up 19% of the worlds’ people!).¬† Just, woah!¬† There are 45 cities in China with more than 1,000,000 people, and the vast majority of them are closer to 3-4 million.¬† Compare that to the US, where only 9 cities have more than 1,000,000 and only 4 of those are more than 1.5.¬† It’s just kind of mind-boggling to think about how HUGE China really is.¬† And I think this is one part of China that people actually kind of get – we’ve seen the movies about Shanghai and Beijing, watched the tiny little streets and billions of flashing lights in strange characters leading us into back alleys to be lost in the maze forever.¬† China’s size is daunting, and I won’t say that this doesn’t scare me at times.

Unlike Korea and Japan, where subway signs, maps, and bus routes are more or less in English, most of the transportation aids in China are in Pinyin.¬† In fact, there isn’t even a map at all of my home city of Xinzheng, and it has about 600,000 people.¬† While this seems extremely big to a Missouri girl from a town of 12,000; to the¬†locals, this¬†is practically a backwoods country farming village.¬† Even the nearby city of Zhengzhou, boasting 5,000,000 as early as 2010, is considered a small¬†city. And that’s TWICE the size of Chicago! And still no good map! Continue reading

Life In #China: Astrill VPN

5 Jan

Astrill VPN

Life abroad has many, many benefits for foreigners to reap Рgreat food, cheaper cost of living, easy travel.  It also comes with slow internet speed in many places (just too many people online at once), and lots of online threats (the sheer technological ability of the people even in my student body is mind-boggling.) This is why I always work with a VPN (virtual private network), in fact I use one in the US too.

I like the security a VPN offers from those with bad intentions towards my laptop.

A VPN can satisfy the need for speed and security for me- the internet system here at my university is A. slow as heck (yes my VPN makes my laptop faster here for some reason) and B. filled with hackers and viruses waiting for me to seek them out.  A VPN can help keep you fast and safe. Sometimes. Depending on which VPN you choose.

I just hate the feeling that I’m that at risk to viruses, and I’d been using a VPN in the States to help combat malware and data theft. ¬†I didn’t want to travel abroad and leave myself at risk to scams or bad people sneaking into my computer. ¬† I’ve heard good things about VyperVPN¬†which runs at about $80/year for 1 device or $100/year for 2 device. Another one recommended to be was ExpressVPN¬†which runs at about $100/year for 1 device and 1 phone/ipad. ¬†However, after some consideration, I decided to run with Astrill, recommended to me for its price and easy usability.

After more than 5 months as an Astrill user, I thought I would offer you a report on how it’s going.

Price: $70/year + $60/year for use on 5 devices (covers my whole family, phones, laptops, iPad, and more).

Review: The price was one of the lower ends of the group, especially if you want a family plan. ¬†Honestly, I’m still paying a surprising amount, but it isn’t too terrible. ¬†I get StealthVPN (a safer option) free if I tweet an ad for Astrill every month, which is nice. ¬†One problem I ran into is that I attempted to pay Astrill in August, only to find out in October that despite having a confirmation number, the bill was unpaid. ¬†I tried a second time only to find out the same again. ¬†Their payment system kid of sucks. Conversely, they didn’t shut off my program for any of the mess though, so that was a plus.

Installation: Easy (sort of)

Review: Installation is pretty easy. You set up an account with username and password and then download the program. ¬†It’s all fairly straightforward. There was a problem with my first installation because it screwed up the Proxy Settings on my computer so that NOTHING worked. I took it to the resident tech expert and he fixed it in about a second. ¬†Something about DNS servers not responding. Not ashamed to admit I don’t know what went wrong, just that it was easily fixed. ¬†

Use: Easy

The program is extremely easy to use as long as it is working. It automatically signs you in, you pick your server from a drop down list, and it connects you right up.  If you want to see what server is the fastest, go to Help-> Test Speed and just test all the servers.  I recommend using a server from the USA if you want to access all US websites. Remember that if you want to use websites not available in the US like Youku or Tudou you need to use a Chinese server.

Access: Scattered and Bumpy

The technology is easy to use but works sporadically and is highly unreliable. ¬†Unfortunately, they failed to tell me until after I paid that Astrill rarely works on Apple Products right now. Something about IOS 7 and IOS 8 not being compatible. Astrill keeps dropping off on my iPad and often fails to work at all. ¬†On my laptop, it is often extremely slow, even if I use multiple different servers or if the speed test says it is fast. I have had repeated days when it simply didn’t work at all. ¬†I also got a pretty snotty email about a week ago on CHRISTMAS EVE!?! telling me that they “detected suspicious movement” and were freezing my account. Given that this was my only way to contact my family in America (one of the reasons I had Astrill), I was not impressed. ¬†Upon responding to them, I was told that I was changing servers too many times. 0_0 well duh! I purchased a product that now rarely works and only then if I test out several different servers. ¬†I wasn’t amused. That said, when it works it does pretty good. I don’t really have any trouble accessing Facebook or Youtube videos when it is working. It helps if you have a fast internet connection cause Astrill can slow you down. My mom’s internet connection is pretty week and Astrill OFTEN stops working at all for her regardless of the server chosen. Continue reading

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