🇨🇳 Technology in China

September 4th, 2016

One of my biggest struggles in adapting to life in China has been with technology. Specifically with internet connectivity, or lack thereof.

What's interesting to me is that the Chinese are very connected people. Nearly everyone seems to be carrying a large cell phone. On the bus, walking down the street, everywhere you go people are holding phones, playing games, or messaging friends. The biggest difference seems to be that they mostly connect through WeChat as opposed to the half dozen social networks we camp between in America.

I feel like I've gone back in time 15 years. The internet at Horizon Cove is slow even on a good day. I need a VPN to connect to most of the site I want to access which slows everything down even more. Some days the VPN works great, other days it cuts out at irregular intervals and needs to continually reconnect. Some days I can load my instagram feed, some times I can't. Sometimes I can't even do a Google search. When webpages continually fail to load it can be downright discouraging.

Google has proudly notified me a couple times that they have stopped someone from logging into my account using my username and password. (ಠ_ಠ) Thanks Google. That was me. Isn't that how usernames and passwords are supposed to work? If I have them, it means it's me? Oh, my connection is coming from China? Well if you were really going to be helpful maybe you'd do a better job of scanning my email and notice that I have purchased not one, but two flights to Hong Kong and maybe, just maybe, I'd want to log in while I'm overseas.

According to Apple my iPhone SE wasn't going to work in China. I was surprised to find out it did. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of associating my Chinese number with iMessage which means I can't use my US number with iMessage until I get back to the states and relink it. I'm half tempted to ship my phone home and have someone reconnect it for me, but I don't trust the mail system and the only thing worse than not having iMessage for my US number would be having my iPhone lost in the mail.

To make my life a little more convenient, and because I love technology, I bought a Chinese phone with a BA screen. (BA stands for Bachelor of Arts, obviously.) There's a Chinese phone company called Meizu and it's about as Apple as you can be. They are actually located just down the road from UIC. Most of their phones look and feel like iPhones. (The photo at the top of this article is from the Meizu website.) Brushed aluminum, rounded edges, even similar color options. The only real difference is the back camera is placed in the middle of the device and the fingerprint sensor is oval, not round.

The Meizu store is a small shop in Gongbei which is maybe ten feet square. Six employees stand around waiting for customers to come in. They wear blue polos and Meizu badges around their necks. A bar in the center of the room is ringed with eight different phones. I'm there with someone who needs a phone and a couple locals to help guide us.

One phone stands out to me. Glass front, glass back. Huge 5.5 inch screen. Flat aluminum sides. It looks more like a thinner version of the iPhone 5s. The screen seems to resist finger prints as I glide my fingers over the smooth surface. I want this phone.

"How much?" I look to my guides, they ask in Chinese and translate back the response. The phone is not for sale. They say to come back tomorrow.

It turns out the phone is brand new, only released a few days prior. It's the Meizu U20 and it wasn't even listed on their website. It takes me a little while to research it when I get home, but the price is ¥1099. I buy it when I go back on Sunday, conducting the transaction entirely on my own.

I justified the purchase for two reasons. Firstly, having a native Chinese phone gives me the ability to run one device without a VPN and keep the VPN on my iPhone on constantly. This is just a little more convenient. My second reason was that I wanted a larger screen for displaying photos. I brought along a micro sd card full of photos and this will work nicely as a viewing device.

Sidenote: I like the phone but it's not perfect. It's running Flyme OS, which is powered by YunOS, which is a version of Android. I can download a lot of Android apps, but not all of them work because Google is blocked in China. The screen doesn't light up when I get a message and the system doesn't allow notification badges on apps. I actually found a forum debate on whether or not they should add this as a feature. It's annoyingly absent coming from an iPhone. (I have it disabled on a lot of apps on iOS, but it's still useful.) I'm going to stick with the system the way it is for now. When I get back to the states I think I'll root the device and put a vanilla Android on it. It seems pretty easy to do, but I don't think doing it right away is a wise move. I'll wait until I don't need to rely on it before I start messing with the system.

Overall, things aren't really bad, they're just different, and it can be frustrating. I know I'm a "little spoiled" with how smoothly things work back home. It's going to take a little while to get used to this new temporary normal.