Remember when I complained that living without constant access to Google, Facebook and Twitter while in China was really, really hard? Those were the good old days when I actually had some throughput from the occasional, highly-connected high-end hotel.
Then I hopped over from Shanghai to Beijing, and my lifeline disappeared. Slow internet and a VPN that kept spinning and spinning until I lost patience. I could barely send email and photo uploads were a joke.
My trials weren't only about slow, uncertain connections to the VPNs. While the private networks that mask your location serve as the best chance to access sites like Google and Facebook that are routinely blocked by China's Great Firewall, network speeds themselves often failed to ferry data, despite promising full network strength.
It isn't just me, either. An expat friend from California who moved to Shanghai a year ago also relies on Facebook to keep in contact with family and friends, and on Google for email and search.
Amy Deng, an attorney-turned-clothing designer, mostly sells clothes from her website, Luxespun, to customers in Western countries, like the US. As a business owner, VPN is her daily lifeline.
"I spend 30 minutes trying to latch on [to VPN]," Deng told me over lunch. "I just wait and wait. I can't use [Microsoft] Bing or [Chinese site] Baidu. They just don't give me anything I want."
Deng told me she often spends a half hour at a time on various VPN networks trying to get a steady uplink, and she wastes even more time toggling VPN off and on.
"It's so annoying. I have to latch onto VPN [first], I have to latch on to Facebook, and then if a WeChat [message] comes in, I have to get off VPN and then when I get back on, I forget that I was doing in the first place." Chinese websites work slowly on VPN as a rule, Deng added. "Without VPN, Chinese websites work really fast."
If a local has problems with all the tricks at her disposal, you can imagine my difficulties as a working traveler with limited gear.
But now that I've made the short flight from Beijing to Seoul, South Korea, life is good again. Back in the realm of total internet freedom, I can once again post stories of my trip to CNET and social networks, and easily check in on family and friends at home.
I've got to tell you, it's good to be back.