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James Martin/CNET

Living without Google, and Twitter (and Facebook) is really, really hard

Commentary: Visiting China, where my top Internet services don't work, proves how fully I rely on them.

Well, I knew it would be hard to share stories of my on-the-road diary of seven cities in Asia once I crossed over from Hong Kong, which has an open Internet environment, into China, which is infamous for The Great Firewall that blocks a lot of services I take for granted, like Google, Facebook and Twitter.


But I didn't know it would be this hard.

In preparation, I had downloaded a corporate VPN (virtual private network) to access common sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter, plus a backup VPN program that should help me reach these sites if the first one failed. I figured they'd be slow, but at least one would work. I also created a Microsoft Outlook email address to use with my co-workers and family instead of Gmail, which isn't supported here. I knew that Huawei, the company I'm meeting with here in Shenzhen, China, would loan me a phone with a third VPN on it, so I'd have choices, not to mention a virtual hotspot to power my computer's data connection.

Well, here I am sitting in my hotel room at 11 p.m. local time, pining for the good old days (yesterday) when I could look at Google, Twitter and Facebook all day long without giving them a second thought.

Because right now neither VPN works -- or even connects. The borrowed phone isn't doing diddly-squat to help me out with a data connection, and hotel Wi-Fi can barely provide enough juice to power up Bing search.

Meanwhile, iPhoto suddenly isn't working on my Mac and I apparently can't download a new version if I'm outside the US. So yeah, things are looking grim. (The fact that you're reading this at all is because some kind-hearted CNET editor scraped the contents of an Outlook email into this post for me -- thank you, awesome friend!)

I've also been awake for 20 hours straight and desperately need some sleep. So I'm throwing in the towel for the time being. Maybe when I wake up, I'll have figured out a way to gush about a cool phone tool I think could take off worldwide.

But until then, take a moment to reflect on the online tools you use to work and play, and crush them all in a big, virtual hug.