What's a VPN? It's a virtual private network, and every expat that works here in China relies on one.
A VPN allows your computer to connect with a computer in another part of the world, and then uses this computer to give the impression that you're really there, not here. This is essential for an American expat if you want to connect to websites that the Chinese government blocks. Google is the primary blocked site. Why does Google get blocked here? They refuse to share user data with the Chinese government. Is that because Google cares about you? If you believe that, I have a bridge for sale down the street you might be interested in. Google has a price tag on your data. China doesn't want to pay.
Using a VPN isn't just about blocked sites, it's also about making a provider think you're elsewhere. I can't watch HBO, Peacock, Netflix, etc if they think I'm in China. They don't offer their services here. I use a VPN to make them think I'm in Los Angeles or Seattle. The same concept works for the NFL. However, NFL Gamepass isn't available in the states. They want you to watch a network to watch the games. I have to make them think I'm in London or Paris to watch NFL games using their service.
I'm told the successful use of a VPN ebbs and flows. It depends on how much energy the Chinese government wants to put into making it difficult for you. During the Pelosi-Taiwan incident I noticed a significant decrease in my ability to use my VPN. This past week has been similar. I think its related to fall elections coming up, but I don't really know enough about that to say for certain. This is the idle chat among other expats.
I'm fairly impatient when it comes to sitting in front of a computer that looks like this...
The connecting button on the window to the right can take a while. I'm getting better about walking away and doing something else for a few minutes. Read my book. Grab something to snack on. It gets annoying while watching a Seahawks game at 4:00am and just before a team is about to score your connection breaks and you have to start over. I had to reconnect about five times during the game against Atlanta this past week. I believe part of this is related to my poor internet connection. Whatever. In the grand scheme of things it's been a small problem and it hasn't come close to ruining a day for me.
I'm having a harder time connecting to a VPN on my phone. I've used Twitter for my NFL news for a long time. I've only been able to connect to Twitter about once per day this past week. I generally try early in the day and late before I crash. I also had to update the odometer reading for my car back in the states using my insurance company's online app. I had to have my VPN active to do that. It took about a day (maybe ten attempts), but I eventually got it to work.
It takes a bit of time to learn what apps and situations call for a VPN. I'm getting the hang of it. Listening to other struggle with it helps me to know I'm not the only one.
LAST MINUTE UPDATE: Had a conversation with one of our local tech guys. Thinking I will switch which type of VPN and router I use. Sounds like it could make a big difference.