Monday, December 31, 2012

My New Best Friend

I’ve learned to live without a lot of today’s modern conveniences: climate control at the touch of my fingers, a fully equipped kitchen, furniture that is sized for people as big as I am and certain aspects of technology. I’ve adapted to living in a world where I can only communicate on a limited basis, where I freeze every winter and where the food culture is, in itself a totally different proposition. After twenty-some-odd years of driving I am now getting along on the bus. I’ve not owned or driven a car in 3 years. NEVER thought that would come to pass!

One thing I don’t think I could live without is the Internet. The power of having the world at my fingertips and a wealth of information, mine for the asking with just a few keystrokes and posing the right question is indispensable to me. To say nothing of the idea that, without instant communication with my friends and loved ones Stateside I would feel so isolated.

In all fairness I have to tell you that, even Stateside I felt the one modern convenience I would not want to live without is a computer plugged into the world wide web. Now I go further to tell you I wouldn’t have undertaken this adventure were it not for this bit of modern technology. Conjecture, to be sure but there is more than a grain of truth in that statement.

There are a few inconveniences with regard to Internet usage in China. Most notably: accessing my blog. On the other hand, not being able to see my own musings has led to a joyful, productive and ever deepening partnership between me and my conspirators. So, not all is lost. I do miss out on YouTube videos that people send me, though. YouTube is blocked here. Instead, China has its own video services: youkou and soukou, just to mention a few. I can’t watch all the videos I want to watch, but then again… do I really need to watch videos all day?

Other limitations: FaceBook. No sorrow or loss there… well, not much, anyway. If I had access to FB I would have known my friend Suzanne was in dire straights instead of hearing about her passing third-hand (see Oh, Susannah! Entry, posted June of this year). I might have known that my friend Lisa was having a rough time of things. I might have gotten pictures and updates from my family without them having to take the additional steps of emailing me. And so on, and so forth.

The FaceBook issue is water under the bridge now. I’ve canceled my page. No sense in keeping it if I can’t make use of it eleven months out of the year. And, I really don’t approve of their policies in general anyway.     

Over the years, since being indoctrinated to Google, I’ve gotten used to calling up their page, typing a few keystrokes and magic! On my screen pops up any information I could possibly want regarding the topic I’m researching. Now that is a tool I would not want to be without. Google is such a versatile instrument for someone in my position: far away from the country I lived in for nearly thirty years; a teacher who, at times, struggles for material. Someone who just wants to keep up with global doings without the filters imposed on China’s information outlets. 

But I have been. China and Google don’t get along.

Don’t get me wrong: I can access Google, but it is slower to come up and sometimes won’t yield any results, depending on what I’m searching for. If it does come up it is Hong Kong Google, still under the watchful eye of the Chinese censors. Gmail is another point of contention, it being my primary email server. Sometimes Gmail works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Aggravating as it is, I’ve limped along using Google all these months and years I’ve been here. One day, when I was hunting for something on the Internet with Sam looking over my shoulder, I expressed my frustration at Google’s slowness. Says Sam innocuously: “We usually use Baidu.” It didn’t occur to me till several months later, in a fit of pique to mutter: “Fine, I’ll use Baidu. I don’t want to shop or anything, though…” as I accessed their page.

I had been seriously misinformed about Baidu. For one, I thought it was only a shopping page, like other popular servers here such as Alibaba. For two, I thought everything would come up in Chinese. A lot of it does.

But a lot of it comes up in English, too. Matter of fact, where I had been trying to find the lyrics to my favorite Christmas song on Google with no satisfactory result, Baidu popped up not just with lyrics but a free audio device that I didn’t even have to download. AND, where Google could provide me no help with the song at all, I was able to listen to it via Baidu while the lyrics streamed by on the same page.

I went a little nuts at that discovery. I started typing in song titles that I’ve long missed since being here. They popped right up, added themselves to my musical cue and will play on command, with just a mouse click.

I went beyond nuts. I tested Baidu in ways fair and foul, asking for information that I know is restricted from the Chinese public. I had been misinformed there, too. While some of the more contentious matters I asked about truly were not available I was able to listen to music that might have been deemed inflammatory by Chinese censors. Most surprisingly, I was able to read an entire book via Baidu’s free e-reader, in English. A book that, at best would be deemed controversial and at worst condemned and never being allowed access to. No download required.

Baidu is my new best friend. With bittersweet longing I bid farewell to Google. Its valiant struggle is not lost on me. I chant ‘Jia You’ – ‘come on!’ in Chinese for its fight to maintain its place as worldwide #1 search engine.

Once Stateside I’ll be back to Googling. For the other eleven months I’m here, it is Baidu all the way.        

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