For the most part, I’m used to having censored internet. As long as I can sign into my VPN to browse Facebook and BBC news, I don’t have much to complain about. Then I watch my Jesus Christ Superstar clips on YouTube and the absurdity of Internet with Chinese Characteristics dawns on me again: JCSS is blocked on all fronts in China.
Someone once told me that there were 20,000 people specifically monitoring internet activity for the Chinese government (ergo, 5 毛 x 20,000 must be < tax payers’ dollars). When I heard this, I remembered standing on the footpath that bridges the two sides of the 6-lane street I lived on when I was in Beijing. From that perch, I can see the road disappearing into the haze on either end. I can see the buildings disappearing into a forest of more buildings, all concrete and white, stretching as far as one can see in the haze.
Twenty thousand? That must be at least three-hundred buildings. I start to count the buildings in view from the footpath, but memory clouds my math. I guess it is probably a few blocks’ worth of office space.
When some family friends visited me in Beijing that summer, I took them to the Forbidden City. Entrance actually was forbidden after five o’clock, so we wound through the outer layers of the palace, where tourists were much more scarce. A bride was having her picture taken against the ancient red wall, the setting sun dousing her in glow. We snaked through the courtyards until we were inside a building. There was a large glass window to an inner room, where about fifty people sat hunched over computers. Within a minute, a woman appeared and asked us to leave — not rudely, more just a matter-of-fact.
We joked that that was China’s censorship headquarters.
When the internet connection gets lost and I’m signed out of my VPN, I feel suddenly exposed. I imagine there is a person in Beijing sitting behind a computer screen who thinks he’s hit the jackpot because he suddenly has a full view of Lil’ Wayne’s ‘Lollipop’ video. Within a few minutes my entire computer will be non-functioning. I figure either way I have limited time, and I start Lollipop from the beginning.