I’m currently in Shanghai for Huawei Connect 2016 where 15,000 customers, partners, IT professionals and media types are gathering to talk about cloud, SDN, IoT, networking, and more.
I’ll be blogging about the event, but in the meantime I thought I’d share a few experiences as a first-time traveler to China.
Before I left, my biggest concern about this trip was language because I speak neither Mandarin nor Cantonese. Unlike Spanish and French, both of which I know enough of to irritate taxi drivers and waiters, there’s no possibility of me faking my way through any verbal interaction.
Thus, if communication is required, I must simply default to my position as a coddled American and count on my hosts to smooth the way.
And on that front, so far, so good. Navigating Shanghai International Airport was a breeze. There are signs in English and in universal pictograms. And the physical layout of the airport conforms to the general template of airports everywhere; like tributaries of a river, all arrival gates gently pour their travelers toward baggage claim.
I also have the advantage of being a guest of Huawei, which deployed a cadre of friendly, English-speaking event staffers to greet me outside of baggage claim to arrange transport to the hotel.
My other big concern about this trip was staying in touch with home and work. That’s been more of a challenge.
On the plus side, once I landed in Shanghai, I was pleased to see I could text home without having to buy a local SIM card. It appears that T-Mobile has an arrangement with China Mobile for unlimited texting—nice!
I apparently also have data access, but it’s slow and quirky. Sometimes I have a connection, and sometimes I don’t. I’ve also connected via Wi-Fi on my phone, with similar hit-or-miss results.
That’s a problem because Huawei is hoping to stay in touch with visiting media via WeChat, a popular Chinese messaging app.
I’ve downloaded the app and gotten it running on my phone, but I can’t actually communicate with it. I’m not sure why. Every time I try to use it, I get a network error message, whether I’m on Wi-Fi or a cellular connection.
My inability to use WeChat may be due to my own ignorance, the vagaries of mobile hardware and software, or inauspicious feng shui. Whatever the cause, local WeChat servers continue to reject my packets.
It’s a problem because Huawei needs to herd us back and forth from the hotel to the conference center, and then to various events within the conference center, which looks cavernous. If I can’t get WeChat running, my other alternative is to buddy up with another journalist or blogger who has their act together, and become their new best friend.
Hey buddy! Where we going now?
As a media business, Packet Pushers is conducted entirely online. We rely on as many as a dozen Web applications for day-to-day operations. I was worried that being overseas would affect my access to those applications.
So far, the biggest hit I’ve taken is Google, to which my work life is intimately linked.
Google is blocked in China, which means I have no access to my email, calendar, or documents. I know we’re supposed to live in a post-email society, but I get antsy when I can’t check in.
Not to mention that since WeChat isn’t working for me, email was the other way Huawei could reach me with important messages, like “The bus to the conference center is leaving—where are you?”
However, while Google is not allowed, Yahoo is. And lucky for me, I still have a Yahoo email account. I created it probably fifteen years ago, and it has long been, until this week, a garbage can of Facebook updates, promotional emails, and donation requests from politicians and my college alumni association.
Now it is my lifeline. I don’t know how much longer Yahoo will be around, given its current situation, but for the next six days I’m all over it.
It also turns out Slack is OK here, which is great. Packet Pushers is a Slack shop, so I can tend to the most immediate of work fires (all the while wondering what might be smoldering in Gmail).
And as you may have guessed, I also have access to our blogging software. The connection is slow and cranky, but it works. Yay!
Regardless of these challenges, so far my journey has been relatively frictionless. Frankly, it’s pretty amazing that I can get off a plane halfway around the world and start texting with my wife before I’ve even had my passport examined, or that I can post a blog from thousands of miles away from my office.
Part of the adventure of traveling comes from coping with unexpected challenges. Sometimes you find a workaround, and sometimes you just roll with it.
I’m pleased and excited to have this opportunity, and I’m going to roll with whatever comes.