The Great (Fire)Wall of China!

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It’s our big holiday-of-the year soon – to China – with our long-time travel companions, Ralph and Karen. ๐Ÿ˜

But this trip is going to be a little different from our previous adventures together in terms of how we keep you up to date.

Why? In China, most western-based social media activity is completely blocked or banned, and therefore (officially) we’re not able to post to any of the ‘big’ social media platforms.

Click on the above to find out whether a particular online domain is available in China

Although the situation is pretty fluid, the smart-money suggests the situation isn’t going to change any time soon, and we won’t really know the latest until we get there. Realistically I’m expecting some (very) long periods of radio silence until we finish the holiday in Hong Kong where things are a tad more relaxed!

So it all looks a bit grim! ๐Ÿ˜ฅ

There is a glimmer of hope though! Whilst Ann has worked on a really interesting itinerary (see below), Ralph and I have been ‘on the case’, looking into the techy side of things – and the legal workarounds (more of which later). ๐Ÿ˜
…and just in case PRC’s President, Xi Jinping, and his staff are monitoring this, we’re certainly not going to be doing anything that’s illegal!

Phew!

What’s so different about China? ๐Ÿ˜ง

Well, as we all know, the Chinese Government already has a tense relationship with the good ol’ US of A. More specifically, ever since Google and the Chinese Government had a falling out a few years ago about censorship, the local ‘tech-landscape’ there has deteriorated. There is now a wider mistrust of the West, where even accessing the BBC is banned! ๐Ÿค

The State now proactively blocks/bans virtually all undesirable internet traffic both ways (and for ‘undesirable’ read – unsurprisingly – anything provided by Google – Gmail, Maps, Photos, Translate, Search etc etc). If that’s not significant enough, there are other tech-casualties in the shape of social media…

…quite a few more actually, so let me be as specific as I can! From what we’ve read and been advised, the following (as of September 2019) are also on the ‘naughty step’ ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Linkedin
  • Messenger
  • Pinterest
  • Quora
  • Reddit
  • Snapchat
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • WhatsApp (Although some recent reports suggest it works in some locations)
  • WordPress (to some degree)

That doesn’t leave an awful lot of choice does it!? ๐Ÿ™„

What about that workaround?

As I mentioned, fortunately, there IS a perfectly legal way round all of this, even though the solution sounds like it’s illegal!

And that solution is to use some software on your phone, tablet, laptop etc called a VPN (a Virtual Private Network*). Ralph and I have done our techy-homework and are now all kitted out with all we need (with a Plan B too) – Hurrah!

*VPNs are subscription services that encrypt your internet traffic and route it through an intermediary server outside of China. By installing a VPN app on your computer/phone and connecting to a server, you can bypass the ‘Great Firewall’ and freely access the web.

…but just to keep things interesting, the State monitors these official solutions too, and regularly blocks them. In fact, the past few weeks, leading up to the PRC’s 70th celebrations have been a nightmare, where many VPNs have just stopped working! – Boo!

Oooo, We do love a challenge! ๐Ÿ˜‰… and if we can get it all to work, you’ll be one of the first to know!

See you (virtually) on the other side – or not! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

London Mini-Break โ€“ Day 3 (of 3): Suits you Sir!

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Our final day in London today!

Ahh, that’s better! I feel a walk down Oxford Street coming on (before midday!)

On our list today…

The Samsung Shop in Oxford Street
St. Paul’s Cathedral
A trip to the Theatre

…and knowing us, maybe more! ๐Ÿ˜Š

9.20am: We were out earlier than yesterday, but confident we’d miss the rush on the Tube. How wrong we were! It was nose-to-armpit for the whole of our journey in, and reminded us both of how travelling around the capital used to be when we were based. A sensory experience I thought I’d never have to endure again!!! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

The Samsung Shop

9.45am: Our first stop of the day was the Samsung Shop in Oxford Street – aka The Samsung Experience. It’s (apparently) the ‘Mecca’ for Samsung fan-boys and girls, and it looked very upmarket inside. I’m not a fanboy myself – far from it – I simply choose the brand that offers the best techy-spec! However, in theory at least, you can’t do better than this official shop for all your ‘bits and bobs’ for their phones. In my particular case, I’m on the hunt for some very special (and very new) wired chargers. They’ve only been around for about a fortnight, but I felt optimistic!

I already knew these two ‘species’ – Chargus Wattus Maximus Major (and Minor) were like ‘hen’s teeth’, but the official shop was bound to stock them, weren’t they?

Weren’t they???? ๐Ÿค”

Well, it turned out to be a completely wasted journey! (apart from helping me to increase my step-count for today!) As I enquired if they stocked the new ’15W super-charger’ and maybe even the ’45W hyper-charger’, the Assistant looked mighty embarrassed as he whispered “No sir, we don’t have either, and we’ve no idea when they’ll be here”.

A bit disappointing considering it’s their flagship store! ๐Ÿ˜’๐Ÿ˜’
So, what’s all the fuss about these chargers? Well, they’re both able to charge the new generation of Samsung phones from completely empty to completely full in… wait for it… just over an hour! Amazing technology, and a real life-saver if you’ve ever need to charge your phone in record time!

To add insult to injury, I was advised by the Samsung Shop to try Currys opposite or Carphone Warehouse down the road. Of course, I did, but of course, they’d not got them either! ๐Ÿ‘ฟ

On our way to our next stop – St Paul’s Cathedral – we couldn’t help admire how much better Tottenham Court Road station now looked. Very shiny and very spacious too!

St Paul’s Cathedral

10.25am: Time to forget tech for a while and concentrate on something much older. We exited the Tube at St Paul’s and headed for the Cathedral. Neither of us had been here for a good many years, and so we were looking forward to admiring this famous landmark inside and out. Once again our 2-for-1 tickets saved us a packet – Total admission price? ยฃ20 instead of ยฃ40!! ๐Ÿค‘

It didn’t disappoint..!

Superb architecture that looked like it was decorated yesterday. Beautiful!

The Crypt was just as interesting and included the resting place of two military heavyweights – Nelson and Wellington.

A quick pit-stop next to the Crypt, before heading off to our next stop…

The Bank of England Museum

11.35am: We were a little early for Lunch, so we decided to track-down the location of the Bank of England Museum – especially as it had now started raining. A short walk later (after being re-directed when we mistakenly entered the Bank itself!) we arrived at the Museum, literally just round the corner. No queues and so we were inside in the dry very quickly.

What a find this was! Five separate galleries explaining the history of this famous institution, as well as plenty of interactive exhibits to attract the young (and me too!) ๐Ÿ˜

Entry is free, and there’s plenty on show to enjoy. It’s a light and airy space with plenty of emphasis on interactivity. Want to control inflation? Check. Seen a ten-bob note? Check. Wonder how they actually create money? Check.

There is so much to see here, and it’s all presented in a clear and well-constructed fashion.

If you’ve an hour-or-two to kill and you’re in the area, then this is a no-brainer (especially if it’s raining – and it WAS.. still!).

How to combat forgery (old school!)

This had been a most delightful of discoveries – and for once, we’re so glad it started raining, otherwise we may never looked for it! ๐Ÿ˜

12.35pm: We decided to walk back towards St Paul’s where there was a Cafรฉ Rouge. There was method in our madness, as I could use the gift voucher that Sally B had bought me for my Birthday! – Thanks Sal!! ๐Ÿ˜Š

1.05pm: I think we arrived just in time! It was already 80% full when we arrived, and after we were seated, they kept on arriving! They’re obviously doing something very right here!

We were soon seated and served (a good start!) and when our food arrived, it was piping hot.

Mushroom Rissotto
Blackcurrant Crumble

We both chose from the fixed-price two-course menu. Risotto and then Crumble for me, whilst Ann opted for the Chicken and Chips followed by Chocolate Fondant Pudding with ice-cream.

It was all delicious and in spite of how busy they were, our two waiting-staff were a ‘well-oiled machine’. We left, just as the restaurant approached 100% capacity – yep, perfect timing! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

2.10pm: We took the short walk back to St Paul’s Tube dodging the showers.

3.05pm: Arrivaing back at the ibis, there was time for a couple of hours to recharge batteries (phones AND humans) before we’re out again on our way to (for me) highlight of the day – the Theatre.

Not a bad step-count for today! (Thanks Samsung!)

5.30pm: Fully recharged, we took the now well-trodden path back to Stratford Station – this time heading for Leicester Square Tube. The Theatre is right next door, so that made things easier! ๐Ÿ˜Š

The Theatre

We’re seeing tonight’s performance of The Man in the White Suit at its new home of Wyndham’s Theatre.

Those of you of a certain age will remember the 1951 satirical comedy film of the same name made by Ealing Studios. It starred Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood and Cecil Parker and was directed by Alexander Mackendrick. I love any film out of Ealing and this new Play, was going to be a real treat!

Starring Stephen Mangan, Kara Tointon and Sue Johnston Ujust until December 6th) it originally opened at the Theatre Royal, Bath in September 2019 before transferring to Wyndham’s Theatre. It’s only been running a few weeks in London, and I was eager to see how it translated to the stage. In fact, I learned later, that the original 1951 film itself was based on a Play so that makes this latest adaptation: ‘the-Play-of-the-film-of-the-Play!’

7.35pm: A slightly delyaed ‘curtain up’, but it was worth the wait. I think we were both unsure of how the film version would translate to the stage, but it worked really well. The leads all acted their socks off and although it was possible to recognise certain scenes from the film, it all felt very different – in a good way! In fact, I’d say we both enjoyed it more than the film (and I really like the film!). It was longer too at around two-and-a-bit hours. Comedically, it was much more slapstick than its on-screen equivalent – with the occasional musical break – and it all came together very nicely! The very clever set-design allowed for some extremely sophisticated configurations, and the set-changes were as entertaining to watch as the production! Superb entertainment all-round!

9.45pm: As the actors took their bows, the audience showed their appreciation with very enthusiastic (and well-deserved) applause. Being a small theatre, we were able to exit without any fuss and were soon on the Tube back to the hotel (for the final time).

“Fire in the Hold!”

10.15pm: Luckily, the Tube was much less busy than on our journey in, but a problem at West Ham station meant that we all had to evacuate the carriage whilst the driver investigated ‘an incident’. Someone had helpfully (not!) set fire to a pile of newspapers in another carriage – and then left in a hurry! Luckily, the plucky driver poked the pile with a stick and manouevered it onto the platform where it burned out. We were soon back on-board and heading for our next – and final – stop, Stratford.

10.25pm: After leaving the Station, we weren’t sure whether our shortcut through the Stratford Centre would still be open – but it was! As we we walked though, we could see why…
There were quite a few homeless people settling down inside for the night in their makeshift beds – a sad and sorry sign of this modern age!! ๐Ÿ™„

As we exited at the other end, the only thing outnumbering the tube passengers at the start of our day, was a gathering of the Met’s finest! We’ve never seen so many boys (and girls) in blue just standing around. I think there was more here than the whole of Northamptonshire’s force put together!

We quickened our pace! ๐Ÿค”

10.40pm: Back in the room! It’s been a long day for us, but it’s all been very worthwhile. We’ve packed a lot in (as we always do!) and even squeezed in some extra stuff too! Another very memorable ‘Birthday break’ – I wonder where we’ll be this time next year? ๐Ÿค”

Home by lunchtime tomorrow!

If you like to view JUST the photographs from our three-day break
they’re all HERE