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Technology advice when adopting in China

Ok, I’m a tech nerd, and was recently  in China and really appreciating my tech nerdiness because it means I can communicate really well with the people back home via Facebook, blog, facetime, skype and phone calls (without international fees). It occurs to me that not all adopting families are as tech nerdy as I am, so here is a guide that will help families prepare for good communication back home while traveling to adopt from China.

Home Base

First you need a communication home base that will be the core of your communication efforts. For us, it is a hosted WordPress blog at www.ourredthread.com and Facebook. If you don’t have a blog already you have three great options:

  • You can setup a free blog at www.wordpress.com
    This is a great free option. They have a good IOS app and you can easily post photos and blogs posts from your iPhone or iPad.
  • You can setup a hosted WordPress site from www.wordpress.org. Make sure to look at their recommended hosting companies here to get started.
    This is my favorite option overall because it gives you a lot of flexibility. I also love this option because my company, Sideways8, specializes in custom hosted WordPress sites, they are easy to manage and give you a ton of control.
  • You can also setup a blog on ourredthread.com through me if you like. We have already helped one family do that and it worked well for them. Contact me for more information about this.
  • You can setup a site through blogger.com
    Blogger is google’s blog platform, its pretty good, but not my specialty so I tend to not recommend it.

VPNs – Your way to unrestricted internet access while in China

So, one thing about China is that they restrict the internet pretty heavily over there. And, on top of that, there are tons of hackers everywhere. So, if you just hop on a wifi hot spot somewhere (even at your hotel) and start surfing, two things are likely to happen, one, you won’t be able to get to Facebook or a host of other sites, and two, you will get hacked for sure.

So, in order to circumvent each of these things you need a VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. When you connect to a VPN from China what you are basically doing is connecting to a server in another part of the world and then surfing the internet through that computer’s internet connection, which is unrestricted.

Of course, since China doesn’t want a lot of people to have open access to the internet in their country they need to restrict VPN access that they know about, so its best to setup two or three of them on all of your devices so that if one stops working, you have a backup.

With a good VPN service you will be able to setup the VPN on your computer and on your cell phone and tablet, so that you are always safe and unrestricted when you are connecting to the internet.

Here are a few VPN’s that seem to work well so far:

  • Pando Pow – I think I like this one the best and it was the easiest to setup. It worked in all of the cities that we visited in China.
  • VPN Express – This has been good, and is cheap. But, it didn’t always connect, it was hit or miss.
  • Vypr – this one works well in IOS devices, but hasn’t worked on my computer at all. I really didn’t use this one much at all.

Use your smart phone as a mobile computer, camera, and video recorder

We have found it very handy to use our cell phone as a mobile computer while on the trip. Of course it is only really useful when at a wifi hotspot, but otherwise having my iPhone handy has been great for quick photos and videos of the trip.

However, once caveat to using your cell phone in this way to be sure that you aren’t roaming internationally. At first we just kept our phones on Airplane mode, but then at one point my phone started searching for a signal, which is not good, so we just took out our sim cards so that there is no chance of the phone hitting a cell tower. If you don’t know how to take your sim card out of your phone just google it, its really easy to do with almost every phone. With my iPhone I just used a safety pin to open the drawer that holds the sim card and pulled it out. Nothing technical about it at all.

One thing to consider in doing this is to be sure that you have enough free space on your phone. For me, I started out with very little free space. So I first deleted all of the apps that were on my phone that I didn’t really use. Then, I took all of the photos off my my phone. And finally, I deleted all all but the most essential music. That way I could fill up my phone with photos and videos each day and unload them to my laptop each night. If you are not planning to take a laptop and won’t be able to unload photos each day, you will need to think of a backup plan because your phone will likely run out of space.

Free text messaging and calling with folks back home

I use a google voice number for work. It is great for use in the states, but even better for traveling internationally. We  used my google voice number to text with friends and family back home. I could text through my computer or iPhone easily when at a wifi hotspot and its free! I could also make calls through my laptop (inside of gmail) using google voice for free.

Video calls from China to home

Of course talking to our kids at home via video was important to us while we were away. Our video call tool of choice is FaceTime, using our iPhone or iPad to talk with someone in the states. Of course, not everyone has iPhones or Apple devices, so Skype is a good choice for this as well. You could also try a hangout though Google+. We did use Skype once but found the connection wasn’t as strong and even when just using it for audio it wasn’t that great. My recommendation is that if you can get FaceTime setup, use that, its your best bet for video.

Have a question or something to add?

Please ask questions or add advice from your experience in the comments below. I would love to help in any way that I can, so I hope to keep this post updated in order to help families that are traveling to China to adopt.

 

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