If you don’t understand why I need to write this post, that means you haven’t been to China. If you’re planning to go to China and want to continue to be able to use variously services such as Facebook, Youtube, Gmail and Popyard.org (IMHO the best China-related news website), read on.
I use Gmail to manage all my email accounts and use iPhone/iPad’s Mail.app (in the form of IMAP) to receive and send Gmail messages. For some interesting reason, Gmail works just fine on iOS device as if it’s never blocked by GFW. I also use the ultra-sleek Mailbox.app on iPhone/iPad to manage Gmail and it works perfectly. For receiving notices and firing off brief replies, just use iPhone/iPad.
How about other apps on iPhone/iPad? Facebook, No; Twitter, No; Instagram, Yes; Foursquare, Yes; Wikipedia, Yes; YouTube, No; Netflix, No. I can probably figure out how to access them with SSH if I really want to, but I think it’s not worth the effort. It’s a good time to embrace a real physical life when you’re in China.
2) Mail.app on MacBook Air
I live my Internet life on Macbook Air, easily the best laptop that has ever graced my laps. Mail.app has very idiosyncratic set-up regarding its proxy settings and it seems that the system-wide proxy change will not affect Mail.app at all. In short, Mail.app works perfectly to receive and send Gmail messages (with or without attachment). No need to do anything funky such as VPN, Tor or SSH. Mail.app may not work if you use one of those methods to get around GFW.
Of course, it’s a profoundly philosophical question as to whether to use Gmail’s web interface or use Gmail via a desktop software such as Mail.app. Over the years I’ve switched between these two methods many times. Recently I’ve switched back to Mail.app because I would then be able to encrypt my messages with PGP (Pretty-Good-Privacy) protocol using Mail.app. Other factors include concern for personal data safety and Gmail’s still rudimentary “Write Email” function. The most important factor is that I want to manage all my contacts (in thousands) on iCloud, not on Gmail’s Contact (obviously the worst and most disappointing product out of Google in the past ten years).
Mail.app doesn’t work to 100% satisfaction for Gmail’s IMAP just out-of-box. You need to do certain tweaks in Gmail and Mail.app’s Settings to get what you need, but for most parts, it’s works fine.
3) Surfing the web outside the Wall
Broadly speaking, there are three methods, changing host file, VPN and SSH. I used to mess around with the host file, but I find it too troublesome, not dummy-proof and not always working. Most casual users go with VPN, because this is the only method that is comprehensible to average users. Do not waste time on free VPN. By definition, if it’s free, it’ll have a few hundred million users in a few days (the fact that even you know about this…), that means it’ll be blocked soon enough. You can buy paid VPN services (it’s a huge industry in China on its own) from taobao.com. The milage of those services varies.
SSH is much more stable and faster, but its configuration could be a challenge for casual users. You can pay for commercial SSH service just as you do with VPN, or you can use your own SSH. I’m a paying member for hostmonster.com’s web hosting service (where this guizishanren.com is hosted) and hostmonster.com provides SSH access, which means I can set up SSH myself without having to pay for any other third parties. Here’s a guide:
a) Enable SSH in the Control Panel of hostmonster.com (or whatever hosting service you use). It’s usually under “Security”.
b) On Mac, open Applications, open Terminal, type:
ssh -D ZZZ -C -N YYY@XXX
ZZZ is a port number you specify. Just pick anything, like 6060.
YYY is your account name at your hosting service account.
XXX is the domain name of your hosting service account.
You’ll be prompted for entering a password. Enter the password for your hosting service account.
That’s it. You have just established a SSH access via port ZZZ between your Mac and the remote host @XXX. You will be channeling all your Internet traffic through this SSH connection.
c) Change Proxy Settings
In your browser (say, Chrome), go to Preferences/Extensions, disable all the extensions that will manage your proxy, such as the popular “Proxy Switchy!” and “Unblock Youku”.
Then go to Preferences/Settings/Show Advance Settings/Network/Change Proxy Settings. This will open up a new window (which can also be accessed from Mac/System Preferences/Network/Wi-Fi/Advanced/Proxies). Check “SOCKS Proxy”. On the right-side panel, enter “127.0.0.1″ in SOCKs Proxy Server field, and “ZZZ” after the semi-colon. Click Ok and Apply to let the change take effect.
Now you’re surfing the web using an IP address outside the wall. Voila!
A few things to note for SSH:
- After you change the Proxy setting in the Mac system/browser, Mail.app will stop working and prompt you for some SMTP changes. Just ignore that. Unfortunately Mail.app will not work with SSH tunnel and SOCKS proxy for very obscure reason. My recommendation is that, when you need to surf outside the wall, just do surfing with SSH and Proxy changed to 127.0.0.1; when you need to do emailing in Mail.app, just undo the change in proxy (by unchecking “SOCKS Proxy”) and stop SSH (by enter Ctrl-C in Terminal).
- With SSH and SOCKs Proxy on, you can use Gmail’s web interface, but it’s slow and not stable. Last time I checked, I could not do attachment in the mail.
- All your cloud services such as dropbox, box.net, skydrive, google drive, and evernote, should work fine with SSH/SOCKs Proxy.