The Chinese government is so scared of the internet, last month their TV channel ran a propaganda story trying to persuade people that "Google Porn" causes memory loss. Not that they make it easy for Chinese surfers to see it, of course: for years now, the infamous Great Firewall has blocked access to all the most interesting bits of the web. Most recently, China came this close to introducing compulsory site blockers on every new PC, and would have got away with it if it hadn't been for the sort of last minute technical cock-up that most of us in the IT industry take for granted. Not to mention that Chinese TV recently ran a propaganda story claiming that internet porn causes memory loss.
So bearing all that in mind, here's a bright idea: let's go on holiday to a country with some of the most locked-down stretches of internet in the world, and attempt to blog from there live.
The old curse of 'living in interesting times' seems to be haunting China at the moment. Just one month ago, there were all the painful memories dredged up by the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square: and recent events in Xinjang are taking a similarly bloody turn. More than once, The Belated Birthday Girl and I have wondered whether or not we should really be travelling to China right now. But we have to go back, really: we've both got a fondness for the country and its culture, and are curious to see what's changed in the decade or more since we were both last there. Plus, erm, there's another reason.
So right this minute, we're sitting in Helsinki Airport waiting for our flight out to China. Why Helsinki? Because when we booked nearly a year ago, Finnair were doing the cheapest flights out from London. Back then, we weren't sure how safe a bet they were, as travel companies and airlines were going out of business at a rate of knots: there's a joke in there somewhere about them vanishing into thin air, but after a year or so I still haven't quite found a decent way to word it.
Our flight from London to Helsinki this morning was an early one, so we decided to spend last night in a Heathrow hotel: in fact, a hotel inside Terminal 4 itself. Yotel is an airport-based chain from the people behind Yo! Sushi. You may have a mental image at this point of a bunch of beds going around on a conveyor belt, but the reality is actually almost as cool as that. Roughly based on the Japanese concept of the capsule hotel, each room is a space-saving marvel with a sofa that converts into a bed at the touch of a button, a cool selection of lighting options, and a bewildering array of AV possibilities on the telly. (For me, the most astonishing thing was looking through the 500 CD audio jukebox and discovering the whole 75 minutes of Gavin Bryars' Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet on it. Eclectic isn't the word.) Decently microwaved food and drink are available all day and night via room service, topping off a ludicrously fun hotel experience. We enjoyed it so much, we ended up sticking with the brand and having breakfast at Heathrow's branch of Yo! Sushi, grabbing a breakfast oconomiyaki before the flight to Helsinki.
And now I'm writing this in the transit lounge at Helsinki Airport, taking advantage of their free (but slightly wobbly) wi-fi. I'm perfectly aware that this may well be the last chance I get for full internet access for a while now. Even if I can get onto the web in China, I've no idea which websites I'll be able to reach there, and that includes the Typepad blog site that hosts this nonsense. So you'll either get to follow our Chinese travels live as they happen (with a post every few days), or you'll get them in one big splurge when I get back to London and internet freedom. Which will it be? Watch this space.