After spending the last week in China, I have a much greater appreciation for two things: clean air and an uncensored internet experience.

As soon as I stepped out of the Shanghai Pudong Airport my chest felt tight and my breaths were noticeably shorter. I thought that I’d experienced air pollution in Mexico City and Los Angeles, but the air in Shanghai was definitely dirtier.

It was interesting to visit China last week, especially as the discussion of whether Google will continue its operations in the country was nearing a final decision. It was a hotly covered topic in the China Daily just about every single day.

While I had a great trip and it was exciting to see how China is quickly developing, it was refreshing to land in New York yesterday and finally be able to access Facebook and Twitter. As an American traveling abroad, there are things I take for granted, such as bit.ly urls working properly and Google functioning as expected. But in China, this wasn’t the case.

Below is a short recap of the things that didn’t work for me during the course of my daily internet use in Shanghai last week.

  • Google.com: I was occasionally able to search Google.com from my hotel, but it tended to vary based on what I was searching for. If I got a blank page, I would switch the .com to .cn and it worked okay, but the results seemed more China-centric.
  • Gmail: I wasn’t able to access Gmail my first day in China, but was able to access it thereafter. However, there were times it wouldn’t load, but then 10 minutes later it would be fine. I couldn’t figure out what caused it to stop working from time to time.
  • Twitter.com wasn’t accessible, but Twitter apps on the iPhone (e.g., Tweetdeck) tended to work over the wireless carrier (but not via wifi networks).
  • Facebook: Again, same thing as Twitter. The FB iPhone app worked over the wireless carrier, but neither their website nor iPhone app worked over wifi.
  • Google Image Search: I was able to search for terms and see thumbnails (i.e.. Shanghai Fakes Market), but clicking on results to see full-size images resulted in a blank screen.
  • Google Apps: I was able to create and edit Google Docs, but for some reason Google Spreadsheets was blocked.
  • Google Reader: It worked for the most part, but when I tried to visit URLs in Reader, many of the Feedburner redirects were blocked.
  • URL Shorteners such as Bit.ly were inaccessible. So even if I could see someone’s tweets in a third party app, the urls they shared didn’t work.

While I didn’t spend much time investigating the errors above, I did notice that the error codes I received from each of the services varied — leading me to believe the government uses different approaches for blocking each service. For example, Google Image Search redirects gave me a 101 error, Facebook.com served a 118 Error, and Google Spreadsheets gave me a 107 error.