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Surfing in Beijing

If you're reading this on the Internet, and you're in China, it might be a matter of luck

Kennedy By Bruce Kennedy
CNN Interactive

BEIJING (CNN) -- I recently went to one of Beijing's cyber-cafes to respond to an e-mail I'd neglected, and see what I could see on the Web.

It was a fun place, well lighted with a good selection of hard and soft beverages to help its clients while away their moments in front of the computer screens.

Browser screen
A second attempt to access from Beijing led to this message 

The employees were friendly, and they all spoke English well. About half of the patrons were Chinese, the rest non-Chinese.

After catching up on the home front, I decided to test the Internet access. There have been various reports that the Chinese government has been blocking sensitive sites -- especially in advance of the 50th anniversary celebrations this week. People had suggested ways to make an end-run around such obstacles, but I wanted to try the direct approach.

I first checked After a two-and-a-half minute wait, it came on the screen. I could even see my own work glowing back at me from the monitor. A good start.

Did the competition get equal treatment? The sites for and each came up in a matter of moments.

How about U.S. government sites? I had no problem accessing the official U.S. State Department site.

I checked behind me to see two people engrossed in what sounded like some shoot-'em-up game. Then I tried the CIA site. Sure enough, up popped "The Company's" shield and bald eagle insignia -- along with a prompt on employment opportunities.

September 20, 1999

  • China's new spirituality
  • Returning to a Beijing transformed
  • September 21, 1999

  • A visit to the Ming Tombs
  • September 22, 1999

  • Tiananmen Square preps up for the big day
  • September 23, 1999

  • Is China's health care system heading for a crisis?
  • September 24, 1999

  • A virtual tour of China's Aviation Museum
  • A contemplation of the so-called Americanization of China
  • September 27, 1999

  • Surfing in Beijing
  • September 28, 1999

  • Railway journeys: On the Red-Eye to Shanghai
  • September 29, 1999

  • Sunday in the Park with Lu Xun
  • September 30, 1999

  • A visit to the Jade Buddha Temple
  • October 1, 1999

  • Watching China's celebrations...from the sidelines
  • October 4, 1999

  • Window-Shopping on Nanjing Donglu
  • October 5, 1999

  • Royal Real Estate
  • All right, how about we get sexy, bay-bee? (Sorry; I watched "Austin Powers 2" on the flight over.) I typed in, and got my first "no connection" box. Same for Perhaps something a little less salacious. I went to Jennicam -- and there she was, the Internet's live webcam pioneer and patron saint of voyeurs, tucked in and fast asleep in the pre-dawn.

    I then turned to the political.

    Yahoo Taiwan, a customized site, popped up without a problem. The Taiwan Government's Y2K site did not. Amnesty International? No. Students for a Free Tibet? No. Keeping Tibet in mind, I shifted gears and tried something Richard Gere-ish.

    "Richard Gere Online" timed out after a five-minute delay, but I had no problem getting into "Adonis of the XX Century: Richard Gere."

    I was most surprised that I could access, the official site of Tibet's spiritual leader. Soon he was before me, in a montage of photographs showing him as a child, as a young man, and as he looks today.

    As I was preparing to leave, I realized I should take a picture -- just to prove I had accessed This time, however, the "no connection" box popped up.

    Had my first time been a matter of luck? Was someone finally catching up on my traffic? Feeling rather vulnerable, I paid my fee and headed for dinner.

    Bruce Kennedy was a Chinese history major at Bowdoin College in Maine. He worked for Visnews, the international television news agency, for five years before joining CNN in 1988. After a stint at CNN International, he began work at CNN Interactive. Kennedy has extensive experience in East Asian affairs, having studied and worked in the region.

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