Chinese Stories in English
Another Greatest Catch
I usually come to China on a two-year, multiple-entry visa. That means that, within a two-year period from the date the visa was issued, I can enter China as many times as I please. Once I'm in the country, though, I can only stay six months per visit. I must leave the country before the six-month limit expires, dutifully getting an "exit stamp" in my passport, and then I can return to China for another six months. In addition, every time I come back to Liuzhou from one of these trips, I must go visit my local Police Precinct Station and fill out an "Accommodation Registration Form for Foreign Nationals".
A few years ago China started issuing Residency Permits to foreigners. Among other benefits, having a Residency Permit would allow me to avoid the biannual trips outside the country. I've decided not to apply for one, though. I'd miss those periodic visits to the cop-house to register. I like those visits because they're a great opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of the Chinese bureaucracy.
I've learned the hard way, for example, that forms must be filled out in black ink. Not blue, red, green, or any other color. I can understand why they don't like red or green, I guess. Those colors might not show up well on photocopiers manufactured before, say, 1949. But I don't have a clue why dark blue isn't acceptable.
Another interesting rule is that corrections are not allowed on the form. You can't use Wite-out or correction tape, and still less can you just cross something out. If you make a mistake, you must get another blank copy of the form and start all over. I always look forward to misspelling something on the last line – it gives me a chance to practice my anger management techniques.
The foregoing two rules appear to apply throughout the Chinese bureaucracy, or at least all the offices I've had dealings with. (That is, 8 or 9 offices out of umpteen gazillion, another Romney Poll.) The next rule, on the other hand, may apply only at Police Precincts. In fact, it might only be followed at my local Precinct, and perhaps only by some of the clerks there. I say that because one time a clerk accepted my registration even though I didn't comply with the rule.
Anyway, for what it's worth, the rule is: The Accommodation Registration Form for Foreign Nationals must be filled out by hand in duplicate. You cannot fill it out once and then make a photocopy.
The first time I encountered this rule, I thought it was kind of silly, but I figured what the heck, maybe they have their reasons. I dutifully filled out both copies and handed them to the clerk. He stamped both copies as accepted and handed one back to me as my copy. "If you were just going to give this back to me," I naively asked, "why couldn't I have done with a photocopy?" "Oh, that's not allowed," he said, as though speaking to a dimwitted child.
In addition to the forms, I must of course bring my passport when I go to register. I must also bring: a passport-type picture of myself; photocopies of the first page of the passport, the visa page, and the pages with the entry and exit stamps (if different from the visa page); and a document showing that I have a place to live while I'm in Liuzhou, such as a purchase or rental contract. Sometimes the Police Dispatch Station will make the photocopies for me, but usually they require me to bring my own.
When I went to register last week, I forgot to bring proof of where I live. I said to the clerk, it's the same place as six months ago, so why don't you just use the copy I gave you then? (It really isn't the same place, but I thought I could save myself some hassle.) The clerk called her boss to ask if that would be OK, but the boss said no, I'd have to go home and get the document and come back to register another day. I said to the clerk, "I don't know how you Chinese can stand it, living with all this bureaucracy."
The poor girl looked so stricken, as though she'd taken my comment personally, that I immediately regretted saying it. She'd been quite nice to me and didn't deserve my nasty comment. The fact that I was lying to her about my place of residence may have added to my feelings of guilt.
I really do sympathize with the lower-level bureaucrats. They have to put up with frustrated, ill-tempered people all day long. But higher level Chinese bureaucrats don't have it so easy, either, you know. They have their own set of problems, as you will see if you read our translation of the short story "Another Stomach, Please".
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