Chinese Stories in English
I saw a copy of “The Twenty-Second Military Regulation” in a bookstore the other day. Took me a while to figure out it was a translation of “Catch 22”. Who says humor doesn’t translate?
The Chinese don’t have any difficulty understanding the meaning on the term, though. After all, they invented bureaucracy and have had 3,000 years to become familiar with its mysteries. And with that much time to perfect the art, Chinese bureaucrats are much better at it than their American counterparts. As a retired bureaucrat myself, I can only gasp in awe at the astounding heights they’ve reached. Let me give you just one example.
Laopo and I bought a condo here in Liuzhou in 2005 and decided to sell it in 2011. We found a buyer without much difficulty and went to a Notary’s Office to complete the paperwork. (A notary in China is a government bureau that does the same things a U.S. notary, and performs a number of other administrative functions as well.)
The notary told us we would need three documents as a prerequisite to selling the condo. The first two documents had both been issued by government agencies in the U.S. and I had brought photocopies of the certified originals with me. “No, sorry,” the notary said, photocopies were not good enough.
“But you accepted copies when we bought the condo,” I pleaded.
“Then you were buying,” she replied,” and now you’re selling.” (I believe that was Catch 47, but I’m not sure.)
The notary politely informed us that we would need, for each of these two documents: (1) an original certified copy issued by the government agency in the U.S. that had issued the document in the first place; (2) certification from the Office of the Secretary of State of the state where the document was issued, to the effect that the agency which had certified the document was in fact authorized to do so; and (3) certification by the Chinese consulate in Washington, Houston, San Francisco or Los Angeles (depending on where the original document had been issued), attesting that the Chinese government has concluded that the person who signed the certification in #2, above, was in fact authorized to do so by the appropriate Secretary of State.
Still with me?
As for the third document the notary required, she wanted me to prove that I was single at the time Laopo and I got married. This was necessary, she assured me, to show that no one else had a claim on the condo. “Well,” I asked, “how do I prove I wasn’t married?” In fact I was toying with her, because I already knew the answer. I had had to provide such proof before. I would simply need to sign a document called a Single Statement, attesting that I was single at the relevant time, and have it notarized. “OK,” I said smugly, “you’re a notary, so I’ll sign the statement right now.”
Ah, but I hadn’t known about Catch 186. Since I’m an American, I’d have to sign the statement before a U.S. notary, and then go through the same certification and validation steps described above.
“But you accepted a Single Statement notarized in China when we bought the condo!”
“Yes, but then you were buying, and now….”
“All right, all right, I get it!”
Obviously we couldn’t complete the sale of the condo at that time. When we got back to the U.S. that winter, we spent three months and about $300 jumping through the required hoops, and we brought the specified papers with us when we returned to Liuzhou this year. Of course the buyer was long gone, but we found another. We went to a different notary this time and, guess what. “Why don’t you do it this way,” she suggested, “and then you won’t need all those documents.”
I had to tip my hat. Even in my prime as a bureaucrat, I couldn’t have done it any better than that.
The story isn’t over yet, though. After waiting a month for an appraiser to inspect the place and attest that the selling price is not too high, the new buyer has now completed his application for a bank loan. Approval of the loan is a mere formality, we’ve been told, and will probably be forthcoming in only six weeks or so. (Governments are not the only bureaucratic organizations.) When that’s done we’ll be able to go back to the Notary’s Office for the final round of paperwork. Hmmm. I may have some more hat-tipping to do.
For one of the more outstanding examples of bureaucratic gobbledygook you are likely to encounter in this lifetime, see our translation of the newspaper report indexed as “Hearing Complaints”, story #5 on this page.
UPDATE: After the buyer's loan was approved, the sale was processed without further difficulties.
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