Hey you! China has laws! You'd best follow them!


I was “Toastmaster” at my Toastmaster’s meeting last night, which means, I lead the meeting. And one of the responsibilities of Toastmaster is to give an opening speech. This is the 2nd time this year I have had this role - 2 speeches that could have been used towards my Competent Communicator manual, but, oh well… I’m also working on the Competent Leader manual, so at least one requirement was fulfilled!

As you might have guessed, here at Toastmasters, I like to talk about me. Why? Well, it’s because “me” is the topic I know most about. So, when I was thinking of what to talk about tonight, I thought about an event that happened to me last week. It doesn’t really have a theme or point; it’s more of a small slice of my life than anything else. First, I’ll give you a little background. In China, the law states that upon arriving in China, foreigners need to register with the local police within 24 hours. This also applies to resident foreigners who move house. For those who don’t follow the law, they can be fined up to 500 RMB. Some of you might know that I moved house in January. I knew about this requirement but kept putting it off as I didn’t think the authorities would care too much, as they haven’t in the past. Now, finally, motivation to register my residence, my employment visa expires next month and this is one of the required documents I need to provide. So, I decided to make my way to my local police station last Friday to get my new Temporary Residence Permit. In the past, this has been a 5 minute job – walk in, hand over the passport, photo copy of landlord’s ID, and proof of ownership, and get back the temporary residence. Done, easy. No talking required (in my case, this is important as my Chinese is terrible and the police officer usually doesn’t speak English). This time, it wasn’t so straight forward. As it was pretty much a last minute decision of mine to go to the PSB at that time, I totally forgot that I needed to also bring a copy of my landlord’s ID and proof of ownership. Oh, and I was over a month late in registering! I just showed up, gave them my passport and rental contract, smiled… But then the officer started asking questions! The first couple, I could answer. But then it started getting complicated. At that point, I told her I’d call my girlfriend and she could talk to her. Long story short, the officer was asking whether my landlord even registered the apartment for rental. Of course, my landlord did not! Yikes! I called my landlord, gave the phone to the officer, they talked a while, and I ended up having to wait an hour for my landlord to get to the police station with the relevant documents to register the apartment. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in the police station, people are looking at me, probably thinking “what’s this foreigner in trouble for?!” I managed to get off with an official warning letter that the officer made me sign. I am not in the “system” for breaking the law… I have a few observations from this story. First, the authorities are really getting serious about foreigners and ensuring foreigners who aren’t supposed to be here, aren’t. Second, it’s important that if you don’t speak the language, always have a friend or two on standby who can translate over the phone!

Expats take note!  If you’re like me who has to do a lot of the “admin” stuff yourself (because your not a delegated expat executive with a staff), such as registering at the local police station when you move, don’t delay. It’s only going to get more mafan, and cops don’t like to smile too much. I was talking to one of the members of my TM club last night after the meeting and she made a few good points (the commentary is mine, the general ideas are hers):

  1. If you have a foreign guest visit you, you are technically required by law to register that guest at the local police station. If you don’t, the same penalties can apply.
  2. The authorities most likely have a hidden motive for all this added mafan, and it’s unlikely due to them just randomly deciding “hey, let’s keep track of these foreigners!” It’s clearly Olympics-driven, and one theory is they want foreign guests to stay at the overpriced hotels instead of having short term apartment rentals (there are services that are lining up apartments for visitors during the Olympics - so if you have an apartment, and don’t want to deal with the Olympics, you could go on a nice holiday and make some $$$ renting out your place). I bet they want to crack down on that stuff as these “behind-the-scenes” deals won’t be contributing to the tax revenues of the city. See? It all boils down to “bring the dollar in through the door” (or RMB in this case).