Crossing the street - a national sport

When anyone comes to China, the first first first thing you need to do is register with the local police station, to let them know where you live. If you stay in a hotel, the hotel staff will do it for you…but if you don’t stay in a hotel you need to do it yourself. As this was the last thing standing between me and staying in bed all day living and working in China, I was quite excited…That was at 10am.

By 1pm I was…depressed. I went to the local police station (which was more like one tiny room in between a laundrette and a fish shop), armed with my passport and the contract on the flat. I had read up on the process of address registration before, and it seemed like:

a) it was a simple rubberstamping exercise
b) the Chinese police knew exactly what to expect

Well the woman in this place didn’t expect me! Her English was pretty much as good as my Mandarin…and even though it seemed like we agreed on the word for ‘temporary residence permit’ (Lin Shi Ju Zhu Zheng – thanks Hamid!), we didn’t seem to agree on how to get one. She made calls, she asked other people in the office, she walked me to a shop down the street and asked them what to do (why they would know, in an IT design company, how to get a residence permit is still a mystery to me)…but in the end she gave up and called and English speaking hotline.

The lady on the phone was very nice, and explained to me that I was in the wrong police station, and that the correct one was just down the road. I then gave the phone back to my new best friend who wrote down very carefully where it was…

That’s when the trouble started.

I don’t know what she wrote on that piece of paper, but I think it said something like ‘tell this tall white guy to walk down the nearest street and then watch him get lost’…because that is what every single person who I asked for directions did. It was tragic…wandering around for an hour going from road to road, person to person, and each one assuring me that it was ‘just over there’ or ‘on the next left’.

Eventually, I saw a policeman on the street – great! No, not great. He was talking to a drunk guy…who decided that I would be his project for the day. Now, as a rule, I don’t let drunk guys (well, drunk at 12pm guys) lead me around cities that I don’t know, but I felt like he was different. It started badly…he did take me to a police station, but it was closed. ‘Don’t worry!’ I think he said, ‘We’ll go to the other one!’. So off we stagger, all the time talking (well, he was talking and I was saying ‘yes…yes…yes…I don’t understand…yes…’.

When I saw the copshop it almost seemed like it had a golden glow…and I almost broke into a sprint to get to the desk, helpfully signposted in English. While I sat down with an extremely attractive policewoman to discuss my address, the drunk guy went to talk to the other police…I think he was trying to get some sort of reward for his public service. The cops didn’t seem as grateful towards him as I was…and so they politely asked him to leave. He didn’t seem to agree, so they kinda started fighting. Why anyone would fight with a man who clearly has the permission to shoot you with the GUN ON HIS HIP I don’t know (errr booze?!?!)…anyway, I was on a military mission and sometimes in war, you have to lose a comrade or two. He got ejected from the building.

Anyway I digress. So the policewoman spoke great English – ‘Passport please! Where do you live?’ and she began typing…I felt a fuzzy feeling in my stomach…I’d managed to overcome adversity and succeed where hundreds had failed…or wait…she’s speaking…what’s she…oh lord…

‘You’re in the wrong police station – you need to go to this one…’


So she wrote precisely where it was on my map (thanks parents!) and off I went…again. By now it was 12.45pm…and here is a small artists impression of my route (click on the image!):

Shanghai walking tours…

It felt bad…but it felt good too…I knew exactly where to go now and I was confident that I had the right paperwork needed. I found the location tucked behind a McDonalds (I was tempted…), and there was no queue! I confidently strode up to the counter and presented my documents…and held my breath…

…now I know that people who work in bureaucratic organisations can become frustrated when dealign with incompitent people who create more work for them. I realise that I fit into the category of ‘work creator’ in the eyes of Chinese people…but this chick was ANGRY even before I walked in. After reading through my docs for about 10 minutes, it was like she’d snapped…


So I had no idea what she said…it could have been really nice, but it was a shock to me because she was really the first Chinese person I’d met who wasn’t ultra-friendly. Even the notoriously grump immigration official in Shanghai airport was REALLY nice! Anyway…

I was desperate. My quest seemed to be failing and I had no idea why…I needed to take a minute, have a breath and think…how could I get out of this mess? There was clearly a problem with something in my application, but what? Enter: THE NOTE BOOK! I passed her my little notebook and pen, and she wrote a SECRET MESSAGE on it! Woo hoo!


So now I knew what the problem was (well ‘knew’ is a little strong…but I had access to the problem…) so now all I had to do was go back to the flat (20mins…) photo the message (1mins…) email to Oytun at his office (2mins…) and have his friend translate it (3mins…). The message? The big problem? THE HUGE ISSUE WHICH COULDN’T POSSIBLY HAVE BEEN SOLVED IN THE POLICE STATION?!

Wrong address.
Clearly mark whether your building is East or West.
What room is it?

Gahhhhhhhhhhhhh! All that extra walking around…and the answer to her question was one of the 5 or 6 in the world that I COULD HAVE ACTUALLY ANSWERED given my limited mandarin vocabulary (xi = west and dong = east)! So I set to work…finding the symbols for ‘Building 1 – East’…and I came up with this masterpiece:

My handwriting: bad in every language

Now, armed with my altered contract, I made my way back to the scene of the crime, only to be greeted by a new policewoman…one without a scowl or devil horns. The result: Two minutes of back and forth and blammo: PINK SLIP aka TEMPORARY RESIDENCE PERMIT SECURED!


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  2. Wow! Thank you!
    I always wanted to write in my blog something like that. Can I take part of your post to my site?
    Of course, I will add backlink?

    Regards, Timur Alhimenkov

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