Friday, June 13, 2014

In form

I've probably written about it before. It's highly likely that I've had many moments in China where I've composed blogs about it in my head that I've never gotten around to writing. That is: Chinese bureaucracy.

It's true that China has one of the earliest developed bureaucracies. A good 1300 years before William the Conqueror took England as part of Normandy and had the Domesday book written, the Qin dynasty set China on its way to big comprehensive governing, and it has never really looked back. But age has never not brought the fruits of efficiency. Pretty much any encounter with it leaves someone from a more western modern consumer-oriented bureaucracies with a lot of head-scratching.

Take proving that you don't have a criminal record as an example. I had to get two of these, one for my life in New Zealand and one for my life in China. The New Zealand one was pretty straightforward: I got the form online and did the list of requirements. I e-mailed it and within two weeks received the necessary letter, sent to China for free no less.

It's hard to know at what point I should start my story of getting it for my time in China. How much boredom can you take? Let me start at the real beginning. I asked the company visa officer and she said it should be able to be done at the local police station but when I went there they were completely mystified and told us to go to another organisation in another district. When we went there though they said that they couldn't do it for foreigners and pointed us to yet another organisation. Finally we found someone in that building and after she'd woken up, I gave her photocopies of my passport and registration form.
"Is this your only passport?" she asked. It wasn't; I'd travelled to China on my old passport. Apparently they don't link their information in any way. So I had to scan and send copies of my old passport to her. She told me it'll take four weeks to get the information from the police. We called her yesterday and she said it was ready. Ready, however, was solely from her point of view. When we went into it today, we picked up a document which she said we had to take to another floor; on that floor I signed different pieces of paper that I didn't read and was given an invoice to pay. I went to another floor to pay (130 yuan, roughly 26 dollars NZD) and then back to the original floor.
"Come back next Friday to pick it up."
"Sure, thanks." I said in a calm way, which was only calm because I hadn't yet started to puzzle how a mere piece of paper could take so long to produce.

I assume next Friday I'll get this piece of paper with the necessary chop (an authorising stamp). The irony of going to the police then being directed to an organisation that takes four weeks to get information from the police is not easily missed. The shock that apparently all I need to do is commit a crime and then come back with a different passport to evade them is not a difficult conclusion.

There are lots of forces at work that has produced this messiness of systems, the lack of clarity of process and seeming ineffectiveness. I spoke to my mother-in-law on the way back from the office and I asked her to be the mayor of the city because she said that she'd make a one-stop shop for citizens to go to to connect all these disparate invisible un-signposted departments and save the normal people the terrible hardship of dealing with bureaucracy. She'd have my vote, if it were up to a vote, and I were eligible for that vote.

In other news we can access Google again. In the lead up to the fourth of April Google begins to be inaccessible. For those who are unfamiliar with dates, on that day 25 years ago, tanks rolled through a certain square in Beijing where student protests had gotten a little out of hand. For more information about the power of dates in China, read the excellent book Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler. It's well worth a read.

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