There is a scene in the movie Hunt for Red October that I often think about. If you’re not familiar with the film, it stars Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin movie from `990. Sean Connery plays a Soviet Submarine Captain who, along with his officers, is planning to defect to the United States. Alec Baldwin plays Jack Ryan a CIA analyst who figures out the captain’s intent.
The scene that frequently comes to mind is one where the captain and one of his officers are talking about what they are going to do in America. The officer says he wants to move to Montana and buy a pick up truck or maybe an RV. They then have the following conversation.
“… And I will go from state to state… they let you do that?”
Now, you may be wondering why in the world I’m writing about a nearly 30 year old movie and some random scene. Well, when I was a kid I didn’t really understand the significance of this scene. I remember asking my mother what they meant about papers and she explained to me that the Soviet Union wasn’t free the United States and so you have to have papers to do things. I really still didn’t understand this and I honestly think my mother and most Americans don’t truly understand its significance. However, I am now thoroughly acquainted with the concept.
In China all Chinese people have something called a Hukou (户口). A hukou is a family registration that is tied to your hometown. If you live outside of your hometown you have to register in the city that you live. If you want to get a passport (or renew it) you have to return to the city of your hukou. I’m sure there is even more to this concept, but I don’t fully understand it and the hukou isn’t really the point of this post.
Everyone who live in Beijing (or any other city) and doesn’t have his or her hukou in Beijing must register with the local police station. As a foreigner I must also register with the local police station. Matter of fact, every foreigner who even visits Beijing (or anywhere else in China) must register, they just don’t usually realize it because the hotels take care of it for them. Every time I leave China and re-enter the country I must go to the local police station and complete a new registration. I must also do this every time my visa status changes or I get a new passport (I will be picking up my new passport from the U.S. embassy tomorrow. I will then have 10 days to get to the Entry Exit Bureau to get my residence permit transferred to my new passport. After that I will have to return to the police station and once again update my police registration).
|Here's today's registration form (with some important information redacted)|
Every police station has different requirements for what you have to bring. Every time I register I have to take my passport along with copies of the photo page, my residence permit (or visa) and my most recent entry stamp, my original lease, a copy of my lease and copies of a whole bunch of my landlord’s documents. I’ve never met my landlord. I rent my apartment through an agency, but I have a copy of his national ID card and a bunch of other documents. I have no idea what these documents even are. To me they are rather strange looking. The office at the police station where I register is only open from 9-12 and 2-5 so every time I return to the country I have to leave work to go during their limited hours.
Now I think you understand why I started with the scene from Hunt for Red October. As you can tell, I am intimately familiar with the papers that they were talking about in that scene. I am also so much more appreciative of the freedoms we have in the United States (keep in mind I have to use a VPN to post on this blog because all blog sites outside of China are blocked because the government can’t control them).