April 21st, 2020

mom walk

a bureaucracy story

End of this month my residence permit is about to run out. In China, foreign migrant workers are granted residence permits year-at-a-time. Some companies can wangle a three-year permit, but so far i haven't met any foreigners who got one.

The process is somewhat convoluted. In order to legally stay in the country, you must have a work permit issued by a government department in the borough your company is registered in, a residence permit issued by a different government department in the borough your company is registered in, and a "temporary" residence registration issued by a local police in the district you live. There is a strange circular dependency where you cannot get a temporary residence registration unless you have a valid visa or residence permit, but you also cannot get the residence permit unless you have a temporary residence registration.

Meanwhile, in some villages (like mine), there is some additional hoopla that needs to happen in your village police department so that they can approve you to go the district police department to get the temporary residence registration. Good times.

My village's district police department is several clicks away in another village. We belong to a cluster of villages that curl around Tanglang Mountain, on the east side of the Dasha River.

As you all know, currently all urban villages in Shenzhen are fenced in. There are roadblocks and checkpoints and nobody except for local residents are allowed inside. So, how to get into a different village to renew my temporary residence registration?

I arrived at the checkpoint around 2:30pm, after cycling home from work early. There were about 4 different guards who each passed me on to the next one. I told them i needed to go to the police station and showed them my papers, and they kept passing the buck, eventually saying i can't come in till 3pm. Why? Who knows why, nobody will ever tell you. I sat on a bollard to wait.

One of the cops came to smoke a cigarette next to where i was sitting and suggested i go to the nearby hotel to sit down. I told him i preferred sitting outside (despite it being 30°C and very fucking humid) because 外面刮风 - outside the wind is blowing - 对身体好一点 - better for the health. This is one of the local superstitions i can get behind: open windows blows the corona away, air conditioning will surely kill you. Guangdong, i hope you never change your mind on this. Fuck air conditioning.

Anyway, i waited, and then they made me scan the special "just arrived in Shenzhen" QR code which checks with your mobile provider that you have not left the city within the past 14 days. Then - after proving that my phone had remained inside Shenzhen for 14 days - i had to scan a different QR code to install the latest iteration of the green/yellow/red health code WeChat mini-app. (This app keeps changing as the government decides whether they want a Shenzhen version or a Guangdong version or whatever.)

Sadly the new version of the app required more than just scanning and returning a green code, i now also had to register real name, passport number, phone number, address etc. It's annoying to type it in again, since all of these details are already tied to my SIM, not to mention a whole shit-ton of other apps. In China all apps and websites must use "real name registration" so that the government can easily identify you if you say anything they deem to be problematic.

Half an hour later, i had all the apps and shit installed, and then they took my temperature and allowed me to enter the village. I went to the police station and renewed the temporary residence registration, that was no problem.

Since i was there, i figured i should go to a 照相馆 photo place and get the special photo that the other government department needs to renew my residence permit. That's always a pain in the ass, because some of the photo places are sticklers for the regulations and force you to put on something with sleeves.

Anyone who knows me in real life knows i never wear sleeves unless it is the middle of winter, or i am in the office. I absolutely hate sleeves and think they are the worst clothing invention after bras. It makes me irrationally angry when government fascists force me to put something on my shoulders. Yes, i will never go to the Middle East because fuck modesty. In the ass.

Anyway, since i had just come from work, i grabbed my collared shirt out of my bag and let them take the photo all proper like. Which... proceeded to be refused by the government app that all photo shops must upload the photo in.

You see, every passport photo in China must be printed from the government app, which only runs on Windows XP, and does some kind of big data check to determine if the picture meets the standards or not. My picture did not.

Also, every passport photo in China is photoshopped to within an inch of its life. That is: the photographer changes the background color, smooths out your skin blotches, crops any weird fly-outs of hair, and so on. I have no idea how this is legal, but it must be because they all do it.

Today i found out why. An error message came back from the app saying that the analysis showed my photo was not appropriate for a passport photo. So - no joke - the photographer photoshopped out my neck tattoo. Then. It still wasn't approved. According to the photographer it was because my neck was too white. So we took another photo with my shirt buttoned right up to the very top.

Friends, i have not worn a shirt buttoned up to the very top since the brief period of my life - over 20 years ago - when i was still presenting as male and men were still expected to wear suits to the office.

The photo was still refused, presumably because a bit of neck tattoo still stuck out. So the photographer photoshopped out the tattoo and blended everything so i looked like a perfect People's Liberation Army recruit. Young, clean skin. Hair cropped razor-close. Green collared shirt, buttoned all the way up. Ideological scowl. Vacant stare.

Approved.

The fact it doesn't match the photo on my temporary residence registration, or my previous photo, or any of the other ten billion photos i am sure the government has of me thanks to CCTV, no matter.

For fuck's sake. If anyone ever doubted the articles in the west talking about how tech companies being way too fucking white causes their machine learning algorithms to be racist, please allow me to present exhibit B: the Chinese version.

Anyway, i grabbed some 咸菜粉丝包 salty vegetable glass noodle steamed bun and biked home. I guess i should jump back onto my work computer and do some work now, since the whole thing took a three hour bite out of my day.

Just wanted to share the wonders of the local bureaucracy. Our company's HR person will be doing the next step on my behalf, but once that's approved i have to do all of this again to ensure my temporary residence registration is up-to-date with my latest residence permit details. Good times.