Life in the Big Red without a passport is like life without arms or legs – you are consistently denied service, forced into a helpless infant like position in which you must rely upon many others for otherwise simple and menial tasks.
For the record…yes I do have numerous copies of my passport (which is on a 15 day vacation at the Russian consulate)…and for the record they are not accepted anywhere and only accepted where there is some sort of relationship at work.
Situation #1 – The Bund, Shanghai. After I had left my passport at the Russian consulate I was stopped by a policeman several blocks away who demanded to see my passport and visa. Stops are apparently becoming increasingly common as the Police ramp up security with the Olympics just weeks away. My photo-copies were accepted, but not without a hefty lecture.
Situation #2 – Relocation Service. The original passport is required for customs purposes. This was waived and copies were accepted only because the particular company I went through has good relations with the Shanghai customs ministry. The couldn’t do the same magic with Nanjing customs, resulting in a slight delay on service as clearance would have to go through Shanghai instead.
Situation #3 – China Mobile. My mobile and SIM card were stolen in Shanghai. I purchased a second hand Nokia last week and went to the nearest China Mobile office to re-activate my account and get a new SIM card. Nope…gotta have the original passport – even thougheventhough they just photocopy it anyway and staple it to the contract. I was only able to extract service by creating a ‘agitated’ scene which made everyone within ear-shot rather uncomfortable. I hate doing that (see my Mongolia posts) but my threshold is breached when I feel helpless.
Situation #4 – China Construction Bank. Over the past week I’ve been engaged in a very, very angry battle with the Elong Travel Agency over a booked air ticket to Japan. That utter nastiness is worthy of another post however to pay for this ticket I would have to wire money to their Shanghai account via a Construction Bank branch in Nanjing. The Bank won’t wire money without a passport…and yup…you guessed it….only the original is accepted. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t budge on this – even after my very angry response. Thus I had to drag a local friend out on their lunch hour to help me perform what should have been a very, very, very, very simple action.
Situation #5 – Bank of China. I want to empty out my account and then exchange it for USD. Nope, can’t do that without a passport…original only. But…you can take out XX amount without a passport. Bizarre. I can take out 100% with a passport – but I’m only allowed to take out 30% without. “So that means I have to come back tomorrow and the next day?” I asked. “Yes, you can do that”.
So I’ve been pulling out money for two days, and should have it all pulled out by Saturday. This means that I have to carry cash to the black market money changers then back to my house – and then to Western Union…but they won’t let me wire money without….yeah…
I had to go to Xinjiekou to pick something up so I didn’t bother to drop off the cash at home and went straight to the metro instead. The cops have begun checking bags at the Metro entrance and of course they tear mine open and find my cash – upon which they ask for my ID – and I get another big lecture about how I shouldn’t carry around this kind of cash and how I should have my real passport with me at all times…blah, blah, blah….
I know they are doing their job, however I seriously feel that many think us simple foreign folk are truly idiots.
How I wanted to respond:
“Well, you know I wouldn’t be doing this if you government didn’t employ such an archaic money exchange system which essentially (without lengthy and numerous paper work) prohibits a foreigner from exchanging RMB to any major international currency. Thus forcing me to carry several cash denominations from the bank – to the black market – then to my home – then to the Western Union.
Furthermore, your government doesn’t (nor do you apparently) seem to understand the importance and sheer value of a passport. A passport is NOT a simple ID card and nor should it be treated as such. It is NOT something you just carry around with you like a drivers license. It should be kept in a locked safe and taken out for traveling and visa purposes only. You think losing your national ID in China sucks? Try losing your passport….
I find it baffling that even though there are millions of foreigners living in China – the government still doesn’t seem fit to issue some-sort of special ID for any of use – forcing us all to place our passports at serious risk.”
How I should have responded:
“One of my hobbies is carrying around X amounts of cash in my pack. Sometimes I even like to leave the bag open. I like to see how long I can wander around Xinjiekou before I get robbed.”
How I did respond:
“Yes sir, thank you – I’m going straight home”.
After almost four years in country, I was hoping for my last week to be a little more memorable. Now I just want to leave all of this nonsense behind.
*A positive was the relocation company. They showed up at my apartment yesterday. Stellar professionalism. I am paying them a lot but I felt like they would bend over backwards for me. I was definetly the customer…not like Elong…where their insane payment system makes me feel like I’m doing them a service.