Thursday, April 5, 2007


The definition of an expatriate is, "One who has taken up residence in a foreign country." But then what are immigrants? Being in Shanghai, it seems strange to think of, say, a poor Mexican who has settled down in the US an expatriate. A more accurate definition of an expatriate might therefore be, "One who has taken up residence in a foreign country, but not permanently." But then what are sojourners? Can Chinese laborers who worked in France, America, or South Africa, but who were not welcome to settle down in those places, be called expatriates? Perhaps a more realistic definition would be, "One who has temporarily taken up residence in a foreign country in which the average per capita income is less than the average per capita income of the person's home country." That certainly more closely matches the status of expats in Shanghai. After all, the Web site, which lists corporate job fairs, expat gatherings at expensive bars, and where to find good hamburgers, is certainly not aimed at Shanghai's non-Western foreigners, such as Filipino women who come here to work as maids.

The word "expatriate" originally meant "one who was banished or exiled"; its modern usage emerged in the nineteenth century, with the rise of the nation-state system. It is interesting that it has now attained upper-class overtones of wealth. The strange labels under which foreigners must live -- "immigrant," "sojourner," "refugee," "expat" -- signify difference from the citizenry of the nation-state. But there is, of course, not just one kind of foreigner. Like citizens, foreigners are also classed, if not legally, then practically.

That's in the real world. The denizens of the bureaucratic realm are quite happy to give expats the greatest hassle possible under the law.

The Chinese government insists on keeping tabs on all foreigners living or traveling in China. Wherever you're staying, whether it's a hotel, a hostel, or a friend's apartment, you must register at the local police station. If you're at a hotel, the hotel will do it for you, but if not, you have to trudge over to the local police station and show them your passport and your visa. You can get away with not registering, but if you want to extend your visa (as I had to do this morning), you need a special registration paper from the police station that proves you registered. And, if you happened to put off registering because you didn't think it was a big deal, you have to pay a fine of 300 RMB ($38), as well as wait for an hour or so while various police officers chat, smoke, discuss an excel document they happen to be working on, ask for photocopies of things you didn't bring, ask to see the lease of the apartment you're staying in, ask for the contact information of your host, ask for the contact information of the landlord of your host (I later learned that the police called the landlord to make sure she knew that a foreigner was staying in her apartment), fill out numerous forms, make you sign numerous forms, and, finally, inquire as to whether you have any statements you wish to make. (I did, of course, but I thought it would be wiser if I didn't voice them.) In addition to paying the 300 RMB fine, you must also write down the serial numbers of each of the three 100 RMB notes on (another) special form. This was a new one to me. I suppose they want to make absolutely one hundred percent sure the bills are not counterfeit, as well as provide a safeguard against corruption. At any rate, if by any chance you want a receipt for your 300 RMB fine, you have to trudge back to the police station after about a week, by which time the bank will have checked out your three 100 RMB bills, and ask for it. To ensure that you can get the receipt, they give you another receipt. I suppose you'd call it a receipt for a receipt. That seems logical.

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