Hukou is the registration record of an individual in China. It’s very complicated and it’s essential to an individual person’s identity in China and necessary to enjoy rights like owning property, marriage, bearing children and education.
A friend of mine (of the 1980s generation) has the following problem:
When she was admitted into college, she had to move her hukou from her hometown to her university. Upon graduation she had to move her hukou from the university, but she was still trying to find a job somewhere in China so upon the advice of her college advisors paid a brokerage firm to “hold her hukou”. She can leave her hukou at a company like this for up to three years.
She ended up getting married and moving to Beijing for work, but moving your hukou to Beijing is very difficult. One usually has to show tax receipts of having worked in China for an extended period of time along with other considerations that are neither clear or straightforward.
So now that her three years at the company are up (and paying annual fees to keep her hukou there), she has to find a new home for her hukou. But it can’t be in her hometown because she’s not working there and she discovered that in the province in her birthplace, the capital has a bureau that holds “homeless” hukou.
She and her husband have now been talking about having children and through some research discovered that a hospital in Beijing will only admit her to give birth if she can register her hukou with her husband’s. So she has to “lean” her hukou on her husband’s hukou then register for a certificate from her registered hukou that she is permitted to have a child. But her husband’s registration of hukou is asking her to provide an official document that after all these years of having her hukou some place else that she didn’t have children in another province/area.
Then if she successfully gets all this paperwork done (which she has to do in person) and has a child, her child will not be able to attend public school in Beijing because the child’s hukou will be the hukou of his/her parents which will be in their hometown. So absent private school, the child can only attend school in her husband’s hometown. So even after this, if my friend stays in Beijing to work, she will be separated from her own child.
If the child is not born in a hospital, then the child becomes hukou-less and is called a 黑人 （a “black” person or “black listed” person).
Today’s cabbie knew right away I was an American born Chinese and had a lot of fun making fun of my Chinese. And to comfort me a bit as we closed in on my destination, he said: ”I just want you to know that even though you’re an American, if it came down to saving you or a white American, I’d save you! After all, you and I are one people.”
Then I asked if it came down to saving me or a local Beijinger whether he’d leave me to die, he said: ”I don’t think I could tell the difference in a time of emergency who was local and who was not. THEN it would be just about saving whose convenient.”
Then I asked him if he could tell in an emergency whether someone was Chinese or Japanese. He thought about it and said it would never happen that he’d save a Japanese and it was trivial to think about such an impossibility.
You can, as we discovered over the course of our travels, experience nearly a year’s worth of weather in Yunnan: perpetual spring in the central cities, dry wintry plateau in the northern cities located at the base of the Tibetan Himalayas, humid sweaty summers in the tropical rainforest…
This little girl who lives at my building who couldn’t be more than three once came across one of our white expat neighbors. He was tall and lanky and had a Jesus-style haircut and facial hair theme going but crazier. The first time I ran into the both of them and I heard the little girl whisper to her grandmother as soon as our tall neighbor walked passed: ”Is that a big monkey?”
Then yesterday I saw the little girl again and she looked around the lobby and asked her grandmother, “where’s the monkey today?”
My Shanghai cabbie believed “the Party” had a very good reason for the one child policy:
(translated from Chinese)
If you can’t have more than one child, you go abroad to have more than one. And those kids will become citizens of other countries but they are Chinese people by blood. And in other countries, you vote to take over the country. Then soon there will be more Chinese people than any other kind of people. You tell me that Chinese people won’t soon take over the world!
For the two years that I’ve been living in Beijing, I’ve taken relatively the same route to work (by foot). Over the course of my time walking this route, I’ve become familiar with the breakfast peddlers that line the streets to feed the morning rush. This morning I ran into a Beng Beng driver who used to fix bikes in front of our office (but decided to have a career change).
He took a look at me and said:
"外妹 you need to start running to work!! How did you get so fat? Stop eating meat and eat more fruits and vegetables. No more walking, no more Beng Beng car rides for you. And be more careful about the clothes you wear. Only wear clothes that compliment you."
And as a last statement of encouragement:
"I hope that next time I see you, you’ll have returned to your former state of beauty."
I’ve been a little down lately and it must be written all over a face. As I exited a cab where the cab spent the entire 20 minute ride trying to tell jokes that I could barely understand because of his heavy Beijing accent.
As I exited the cab he said:
"I hope you don’t mind all the jokes. You take life day by day and laughing helps you get through it. I tell jokes and tease the people around me to build an illusion that life is better than it is. Don’t be afraid to laugh. Sometimes when you laugh, you will find the joy in it."
Mama Lai always says I’m her one child who does things totally against their nature. “Jamie, you always want to do things you’re not suited to do”. I’m shy, terrified of public speaking, saddled with image issues, fashion-challenged and speak limited Chinese. So according to Mama Lai it would only be natural for me to step in front of a live audience speaking a Chinese I’m barely fluent in while being filmed “If You are the One”, the top dating show in the entire nation of China.
Might take a little navigating, but you can find my humiliation somewhere here:
And though I’m likely never to repeat that experience again (bye bye 2012!), it was character building, culturally insightful, and I met some really awesome people. And I got to share it Miss Singlefied, a dear friend I met in New York City years ago. It was pure coincidence and I’m so glad that I had someone to share the experience with.
Also, a shout out to all the gals in my department at work who tutored me on all things on “If You are the One”. My team totally rocks and apologies to them all – I was too terrified to raise my hand and ask a single question (all that hand raising practice went to waste). And of course Eugene and Xiao Zeng who instigated all of this in the first place.
So for those too lazy to sit through the hour long dating show extravaganza (it’s really, really long), I found my “one”…the ONE who is now my friend on Facebook. But finding “the one” in this case was one of those small world moments. Backstage Male Contestant #5 and I discovered:
(a) We both graduated from UC San Diego.
(b) We graduated in the same year.
(c) We both belonged to Revelle college.
(d) We both lived in Argo 6. (same building, same floor). AT THE SAME TIME.
They should write this up in our alumni magazine. Obviously, we weren’t meant to meet then, and for some reason we were meant to meet in China and not under normal circumstances, but the weird and cosmic circumstance of meeting on a nationally televised dating show in China.
So please be introduced to Male Contestant #5 of Episode 296 of 非诚勿扰, Mike Tan. He’s a disciple of Tai Chi, a PhD who started his own company that’s doing something really awesome: treatment of water – to make contaminated water drinkable. Here’s a blurb from Veloctron site:
The use of untreated ground water poses a severe health threat to populations throughout the world. According to the CDC, over 100 million Americans obtain their water supply from ground water, and over 50% of the reported water outbreaks were due to untreated ground water. At the global level, the health risk related with water contaminations results an average of over 2 million deaths per year and most of these deaths involve children. A large number of these illness and deaths can be prevented if an affordable water treatment system was available to the individuals. The current water treatment systems are either too large or require continuous replacement of chemicals or filters, which is not economically feasible especially to the economically disadvantaged regions. In addition, the potential contamination of clean water sources during crisis such as flooding, hurricane, earth quakes, or terrorist threat poses additional challenges because the established water treatment infrastructures may be unavailable to respond in time.
Really amazing! Happy New Year Everyone! To new adventures, good people and good times!
You can find the series “2 Broke Girls” on Online Chinese video sites like Tudou or YouKu. Its become a favorite TV show amongst my local friends. I’m not a big fan of the writing overall and don’t find it particularly although at moments I do think it’s clever. I wondered out loud to a local friend about its popularity and my friend chuckled:
"it’s dirty. If you really listen to the subtext of what two Chinese people say to each other in local performances, Chinese like dirty."
When I was getting into a cab, my cab driver was engrossed in a conversation with a woman on the phone. He clearly was flirting with whoever it was in the other end. He lowered his voice and in a hushed voice as if I wouldn’t hear him from the small confines of the car giggling to his phone friend that he had a customer. Waving my phone in front of this distracted cab driver didn’t seem like the safest idea. And maybe sensing my anxiety that we were already driving along without having clearly articulated my destination, he finally hung up.
Curiosity getting better of me (yes, I was being nosy) I asked him who he was speaking to on the phone. I know it’s not your wife, I challenged. He laughed. Mistress?
“I’m a taxi driver. I can’t afford a mistress.”
Fine. Your girlfriend?
“Mmmm. You could maybe say that. She is my 初恋 (first love).”
First love and your current girlfriend?
“Well, we’ve remained in touch.”
When was this?
“When I was 19. So the last twenty years.”
Does your wife know about her?
“She knows who she is…”
Does your wife know that you’re still in touch?
“You’re an American aren’t you? Or at least a foreigner. I have a good relationship with my wife. There are just certain things that are not shared between a husband and wife. Maybe not how you guys do it in your country. But that’s the way here.”
Well, then. Help me understand what it’s like in this country. Suppose your wife was in touch with her first love? Would you have objections?
“Well, I think I would rather not know. And I wouldn’t ask. She can do what she wants, she just shouldn’t let me find out.”
Have you started something physical with your 初恋？ (I know…shamelessly nosy)
First base? A kiss?
“Does kissing her face count?”
On her mouth?
So there’s a possibility?
“Anything is possible. Does kissing the face count?”
I’m not sure what I’m counting. I guess it depends on your intention.
I went to my mother’s hometown in China for a recent national Chinese holiday and discovered my cousin is one of those males that walks around baring his belly for all to see. His mother, my aunt, has lived in the US and I mentioned how funny that was to me. And she said:
"Yeah, well you know what I hated in the States. Those guys and girls who didn’t know how to wear their pants and they walked around with their ass-cracks exposed. I find American ass-cracks to be disgusting."
Riparian Pictures Presents
Under One Roof IndieGoGo Campaign
Our documentary film chronicles the evolving economic and cultural changes sweeping through China as seen through the eyes of two families—one Moso and one Han Chinese—living and working together at a village inn on…
When I got into a Beijing cab earlier this week, the cabbie was smoking a cigarette. I asked him to put it out and gently scolded him for wasting money on such a health hazard and doing it while on the job.
"A man has to have his hobbies," he said. "Doesn’t your husband smoke?"
When I revealed that I’m unmarried, he said:
"Well if you get married you’re going to have to get used to smoking. Men smoke."
I insisted that I’d be able to marry smoke-free, that it would be a requirement.
"Then how will you ever find someone? All men smoke. You’re going to be single for a long time….what’s the big deal anyway? Lots of women are smoking nowadays too."
Then perhaps thinking he was too harsh he ended our conversation and my ride with:
"Well I guess you could find someone who won’t smoke in front of you? But I guarantee you he is smoking behind your back. You can’t have everything."
(Translation: When a man chases a woman, it’s like climbing a mountain. When a woman chases a man, it’s like poking a hole through satin.)
He also said: ”I see the type of girl you are. You’re probably one of those girls who invests 100% in a guy. I don’t know about America, but that’s not how it’s done. At least, that’s now how girls in China do it. They know better.”
As I puzzled over who exactly I should chase after, he imparted this:
"You have to make a choice whether you want to be loved or you want to love someone. I think it should be the former though you probably want the latter. Better to be someone’s treasure."
Cabbie Yang picked me up and could tell immediately “[I] wasn’t from around here.” Thrilled to speaking to a foreigner, he started showing off that he was “multi-lingual”. He could speak English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. This is what he could say:
"Ni Hao Ma?"
"Welcome to Beijing! Airport, Great Wall, Summer Palace, Hotel. Where are you going?
Then, after a short period of learning some English vocabulary from me, he asked me which is better: China or the United States. I told him I felt like the air quality, hygiene, pace of life was better in the US, but that China was at an interesting time in terms of development. And he said:
"I hear people have rights in the United States. Independence. It sounds beautiful. Especially California. (Big Sigh) I’ll never get to see such a place."
Internet dating is quite prevalent in China. I’m not sure how well fancy dating websites do in China, but a popular for people to meet and romance in China is over QQ. QQ is the most popular instant messaging program in China. I’ve come across many who have met their significant others though QQ and here are some of their stories.
A cabbie told me he met his wife over QQ. It was a random chat and he said in the first month he knew that he loved her. They never exchanged pictures, but met in person after 2 months and married within a year. “There is more to love and companionship than appearances,” he said. “Even on QQ there is yuan fen (fate).”
I met a local journalist who also fell in love over QQ. His wife lives in Shenzhen and he is based in Beijing. They carried on a QQ romance for 2 years before they traveled to meet each other. But they continue their marriage over QQ - “we met online so it seems natural to continue online.”
A friend of mine also met his wife over QQ. He was quite the playboy in his youth, but during the wee hours of being bored, he’d randomly chat and then met a woman who captured her heart. They didn’t live in the same city and the minute that he laid eyes on her, he knew there would be no one else for him.
Some of my local male friends gathered for a drink earlier this week. I hadn’t seen them for a bit and they accused me of having fallen in love. I denied it and then they said it’s no good for me to waste my youth and that I must find love while I’m in China.
When asked why I haven’t taken up with a Chinese man I explained that I felt that Chinese men were “浮渣”（complicated) and they said the correct way to say it was “men in China were complicated”. Foreigners come to China and they become complicated. It’s the environment, they said. It’s just like how in American restaurants you won’t yell or snap your fingers at waiters, but you lose all such niceties to get service at a Chinese restaurant in China.
They insisted that I couldn’t go on like this. Beijing would be too lonely of a place without a companion.
“What are your requirements,” they asked. “Do they need to have their own car? How much schooling do they have to have? Do they have to be tall? And how long do you want a boyfriend for?”
I was confused by this last question. Shouldn’t I be aiming for eternal love?
The whole table chuckled. Then I think they called me simple (my Chinese is still not that great).
“We’re not asking about love. That is 缘分 (yuan fen - fate). We are asking about companionship. These are two different things.”
One friend offered himself up as an example: “I am in my seventeenth year of love. But I just ended a short term companion not too long ago.”
Seventeen years of love? His girlfriend? His wife?? (Please note that I have been hanging out with these friends for 8 months now).
“Why do you American girls have to be so direct?”
I pointed out that he invited me out and made me wait for an hour.
Yes, his wife of seventeen years. And, yes, she happens to know that he’s complicated.
“And we are the most simple men we know in China.”
I sighed and said I think that means I should move back to the United States.
“Well you shouldn’t do that. This is an exciting time in China. China is an interesting place and you have a great job. And because of these things you have to find and fall for something here. We will find you someone. He will make think you he is simple, but there is no such thing as simple in China. You will fall in love and then you can go back to the States broken-hearted. You can have romance.”
One of my favorite things to do in China is getting a facial. I tried a new spa this time, and when the aesthetician started massaging my face, she complimented me on the shape of my face:
"The shape of your face is the kind of face that will set your future boyfriend and husband on fire in the bedroom."
I’m not so sure that the opposite sex is noticing much whether my face is very square or oval, but I noticed that flattery is part of how the Chinese interact with one another. Some of my favorite compliments I’ve heard either as a third party or as the receiver:
"The curvature in your hand lends itself to catching good fortune. You will be very rich when you get older."
"You have really small and slender feet. You will be able to find a good husband because he will not have to worry about you running away. At least that is part of tradition."
"The texture of your skin is very smooth and fine for a boy’s. This means that one day you will find a wife who will take care of you."
"You hair is really fine. Fine hair means fine things. You will one day be very wealthy."
A Beijing cabbie was telling me his theory that there are really only two types of men in the world:
"There is one group of men who will want to be with ugly girls. They think there will be less fighting and problems — ugly girls will be nicer to them. Then there is a second group of men who will want to be with really pretty girls because they are like trophies and meant to show the men has powerful and is worth something."
Laughing, I asked him about plain girls, the ones in between. This Bejing cabbie replied:
"Men only see ugly and pretty girls. There is nothing in-between."
An almost giddy Beijing cab driver picked me up. Without me saying a word, he started to show off his English language capabilities: “Hello, how are you?”, “Welcome to Beijing!”, “Where are you going?” Not used to cab drivers even wanting to learn English, I was impressed and told him so.
This driver was learning his English by listening to a daily radio show. He explained:
"I am learning British English because the teacher on the show is from England. But I am also learning American English on my own. So instead of saying ‘yes’, I say ‘yeah’"
When I jumped into a cab today, I thought I could guide the cabbie to my destination. I’m not sure what I was thinking given my handicapped sense of direction and sure enough, I got me and the Beijing cabbie a bit lost. I sensed that we were close, but not quite there and asked if he could pull over so we could ask someone. He pulled over and I rolled down my window and asked a group of people standing about a bus stop if we were close to my destination. They ignored me. Beijing cabbie scolded me:
"That’s not the way to do it!"
Then he got out of the cab and went to speak to a fellow. When he got back into the car he explained:
"Here in Beijing you can’t roll down your window to speak to someone much less ask for something. It’s very impolite. You want to ask for directions, you have to get out of the car and actually speak to them."