Online Bureaucracy

Lately I’m under the impression that living in China is getting more and more difficult. New regulations are created and they just complicate things even more for everybody, especially foreigners. Is this done on purpose? Or are they just normal safety precautions? I can’t say for sure, but let me explain why doing online transactions is a big pain in the ass.

Everything started two or three years ago, when a new regulation regarding train tickets was implemented: to purchase a ticket, you now needed to show your ID card (if you are a Chinese citizen) or your passport (if you are a foreigner). Fair enough. The problem appears when you find out that the automatic ticket selling machines cannot scan passports, so only Chinese people can use them. Poor foreigners can only line up and buy tickets from the counter. If you have ever been to a Chinese train station you know it looks pretty much like that scene from Mary Poppins (great movie!) where everybody believes the bank bankrupted and they rush to get their money and everybody is pushing at the counter. That is exactly how the selling tickets hall of a Chinese train station looks like. Queues are consistently long and there is always someone trying to cut the line in front of you.

But you have the option of buying the ticket online, right? Well, not really. You can buy it online, but if you are a foreigner you still need to go to a ticket office or to the train station to get it printed. Chinese people can however board the train directly by swiping their ID card. This is so unfair to foreigners!

As I am now working in Shanghai and I go back to Suzhou every weekend I have to buy train tickets every week. You can’t buy them too early, I think only four days in advance. To avoid the subway trip to the train station I usually go to a ticket office near my office, where you can get your tickets paying a fee of 5 RMB per ticket. Yes, it is not expensive, but if you think that the price of the ticket is just 35 RMB then it is a large percentage!

Chinese high speed train ticket.

A couple of weeks ago we had three days of holidays for the New Year and I was worried tickets would run out fast, so I booked them online to ensure I could go back to Suzhou. I bought them through Ctrip, a very popular website where you can also buy plane tickets and book hotels. Everything was fine. But then things went downhill from there.

The next time I wanted to buy online train tickets I had almost run out of money in my Alipay account (Alipay is the Chinese version of Paypal) so I went to the Alipay website to recharge money. But oh! There seems to be a new regulation since I don’t know when and you must verify your identity to recharge money. And how do you do that? You send a scanned copy of the information and the visa pages of your passport and provide your bank account number. Then Alipay transfers you a small amount of less than 1 RMB. In a couple of days you receive it, check the exact amount and go back to the website to introduce it. By that time someone in Alipay has already checked that you sent your real passport and not a dedicated picture of Donald Duck, and you are ready to go. Yay!

So after three days I went again to the Ctrip website to finally buy my train tickets. I selected the train, unchecked the insurance (why do they always try to sell you one?) and proceeded to purchase my tickets. But, of course, it couldn’t be that easy. There is another new regulation that says to buy online train tickets on any website you need first to create an account in the official railroads website and VERIFY YOUR IDENTITY!! AAAAAH! At this point I wanted to kill someone so I just went to my usual ticket office.

But this is not the online internet-related trouble I’ve had recently. A few days ago, the HR manager in our company invited me to join a WeChat group. A WeChat group is like a Whatsapp group (i.e. a place where everybody wastes their time) so it shouldn’t be a big deal, but… get ready for it… to join the group I had first to verify my identity by linking my WeChat account to a Chinese bank account!

And the last thing didn’t happen to me, but to my Brazilian colleague. He wanted to activate online banking so he went to the bank’s website to create an account. Well, he couldn’t do it because his name (the name that the bank registered as the owner of the account) was too long and didn’t fit in the space provided in the website. Now it seems his only chance is going to the bank and try to have them change the name in their registry, but I’m sure that is going to be a complicated task that will involve a long time and several trips to the bank!

Have you found complicated and ever-changing regulations that made your life more difficult? Please share in the comments! Rants are very welcome because, you know, two in distress make sorrow less :D

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