Category Archives: Bureaucracy

What’s in a Name? – Name Change in International Marriages

So, you’ve decided to get married to Mr Li, Zhang or Wang. Congratulations! But, what are you going to do be called from then on?

It’s a big question, and one that can have unexpected repercussions on your life.

Chinese Traditionally Don’t Change Their Surname

It gets all the more confused when the traditions in your native country differ from the ones of your husband. In China for example, it isn’t a thing for the woman to change her surname to her husband’s name at all. Rather, she keeps her own family name, since the most important aspect of getting married in China is it gives you the green light to have a baby, and secure the continuation of the family bloodline. His family bloodline.

That is why usually the child will be named after the father. Only if the father has married into a more powerful/richer family, could there be an insistence from her family to choose their surname. However, this amounts to a serious loss of face, it’s a practical emasculation for said man. In many cases, if a couple gets divorced and the child stays with the mother, it is also not uncommon for her to change the child’s surname to her own. So, in China, while there’s at least no discussion about whose surname to take, there still can be a lot of politics surrounding the child’s name.

I am not a fan of not changing your name at all for a number of reasons. From my Western perspective the keeping of the wife’s surname felt very at odds with the general idea in China that the woman becomes part of her husband’s family upon marriage. It felt to me like a way of making sure the woman knows she has to serve her “new family” while at the same time not even granting her the right to fully become part of the family; even by name. But that might just be my cynical interpretation.

Name Change in Europe – So Many Different Options

In Germany and England, my countries of origin, there is an array of different options of what to do with your name once you get married. Traditionally, of course the woman would take on the man’s name, as she joined his family. However, following the feminist movement and increasing independence of women, some have equated this to a submissive act from the woman’s side, and so it’s now quite common to hyphenate both surnames. In few cases, the man might even take his wife’s name – although I’ve never met anyone who did this – and then there’s of course the option of going “Chinese” and no one changing any of their names at all, in which case you wouldn’t know they were married in the first place. This is becoming more common as people can’t be bothered to deal with the ridiculous paperwork associated with changing one’s name. However, I still prefer the idea of Mr Li and I somehow indicating our not-so-holy union.

My History with a Boringly Common Surname 

In my case, since we got married in China, there was never really any question about whether or not I wanted to change my name. Ironically, I did. Having grown up with both the most common first AND last names you could imagine in Germany, I have always been keen to swap my last name for something more “fancy”. For the longest time, I wanted to take on my mum’s maiden name – Nutchey – which I’m told is connected to our family’s Spanish heritage. That’s way better than being known as the German equivalent of Smith – and therefore instantly identifiable as German as well, I thought.

Anyway, 18 came and went, and I kind of put that wish to the side, thinking that you never know who I’d end up marrying. They might have a seriously cool name, after all!

What Does Taking on an Asian Surname Mean

Enter Mr Li. And with him the question of what to do with our names once we were married. I had a discussion with some fellow WWAM (AMWF) friends about this topic and it brought quite a few interesting and some disturbing truths to light.

If you were, say, to take on just your husband’s name, this could affect you in the workplace and sometimes in a negative way. If a recruiter reads a very Chinese sounding surname on your CV, they might assume that you are Chinese and in some cases, the sad truth is, that might lead them to think you are no native speaker and not up to the job. We like to think that people are wiser than to assume such things, but the sad truth is that this isn’t always the case.

The same goes for Mr Li taking on my surname and then appearing at interviews. I remember the painful story of a friend with African heritage who passed a phone interview stage for a job in a European country, and when she came in for the interview, the surprise of the interviewers that she was able to speak the local language was evident – she had grown up in said country. People are quick to make assumptions, it’s a bitter truth.

Mr Li and his Relationship with his Chinese Surname

In our case, there is actually another layer to the whole name debate. Like me, Mr Li has also been considering whether or not to change his surname irrespective of getting married, since he is the child of a broken home. However, his mother decided not to change his surname to hers, and so he is still named after his father, with whom he has always had a rocky relationship and in the end broke off contact.

His surname is therefore the only reminder of the ties to his paternal family. He even came to a point when he told his grandmother on his father’s side he planned to take on his mum’s surname Feng. She broke out in tears. He hasn’t changed his name yet, mostly I believe due to his attachment to that grandmother, who looked after him until the age of 6.

Coming Together To Create Something New

In light of all these feelings, we had many discussions about what to do about our surnames. Laura Li? I liked the ring to it, (Mr Li thinks it’s sounds like a porn name, harr harr), but for both CV and father-in-law I put that one to rest fairly early. Mr Li played with the idea of taking on my name but that would also mean giving up his Chinese heritage in a way, and I didn’t like that (aside from still wanting to flush a certain common surname down the drain).

The next idea was to return to the Nutchey option. I wasn’t entirely happy though with the idea of just my culture being represented in our surnames. So, a combination was in order. In light of the initial idea of Mr Li to take on his mum’s name, and with Nutchey being my mum’s maiden name, the surname Nutchey-Feng came into existence. Also, when he mentioned to his mother the idea of taking on my mum’s maiden name, she wasn’t what you’d call pleased.

In the end, this is the surname that represents both our origins and very fittingly makes you think of nutter and fengzi (which means crazy in Chinese). Couldn’t think of a more appropriate choice, could you?

So there we have it, Nutchey-Feng, the surname we would like to one day legally take on; and the very lengthy explanation as to how it came about. You know me, words…there’s just so many of them. And they’re fun to use.

Now the only hurdle is to get the authorities in one of my home countries to agree to this name change…yeah, that’ll be easy, I’m sure of it…

What did you do with your surname? Let me know in the comments!

It’s here – The Chinese-German Marriage Process Infographic!

It’s finally here – get married as a German to a Chinese in China  in 10 not so simple steps!

It took us six months, two attempts and much scouring through disheartening forum threads to figure out how to get legally married in China; me a German national, my husband a Chinese.

I figured it was time for a step-by-step infographic. German and Chinese versions are in the works. I hope this helps you from making the same mistakes we did. Best of luck!

get married china germany deutschland  ehe

If you want to read in more detail the hair-pulling frustrations of dealing with wedding-related red tape, check out some of these posts:

Bureaucracy Part 1

Towel Brain, Legalese & Endurance

Jet-Set Wedding

Translator by Name, Not by Profession

Part-Time Bureaucrats & the King of Pandas

Bad China Week 1 – The Devil That Is Police Registration in China

Find the official Nanjing flyer for foreigners at the end of this post (you know, if you want to skip the bla.)

We all have them. Bad China Days, as they have come to be known among my circle of expat friends. They are those days when the culture shock you thought you had already beaten just hits you in the face and all those things you find difficult to accept about your host country come crashing down on you. A little while ago, I did not just experience a Bad China Day, I went through a Bad China Week. Strike that, it was a Terrible China Week. Polices station China

Image source:hellonanjing.net

It started out with the visa. That nasty little sticker in my passport that allows me to stay here. It was recently up for renewal and so my poor colleague had to start doing visa runs from one bureaucratic office to the next. One afternoon she abruptly storms into our office and tells me in an agitated manner that something is wrong with my police registration. Police registration is one of those nuisances that being a foreigner anywhere entails. The police always want to know where you are, so they know where to find you in case they need to drag you out of the country. In China, once you arrive in your abode, you have to register within 24 hours (unless you are staying in a hotel, they do it for you, or you are merely staying in the first location for up to three days before moving on).

There is a lot of confusion about police registration mainly because it is rarely checked and often the police officers don’t even care if you show up to register a couple of months late. When it does become an issue is when you are looking to extend your visa.

Now, my colleague has run to the police office to register me many, many times and she is very conscientious with these things, which is good considering a breach can result in a fine of up to 2 000 RMB. However, the rules are incredibly unclear, so unclear in fact that seemingly even the police officers themselves don’t seem to be aware of the exact regulations.

Some people say that in China one needs to re-register with the police every single time one returns to the country from abroad (that includes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan). Others state that if you do not change address, there is no need to register when you return. As it turns out, both of these are true. The first time I left the country on my work visa and came back, my work colleague went to the police station to re-register me only to be turned away with the reply “Since she is still at the address you have registered her with, this is not necessary.” However, there is a but. Of course there is.

In my visa and work permit my address at the time was in downtown Nanjing, but I had since moved house to a flat west of the river, so the address was different from the one attached to my visa and work permit. My colleague had, once I had moved, informed the local police station of my new address and they issued a new Temporary Residence document stating the up-to-date details. However, the address in the visa remains the one entered upon application. From my ensuing discussion with the police I gather that this address cannot be changed until you reapply for an extension of the visa once it is about to run out.

Therefore, if you move away from the initial address registered in your visa, you do indeed have to re-register EVERY TIME you return from abroad. There I was at the police station trying to explain to this police officer that my colleague had tried to do so and been turned away by the police, so how could this be our fault, as we tried to do it by the book. She classified this as a “miscommunication”. If you want to call the fact that clearly the police officers have no clue of their own rules a miscommunication, I guess…

Since I was a first time offender, I luckily only got a write-up and a warning that next time I would have to pay a fine. According to the officer, this would not impact my visa application negatively, the jury is still out on that. The problem is, as a German, I sometimes feel that we have a heightened sense of justice. Fairness and justice seem incredibly important to us, and in Germany, if one feels treated in an unfair manner, I have found many of us tend to argue until we are blue in the face. This might not help the situation at all but I have the same urge, in light of a perceived injustice I just can’t shut my gob. After all, if one tries to do everything by the book and then still gets f****d over because officials don’t even know their own rules, how is one supposed to let it just go? Luckily, this woman was fairly tolerant and didn’t fine me just because I was getting on her nerves with my complaints.

This experience however really started off my Bad China Week as I felt treated unfairly and completely powerless in the face of a random justice system with rules that are not being clearly communicated at all. The police woman even stated “I have had many cases like yours, this happens a lot, which is why I am only giving you a write-up.” You’d think that the penny would drop that they are not being transparent about the regulations.

She even handed me a flyer with all the details, making me wonder why I had never before seen this flyer. Would it not make sense to hand it to every foreigner who crosses the border to make sure the information is received rather than hiding it away at the police office and giving it to those of us who have already breached the regulations?

The only positive takeout from this is now I know the exact rules and I can go out and pass them on to others, in the hope that they do not have to go through the experience of being dragged to a Chinese police office. Though it was very clean. I was impressed. Also, now I am officially a lawbreaker. Once the anger at the injustice passes, I will probably feel cool.

If you would like to know all the things you should be doing, here is the flyer made by Nanjing government for foreign nationals in China:

police registration visa china bureaucracy

information visa police registration buraucracy nanjing

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 6) – Inner Mongolia and the Rest of China

Inner Mongolia weddingAnd so it was done. We were officially married; well in the province of Inner Mongolia that is. You see, since Chinese administration is largely decentralised, Jiangsu province has no clue whatsoever what those people up in Beijing or Hohhot are up to and vice versa. In terms of our little wedding booklets, that means they are not valid in other parts of China but need to be notarized by the notary office so that we are legally married in the rest of the country, further proving my point that a province in China might as well be an independent country.

This idea is further enforced by the fact that our little booklets are bilingual, featuring both Chinese and Mongolian characters. I could not be happier about this, I mean not many people get to say they have a wedding booklet with Mongolian on it! The sad truth is of course that this is mostly for show; while most parts of Inner Mongolia feature bilingual signage and documents, barely anyone is able to read it anymore. Even the spoken language is finding less and less regular use on a daily basis, as an increasingly shrinking pool of “pure blood Mongolians” exist in the province. In Inner Mongolia, the Chinese government has pretty much succeeded where it has not in Xinjiang. While Mongolian tradition is being kept alive in the grasslands as a means of making money on tourism, the Han assimilation in cities is pretty much complete. Much like the Roman empire did in the past, the Chinese government’s strategy after claiming territorities inhabited by non-Han people has been to settle Han Chinese in this region in the hopes of the local people mingling with their new rulers, ending in a peaceful acceptance of their presence. Much like Greek gods have found their way into Roman mythology, the presence of the Mongolian scripture suggests at least a slight tip of the hat to the original inhabitants of the region. While a small group of nationalistic Mongolians, who communicate in their native tongue most of the time, do exist, in a majority of cases, both cultures have mingled and now tolerate each other’s presence. One of Mr. Li’s relatives by marriage is Mongolian, yet the only time when he truly shows that he is any different is when he sings Mongolian songs to much applause of the listeners; Mongolian culture seems to have become something special to be marvelled at possibly due to its near extinction rather than remaining a major part of this region’s culture.

On one of my flights back from Hohhot I struck up a conversation with my seat neighbour, a young girl who as it turned out was of Mongolian descent. In truth, except for the little character on her ID card, which under the category “people” says 蒙 where it normally reads 汉 one could barely tell. She could understand the Mongolian language, yet was unable to speak it. Especially since she worked in Shenzhen, where Mandarin or Cantonese are the common languages of communication, she now barely uses her second language. She is one of many young people who move into big cities in hopes of better work opportunities, unwittingly aiding the loss of her native culture.

While the positive side to this is that Inner Mongolia is a relatively peaceful province compared to Xinjiang, it does come at the slow loss of a culture. Calling IM entirely peaceful is not entirely truthful either, in 2011 unrests occurred when in the first instance a Mongol herdsman was run over by a Han truck driver. However, the government was eager to make concessions, affording the family damages and sentencing the driver to death. Last year’s altercation involved the detainment of protesting herdsmen, who are seeing their lifestyle encroached upon as their lands are grabbed by Han forestry and mining companies and attempts by the government to persuade them into settling in one location. To a nomad people, this is unthinkable, and has led to discontentment around the fact that their traditional life style is not being respected. That being said, Xinjiang provincs is far less stable, with clashes between Uighur and Han people occurring on a regular basis and even terrorist activities such as the train station knife attack in Kunming in 2014 and the Tian’anmen Square incident in 2013 taking the conflict outside of the region.

Hohhot, as the capital of Inner Mongolia, is very similar to most other Chinese cities, except for the aforementioned bilingual signage. Interestingly, many people do not seem to think so, as when I or Mr.Li tell people of his origins, you would be surprised how often they inquire in ernest whether he grew up in a yurt and how many ponies and sheep his family owns, while obviously wondering simultaneouslt how his family managed to afford to send him abroad for studies. In conversation with Chinese people, though, the reaction is rather different. Upon hearing my partner is from Hohhot, the first question is whether he is Mongolian. When I respond that he is Han, many say “Oh, of course, the Han are rich in Inner Mongolia.” Well, that explains everything, doesn’t it?

Somehow I feel I have slightly departed from the topic. Long story short, we had to get our certificate notarized; but not before we stood in the middle of the street and popped open our celebratory Italian sparkling wine and got our afternoon buzz on. The effect was only increased by the fact that MiL and her partner were waiting in the car and so to the slightly astonished and confused looks of some construction workers, Mr. Li and I chugged the red liquor as if there were no tomorrow.

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 5) – Excuse me, can we get a divorce here?

So, the man himself finally arrived and it was time to begin. We followed him into his plain office that could have just been any other old office, the only indication that it wasn’t being a humungous, round and red sign, which read “Marriage Registration” in English, Chinese and Mongolian propped up precariously on a coffee table in the most random fashion imaginable.
The registrar was an incredibly unceremonious and unenthusiastic man in his thirties who after merely glancing at those documents it had been such a hassle for us to procure started chucking forms at us to fill out. They were entirely in Chinese and both Mr. Li and I had to fill out our own copy including partner’s job, address etc, due to which practically all the information was duplicated. I wonder what would happen if the foreign partner is unable to write Chinese characters, as the registrar seemed to insist we each fill out our own sheet of paper; fun!
At this point the whole excitement of the entire day, probably worsened by the fact that I kept vlogging any insignificant piece of information (that is modern lingo for recording everything on video with my phone while giving running commentary), came crashing down on me and suddenly writing a couple of Chinese characters seemed incredibly difficult and gave me a severe headache (not the figurative kind).
After handing in our sheets of paper, the registrar input all the information into his Lenovo computer, once he had finally managed to read Tong’s mother’s name. Since it is a very old and not commonly used character, most Chinese people are unable to read it and believe it is a traditional character rather than a simplified one. An easier version of Chinese characters was introduced in 1949 under Mao on the mainland to make communication easier and combat China’s concerningly high illiteracy rate. Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan still maintain the traditional system, which in my personal opinion is a lot more aesthetic, but infinitely more difficult to master and hence less practical.
In Tong’s mum’s case it is truly just a fact that she as a very uncommon and complex looking surname, which often causes problems when she needs to “describe” her character or has official business to do (you cannot really spell a Chinese word, rather you describe the components of the character, e.g. 婧, a common given name for girls would be “woman”(the left bit 女) plus “green”(the right part青)). In the end, our friend, the rigid registrar managed to locate the character in his Chinese typing software and all was good with the world.
He printed out two electronic copies of our marriage application, sticking one of our little red wedding pictures on each paper. We then had to not only sign this document, but also add our fingerprint with red ink, which I felt was rather dramatic, or symbolic of how marriage and jail are not dissimilar institutions for the glass-half-empty philosophers among us.
Thus, it was done as the registrar handed us our little red wedding booklets; plural because you receive two booklets, one for each spouse and in it the name of the owner of the booklet comes first. So in my case it reads my name and sex and below details that I am married to Mr.Li, who is male (quelle surprise).
The registrar was less than enthusiastic about our proffered bag filled with German sweets; the ungrateful b…ureaucrat, but what can you do? In the glamorous life of a Hohhot foreign registrar, a couple of Nimm 2 and Schokobons simply fail to impress.
He did then make the nice gesture of offering to take a picture of the two of us together with our booklets, with the white wall in the background; not as Chinese tradition has it at a brown podium with a red cloth background; if you are going to the special foreigners marriage office, you don’t get the special red curtain, I mean who do you think you are? Mao?
We were just gathering our belongings, after we had completely destroyed the formerly neat office, it looked a bit like a bomb went off with all our documents and goodie bags and clothing strewn across the place, when there was a slightly awkward moment as a couple walked in, by the looks of it in their early twenties, asking whether they could get a divorce here. Mother-in-law of course interpreted this as a bad sign for our marriage sent from the heavens, while I just found it all rather hilarious. Suffice it to say, the young ex-lovers where in the wrong office, even the wrong province as it turned out, what with him being originally from Henan, or one of the other H provinces and them having tied the knot there. As I always say, one of China’s provinces is equal to an entire country in Europe, be that in terms of food, language and as it seems even divorces.

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 4) – Singing in the Hallway

Import products Hohhot
I don’t know about you, but where I come from, big occasions are celebrated with alcohol (hmm, that makes my family sound like alcoholics doesn’t it…naaaah, we’re good…I think). The idea that after getting married I wouldn’t even get to toast with my new husband was simply inconceivable to me; therefore, I insisted rather passionately that we attempt to purchase sparkling wine in Hohhot. While part of me worried that I was being too optimistic actually believing we would find something as scarcely imported as bubbly in the city of Hohhot, where the definition of Western restaurant still encompasses the coronary killer trifecta Maccie D’s, KFC and Pizza Hut, as it turned out I had underestimated the third tier city. Third tier it might be, but it is still the capital of Inner Mongolia!

While we for a split second considered the 29 RMB Chinese-produced sparkling wine, which had alarm bells running overtime in my mind, Mr.Li’s eagle eyes spotted the Italian imports on the top-most shelf of the imported alcohol section. And so we walked out of the supermarket with a red sparkling wine produced in Italy and some paper cups. I have never been happier in my entire life! I did feel a little concerned as to whether red wine in combination with my wedding dirndl was really such a good idea but as I said to Mr.Li, “We love living dangerously, we are such daredevils!”

After a short pit stop at the Li flat during which I grabbed a change of clothes since we had decided to spend the afternoon at my favourite massage parlour in the entire world, we then returned once again to the b(r)at cave to await the appearance of our kind registrar Lord Lazybum from Bedfordshire.

We arrived at the offices at 2pm, and so had a half hour wait ahead of us. It was a very entertaining thirty minutes as Mr.Li stole a chair for me to sit down (he can be such a romantic when he wants to), we listened to what was going on behind the closed doors of the administration office – a group of guys sounding like they were having a serious argument, while they were in fact just playing cards while listening to really, really old Chinese music and then, in the second instance, Mongolian tunes; at which point I wrapped the folk style scarf that I bought years ago in Sichuan province’s Tibetan valley Jiuzhaigou around my arms and developed a “Mongolian style choreography” dancing about in the hall. Other highlights included us finding a song with the word waiting with it *whatever you say, whatever you do, we will be right here waiting for you…*, awkward looks from an office worker at our singing and dancing in the hallway and finally the arrival of Double-O Zero, the undetectable agent, aka the registrar.

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 3) – Part-time Bureaucrats and the King of Pandas

Restaurant Inner Mongolia

After we managed to acquire our translation, we were off to the registry office. Since I am a foreigner, said office is not just the regular registry office but instead a “special one” across town. We found out just how special it was when we arrived to find that the registrar was not there. Mr Li’s mother had been trying to contact the kind sir since Saturday to no avail and repeated calls to his office on Monday morning while we were getting our stuff done were of course to no more successful. His colleagues tried to appease us by informing us that due to the fact that about only 50 marriages between foreigners and Hohhotians take place a year, the registrar worked on a part-time basis and was currently “in the countryside”, which is probably code for sitting at home drinking tea doing absolutely nothing at all.

I think the question I ask myself most whenever I deal with bureaucratic entities in China is how on earth this country still keeps running considering no one in the administration actually ever does any work. Then again, it is probably necessary for them to be Lazy Larrys so that they can employ five people to reach the productivity rate of one regular person, in order to keep everyone employed and unemployment rate up.

After calling the Prince of Pandas, as he shall henceforth be known, he suggested we come back at 4.30 since he, and I quote, “might be around then.” But, you know, he couldn’t be sure of course, and it wasn’t like we had a plane to catch. A call to his supervisor though seemed to take care of the small issue of when he would bring his derriere into work, thus we were given an appointment at 2.30pm and left the building accompanied by a lot of swearing on my part. To my German genes, these situations are infuriating to say the least, and it is all I can do to keep myself from getting physical. With regards to our new appointment we were told to be absolutely on time, since the registrar had to leave at 3pm for another appointment (read more tea slurping, maybe some TV or card games).

So, in the meantime, there was nothing much we could do except go for a delicious lunch at a nearby Mongolian restaurant. I consider myself incredibly lucky insofar as I am a massive fan of lamb meat, or a lamb fan, and Mongolia is to lamb as Germany is to sausages. We had a most heavenly lunch of oven-roasted lamb and stewed lamb with glass noodles and Sauerkraut, which for some strange reason is identical to German Sauerkraut. A frequent subject of speculation between Mr.Li and I is how the Kraut ended up in two countries so far apart and which country had it first.

To my utter surprise, I even managed to not get any grease or sauce all over my dress (you would be just as astonished if you know of my unique talent to get food everywhere while I eat except in my mouth, apparently, like a toddler just with slightly longer arms).

I also steered clear of the Mongolian milk tea; for some strange reason, people in these parts of the world think it is a great idea to add salt instead of sugar to said beverage; a concept, which I with my bourgeois European taste buds simply cannot accept.

After posing for some slightly surreal pictures in my German dirndl and Mr.Li in his black suit in a Mongolian restaurant, it was time for our next quest; celebratory alcohol!

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 2) – Translator by Name, not by Profession

Wedding pictures Inner Mongolia

So, finally on Monday the 9th of February we found ourselves in Hohhot with the document from the German embassy and we were in for a busy day.

After putting on my dirndl, traditional German (or to be correct, Bavarian and Austrian) attire, which I thought might be a fun thing to do when getting married in Inner Mongolia, we rushed off to the local photographer.

There we got the picture for our little red wedding booklets taken; a picture of the both of us with a red background. The end result was subjected to our critical review with the conclusion that I have a strand of hair sticking out and Mr. Li looks rather stern and serious; which I felt was rather appropriate considering he is getting married to a German (who nevertheless cannot even do her hair in the correct fashion on her wedding day).

After our session in the non-too glamorous studio, we scooted over to the translator’s office, a bleak little windowless room at the backside of an old building. This was yet another entertaining experience, as the translator, who had been recommended by the authorities as the go-to person for notarized translations in the city, was about as qualified to do the job as a loaf of bread. The good man used a template to transcribe the contents from my German document to the Chinese one, guessing which information belonged where. In the end, I sat down with him and did most of my own translation, including finding the Chinese transliteration of the town I am registered in. Since official Chinese documents still rely for the most part on Chinese characters, any city in the world has a phonetically similar Chinese name, which in our case, due to its length and complexity turned out to be 凯塞尔斯图尔山麓恩丁根.

As a former student of the translation department of the University of Vienna, this encounter really rattled me. I remember only too well the many lectures discussing the lack of regulation in the translation industry and how anyone who speaks two languages can run around calling themselves translators and be paid for it. Add to that rampant corruption as it is still present throughout China, in particular in the less central and urbanised regions such as Hohhot, on a daily basis despite Mr. Xi’s clean-up campaign, the truth of the matter is that this so-called translator quite probably paid some money in order to get his recognition as a notary translator. Said certificate was from 1998 nonetheless, which should not be concerning as such; except of course for the fact that this man could barely even use Microsoft Word. Such translation standards are indeed concerning, even more so as they are present throughout China. Even in Nanjing the standards of professional translation companies are disconcertingly low. On the other hand this might of course present a business opportunity, if one were to pass their official exam (or purchase one, after all if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, harr harr).
Anyway, with our combined efforts we got there and paid the money really just for his little red stamp than any actual translation work on his part; yet, I shouldn’t complain, as we managed to get what we needed. Really, if I want to raise the standard of translation in this country, I should probably run a translating company. Now there’s a thought…

Jet-Set Wedding

Beijing cctv Tower

Wow, so I have not written in a while and now I need to try and catch up! A lot has happened in the last weeks; in fact so much I have barely had time to digest it all.

It’s the typical long-distance relationship syndrome! Getting used to your boring life and as soon as you meet up with your partner you feel the need to squeeze all the excitement you missed out on into a couple of days; in our case combined with Chinese New Year and Valentines Day this has equalled trekking to seven different cities in three weeks. I still have a week to go and already feel exhausted. Even more so, because in our case the squeezing in part included getting married.

YAY, we did it, isn’t that unbelievable?!

Of course it took another couple of runs to offices of any form and description and a lot of grey hairs appearing from nowhere until we managed to beat the system. Buckle up and get ready for a long ride!

I will not go into detail on the exact route the documents we needed to get my single certificate took, as I hope to provide a detailed infographic at some point. Suffice it to say it took three attempts for the documents to be verified, since the German’s followed the official Chinese standards which the notary translator in Hohhot did not.

Luckily, the town in Germany I am registered in is so small that the registry office know us well enough now to allow for me to submit my documents while I was in Germany and to hand in Mr. Li’s later, once the Chinese and German embassy in China finally managed to sort out their s..tuff.

This all happened with amazing efficiency. We got the documents approved in the way the Germans required, they in turn issued my single certificate, which my mother, after saying good bye to another €80, quickly sent to Beijing.

Once the documents arrived, I boarded the next possible high-speed railway to Beijing in order to get the final document issued by the German embassy. This went as smoothly as I could have ever wished for, as I popped in and back out and then as a reward went on a little spree at the international supermarket down the street. After moving to China, visiting supermarkets that sell cheeses, sausages and German bread becomes as exciting as front-row tickets to the Backstreet Boys to my 12-year old self (yes, I admit it and no, I am not ashamed).

After a Chinese New Year’s Party and an enjoyable weekend in Beijing, we then jetted off to Hohhot on Sunday evening in order to attempt to get married the following Monday. And with that, stay tuned!

The Dates (Part 2) – The Registry Date

So, when we set out on this adventure almost six months ago (oh my, has it been that long?!), we were looking at having to choose three different dates in relation to our wedding:
The registry date
The Chinese wedding celebration
The German celebration

After quite a bit of kerfuffle around when we cannot set any of these dates due to Chinese superstition, we have now finally decided upon as many of the dates as is realistically possible.

Hong Kong island
But let’s start with the one date that is still eluding me; ironically the closest date of them all – the registry date in Inner Mongolia. As I explained previously the legal side of getting married and the party/show are two separate things, with the registering usually happening about half a year prior to the party. I had originally intended for us to get married just before Chinese New Year, so mid-February, mainly out of practicality, since I was expecting to spend the holiday back in Hohhot anyway, as is tradition. However, because my future mother-in-law is a seriously cool person/passionate world-explorer, she decided that we should go traveling after all and to a warmer climate at that.

This was rather a funny story in itself. About four months ago I started bugging Mr. Li that I wanted to go travel during CNY because you don’t often get off an entire week in China and I wanted to escape the cold (also, during the other big week off – national holiday, we only stayed in Beijing for the entire week for due to exhaustion from being such busy people but more importantly since the entire country goes traveling around this time. 1.5 billion people (currently still 1.49, but expected to hit the big 5 sometime this year) traveling through the country at the same time; well you can imagine how inviting that thought is.

Since Mr.Li wanted to spend the holiday with his family (or rather most importantly his mother), when she agreed to go travel initially I couldn’t believe it – this was actually happening. I might get to spend my holiday at a warm beach in the South rather than freezing my backside off at -20 degrees in Inner Mongolia (I ask myself to this day why I didn’t pick a Southerner, the climate is so much better down there…JK, or am I?).

Then, as is so often the case in China, the plan changed. For reasons I can only speculate about due to the Chinese habit of never telling you exactly what is going on in their heads, my future MIL decided she was going to stay at home in Inner Mongolia. But she wanted us to go out on our own anyway.

Based on the original wedding plan, I suggested to Mr. Li that we spend about 6 days in Inner Mongolia including the first two, and hence most important, days of CNY and then go traveling for another 5, to which he initially agreed. Until about a month ago when he told me that he would rather spend the entire time in Hohhot, because for CNY he felt it was weird to go out traveling. With a bit of begging, eye-batting and promises of skiing, skating on lakes and swimming he finally had me convinced to spend the holiday in Hohhot.

However, he had not reckoned with his mother! Because she is going to be rather busy at work in the coming year, this is the last opportunity for her to travel with us in a while, and so she decided that she did not want to pass up this opportunity after all. And so I spent two days speed-planning a trip to Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macao – since any other flights at this time of year are ludicrously overpriced. After all, these three places put together have everything the two of us could want – heat and beaches for me, shopping for her.

But Mr. Li was not giving up that easily. He tried pleading with her as he had with me.

“Mum, I don’t want to spend the holiday traveling. Why can’t we just stay at home?”

Yet, as I said, he had not reckoned with his mother.

“You can stay at home doing nothing, my son, that’s no problem. But me and Laura are going out to explore the world!”

Cool mother-in-law.

What I forgot at the time was that as mainland residents, they both need visa-like permits to go to Hong Kong due to its history as a British colony and the lasting after-effects of this. Even less so did I realise that it is not possible for a Chinese person from Hohhot to apply for this visa in Beijing due to the insufferable Hukou system, and so Mr. Li had to fly back home to Inner Mongolia for an extended weekend to apply for his permit, bless the poor guy. I did end up feeling a bit sorry for him at this point. Though not enough to forget about the trip. I’ll make such a good wife.

So, long story short, the plans of getting married pre-New Year were off. However, I have to say that this was not really down to our frivolous desires of traveling but more owed to the fact that the only thing more insufferable than the Chinese Hukou is the bureaucracy involved in a German-Chinese marriage. We have been trying for half a year to get the documents sorted with countless setbacks and at this point our decision with regards to the date is: if we ever manage to get the bloody documents together, we will take the next flight out to Hohhot and get this over with. Romantic, I know.