But Why?? - Oh Hai - CycleBlaze

But Why??

I'm not 100% sure but I think this is a different woman than last night
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Steve Ruelle, who I think has also spent some time in China, asked me in the comments why the whole No Foreigners Allowed thing and I decided it was worthy of an individual entry instead of a comment response.

Being told "No Foreigners Allowed" is complicated. First of all, you have to understand the context that once upon a time, foreigners actually weren't allowed, that there were specific licenses and qualifications that hotels needed to have before they could have foreigners, and that this time wasn't actually all that long ago.

Then, you add in the fact that registering a foreigner is a massive pain in the ass compared to registering a Chinese person with a second gen ID card. It doesn't even begin to compare in difficulty to registering a Chinese ethnic minority whose Chinese name includes a character which isn't supported by Unicode and whose only form of domestic ID is a Chinese passport, but traveling with Myf is a somewhat unusual situation.

Getting the bikes ready to go back in the pickup truck in 2009
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Finally, over the years, as knowledge of civil fines for not registering hotel guests became more common (I'm not sure the levying of fines actually became more common), it has become increasingly important to make sure that all guests were registered. A lot of hotels used to decide it was minor enough to skip registering a foreigner or two but it only takes a few incidences of hotels being caught and fined to go churning through the rumor mill before it becomes common knowledge that they were fined for having a foreign guest even when the actual reason was for having an unregistered guest.

When I arrived in China in 2002, I could stay in International Youth Hostels or glammy five star hotels and that was about it. Truth be told, if I'd made much of an effort to travel places that didn't have IYH listed hostels, many of them would still have taken my money, but that doesn't mean that they were supposed to. 

Research done by my first assistant Jimmy in late 2012 indicates that patchwork cancellations were done by this city here and that county there as far back as the 1980s but foreigners really really really weren't supposed to be willy nilly just staying anywhere prior to an announcement made in 2003 that starting from October 1st, foreigners would be able to stay anywhere they wanted to.

I probably should've just tried to have stayed here last night
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Although I've never been able to find this specific proclamation, it was a super fucking big deal. The foreign affairs officer at the school where I was working was about as Party Member as you can get (which is part of why he got to do things like be the chaperone on overseas trips to academic olympiads and things like that) and he made a specific point of calling me in to his office ahead of the October Holiday to brag about how awesome it was that this change was going to happen.

Sometime in 2008, the public security and tourism bureaus began jointly rolling out an online registration system; I first encountered this system about 100km outside of Beijing at what must have been the only lodging on that whole stretch to actually have their paperwork enough in order that they weren't specifically closed down because of the upcoming Olympics. That they charged 2元 a night for a bed and thought I was a bit weird for wanting to buy all 4 of the beds in the room when some of the other places boasted actual indoor plumbing didn't matter, they'd gotten a proper business license, and at that time, this also meant they had a computer and could register guests online.

This glorious 15元/night special from last year was—believe it or not—nicer than that place in 2008
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The police showed up that night, not to tell me to leave, but to inspect the obvious computer error; they were (rightfully) gobsmacked to find out that I wasn't a gremlin in the wires, but actually existed, and actually was staying at that grotty little dump. Four years later, in the same part of the same province, when I got my first hard NFA from a police officer because "this town doesn't have a hotel that meets the required standards to host a foreigner" I not only knew that the required standards had been cancelled on paper the better part of a decade earlier but had direct personal experience of just how low class a place could be and still officially register me.

That particular instance in 2012 (which only had me at a police station in the first place because I was hoping they'd be able to tell me about lodging options other than what I'd already noticed) bounced it's way up to the county level and back down again before they figured it out and I realized something, which has come to serve me very well in all my various altercations, the people responsible for enforcing these rules don't actually know the rules.

That having been said, being hassled at the front desk over the registration that increasingly must take place has as much to do with the mood of the person currently behind the front desk as it has to do with any proclamation by the local police or other civil authorities. I've run into plenty of situations where the local police have overstepped their legal boundaries and specifically made a point of verbally telling the small hotels "foreigners shouldn't be staying here" but even though situations caused by [ignorance, xenophobia, fear - pick one] on the part of the police are very much a significant proportion of the number of times I've been told "you can't stay here", they are still an outlier.

This 10元/night (+10元 for the hot shower at the attached bath house) from 2012 is an example of a place that has successfully registered me.
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I (or people I know) have been told to buzz off for reasons including the on duty staff not knowing how to register a foreigner, the on duty staff not wanting to bother with the difficulty of registering a foreigner, and the on duty staff simply not liking foreigners in general or that type of foreigner. And that's before you even get into situations of foreigners being difficult to communicate with or foreigners behaving badly.

One of the more memorable incidents that wasn't mine involved two people in their early 20's trying to check in to a resort in Sanya while acting as secret reviewers of the island's level of internationalization on a project for the Provincial Tourism Development Commission and being told point blank "we don't have the license to accept foreigners" when what they meant is "we don't want backpackers". 

I've also heard of plenty of incidents involving people from Middle Eastern countries and Africa getting turned away. (A few years back, some police station in Guangzhou got in trouble for sending out a letter to the cheap hotels ahead of the Canton Fair telling them not to let people from undesirable countries check in. They mostly got in trouble for being dumb enough to make this notice in writing.)

With the exception of the squat latrine downstairs and the cold shower, this 15元 a night place really wasn't all that bad
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There used to be a somewhat infamous story in my friends circle involving a first year language student accidentally getting an hourly room instead of a room that was good for the whole night and deciding, when they told him "you have to leave now" to whip out his dick and start peeing all over the room. (Incidents like that are part of why, no matter how loud and disruptive I get, I always do so within a specific respectable framework.)

Nearly every night so far this trip, I've been the first foreign guest they've had. A few times they've started with a transparent lie "we're all sold out of the specific room type you just asked about" which I'm supposed to realize is a polite social out and which I deliberately choose not to. I've made it awkward, made them admit to me that they are pretty sure they can't take me, and volunteered to show them how. 

Most of the time, it's ended there. I've registered, they take my money, everyone's happy. Sometimes, though. Sometimes, it's just not that easy. And, I made a decision a long time ago that if I had a choice between wasting my evening tromping from hotel to hotel to hotel or raising cain at a single hotel, I'd pick the latter.

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