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A less than tempting visit to the Beijing Public Security Bureau




Public Security BureauA visit to the Public Security Bureau (Gōng’ānjú or PSB), can be a common if unwelcome recurrence for the foreigner living in China. For example, any changes to your visa have to be approved by the main office. This is a large, modern office near the Sanlitun area, with very slick procedures and helpful staff.

Other changes, such as registration of residence, or employment permits can be done at the smaller local Police posts, or Pai’chūsuǒ, which can be found dotted all over town. These are a bit less user friendly…

If you’re not staying in a private home rather than an official hotel, it’s necessary to register your residence with them within 24 hours of arriving. The Public Security Bureau is also the department that monitors the internet for unacceptable content (Hi guys!) and if necessary blocks it inside China.

After getting a new (and very empty looking) passport from Hong Kong I had to go and update my visa and Alien Employment Permit. Despite the name, this doesn’t give me permission to go round creating crop circles, taking abductees prisoner and mutilating cattle – the government neatly refers to all foreigners as Aliens. And probably frowns on crop circles and mutilating cattle.

They close for lunch from 1-2, so I arrived alone at 1.40 and in lieu of the normal thronging queues there was only one person waiting in front of me, a young lady of Chinese appearance. Each desk at the Public Security Bureau has a numbered queuing system, and a machine by the door issues you the next ticket in the appropriate queue. The machine’s screen is only in Chinese characters, but I remembered from last time that the Alien button is the fourth and final option. Ticket number 66 came out of the machine and I sat down, prepared to wait until 2pm.

Seeing me sitting around doing nothing the woman behind the counter pressed a button a few times until the number above advanced to 66, then looked at me expectantly. Grateful I stood up and walked over. When I reached her, she looked at her watch, shook her head and stared at me.

I turned round to find the other girl in the queue standing close behind me. Expecting to be told off for queue jumping I was relieved when she just said “They’re just getting ready – they don’t open until 2pm” in a flawless American accent.

Thanking her, I went and sat back down, and she came and sat right next to me in the spacious, but empty queuing area.

With 15 minutes still to go, I happily fired up the new Chinese Moon Festival version of Angry Birds Seasons and started playing. In my peripheral vision I could vaguely see the girl squirming about in her seat. Usually in China this means someone is trying to look over my shoulder at whatever I might be doing, so I just ignored it.

Whilst waiting for the next level to load I caught a glimpse of a lot of hair whirling about next to me, but again chose to ignore it.

Another Angry Birds level completed and I looked at my watch. In doing so, I noticed the girl hiking her already short skirt up. This isn’t a usual sign of someone staring at me, so I looked round, just as she took off her glasses, shook her hair out, then bit her lower lip. She’d removed her rucksack and cardigan, leaving her in a white blouse and shortened skirt.

“Hello…so where are you from” she asked, whilst twirling her hair round her fingers.

We both looked down at the British passport in my lap.

“London. Where did…”

“Hey” – my newly arrived girlfriend said from by the door – “You need a ticket”

Me: “I’ve got one – this lady helped me”

Lady: “Oh!”

I turn round to show the ticket number and by the time I’ve turned back to ask about her accent she’s redressed, skirt pulled down and just tying her hair back into a bun. By the time her oversized fake glasses are back on, she’s buried in a book and I’m being ignored.


Finally it was 2 o’clock. Nothing happened.

At 2.10 the police ladies stopped looking at baby pictures and motioned me over to the appropriate desk. The whole process only took a few minutes, and I was once again a legally registered Alien.

As is usual, I turned round to find a couple of Chinese families just standing staring at me, but the young lady was nowhere to be seen.

PSB Welcoming Committee

Surprising as it may seem, this was not my welcoming committee at the local Police Station. Here members of the PSB are receiving their award of a ‘Good’ result in the Charisma Competition for Young Civil Servants of the Capital.

Surprising as it may seem, this was not my welcoming committee at the local Police Station. Here members of the PSB are receiving their award of a ‘Good’ result in the Charisma Competition for Young Civil Servants of the Capital.

If you look around the Public Security Bureau site it’s also possible to read up on the encouragingly titled ‘Epidemic of the Week’. There are currently 150 listed…





Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.


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