From the land of chops over the land of 100 points to the land of fingerprints

(by Achim)

Every country has its own peculiarities when it comes down to how you can sign contracts or open a bank account.

Let’s start with China, the land of chops: The most important instrument in China to sign a contract is a chop.  The definition of a chop is: Cut (something) into small pieces with repeated sharp blows using an ax or knife. That is not what it is. A chop is basically a stamp that is used within companies to sign contracts instead of a signature. Chops are unique and usually carry the signatories name and it is highly illegal to copy a chop and sign documents with a copied version. How this really works out in the land that is known for counterfeiting almost everything is still a miracle to me. I don’t think this system would work in a Western country because everybody would just copy the stamp. Still remember those days when we copied the stamps they give you at the entrance to nightclubs? Maybe that’s where the definition of chop comes back in ….

Typical Chinese chops

Typical Chinese chops

Australia, the land of 100 points: In order to open a bank account, get your driver’s license, apply for visas and residency, get a phone you need to bring proof of your identity of altogether 100 points. This is usually a mix of documents carrying your picture, birthdate, residential address etc. When you leave the country this whole process is quite easy. But when you move to Australia and you are asked to prrof your residential address with a utility bill…..

Here is the example of options that was provided with our citizenship application

100 points

100 points

Chile – the land of RUT,  fingerprints and notaries: The most important number in Chile is your RUT. RUT stands for Rol Único Tributario and is a unique national identification number which is then used as a number for taxes, social insurance, passport, driver’s license, for employment, etc. More importantly you need it to get a phone contract, by a car, rent a house, get a bank account and a credit card etc. The problem being that you only receive this number as a foreigner when your visa is approved, which usually takes about 3 month. The work around is to use your RUN (Rol Único Nacional) which only takes approximately 6 weeks to get. However, you can’t use your RUN for everything and if you used it you have to change all documents, bank accounts to your RUT, which is an easy but time consuming process. Luckily for us, my company applied for my visa already last year, so we already have our permanent RUT and only had to change our bank account details but nothing else.

In order to get your RUT you have to leave fingerprints of all your 10 fingers at the government registry. And that is not electronic fingerprints, but the good old fashioned one with ink. I’m looking forward to doing that process with a 22 month old toddler! The result is a plastic identity card that includes your thumb print: most valuable piece of plastic I own now!

The thumb print in general is a very important part of lots of contracts. It is quite common that you don’t only have to sign a contract, but as well proof your identity with a thumb print. I have not yet figured out which contracts require a thumbprint and which ones don’t. It seems quite random.

I guess the system is in principle much better than the Chinese chop system. But I’ve never seen anybody having the tools to compare the thumb prints of the contract with the thumb print of my RUT card. Only the bank used once an electronic fingerprint reader when I wanted to withdraw money. At least you can proof that it wasn’t your thumb that signed the contract when things go wrong!

And I almost forgot to mention the notary: Most of the contracts (like e.g. rental contracts) do not only require thumbprints, RUT number but as well have to be legalized by a notary: for the fee of generally 6,000 CLP (appr. 12 USD). The queues are generally long and this must be the most boring job ever for a lawyer. But I’m sure the income they have is quite nice, considering that almost every legal document has to be notarized.

Typical Chilean contract - signature, fingerprints and notary

Typical Chilean contract – signature, fingerprints and notary

Let’s see what the next country brings…


Living in Australia – Looking back: Part 1


Living in Australia – Looking back:  Part 1

(by Achim)

4.5 years ago we moved from China to Australia. 1 month ago we left Australia to live in Chile. In between lots of things have happened, so we thought we’d do a few blog posts looking back about our life in Australia (China ones will come too!). A summary:

  • We got married in November 2009
  • Emily was born in April 2011 and is now already 22 months old
  • We moved houses in November 2011 (which was a bit of a waste considering that we moved contintents a year later)
  • We had probably 10 times more overseas visitors than in China
  • We spent approximately 50,000 miles in airplanes to see family and friends
  • We still wonder if Emily is the youngest baby doing a round-the-world trip being 4 months old
  • We have seen some of the great Australian sights like the Great Ocean Road, Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Sydney’s Opera House and the Harbour Bridge
  • We became permanent residents in Australia and have applied for citizenship
  • We learned to deal with hooked turns in Melbourne and look right first before you cross the road
  • We have still only scratched on the surface of the thousands of coffee shops and restaurants in Melbourne

Over a few posts we will attempt to summarize of our lives downunder. Not that you can really summarize 4 years in a few posts…

Our family

I’m pretty sure all of you know that our family has had a small (well actually not so small) family addition in April 2011. Since her birth, Emily is challenging the Australian height and weight charts, which either means all Australians are short and thin or she has inherited some genes of her parents. Unfortunately we have not been able to make her an Aussie by birth, but are attempting this currently again.

Emily has been an absolute joy since she was born (despite a few tantrums here and there!). Let’s see if we survive the impending terrible twos! She has been a good sleeper and is happy mixing up English and German words. I’m sure she will soon be throwing some Spanish in too. She has only once shocked us with a couple of days in hospital but has otherwise been pretty resilient….except for that first few months in daycare where she picked up every single bug going around, sometimes at the same time. Even dragging her around the continents has only resulted in horrible sleep patterns (a battle we cant seem to win) but nothing else.

Our homes

3a Vale St

Our first home in Australia happened to be right in the middle of St Kilda with lots of good restaurants and bars around and the beach only a 10 minute walk away – we were very lucky. The sunsets that we could see at this location have just been amazing. We still believe the sky is closer to earth in Australia than at any other place we have lived. The big downside was unrestricted access to unwanted services of lightly dressed women.

370 Inkerman St

We moved away from the beach into the middle of the Hasidic Jewish quarter of Melbourne, which then gave us unlimited access to cheap fantastic cakes and bagels – for a bargain. Not quite sure if we will ever understand how you can wear a long black coat and top-hat in the middle of summer at 40 degrees though!

Our new home had a small backyard that was perfectly suited for a BBQ and we learned that bats love figs as much as we do. Aly was not a fan of the giant bat that lived in the fig tree.



Australia from the newcomers’ perspective

We thought this was a funny a little summary of “Australia” from an outsiders perspective. (note: stolen, not mine!)  (by Ben Groundwater, published in The Age on 27th of June 2012)

Shortening all words: Whatevs, it’s not like we shorten everything. Except sunnies. And boardies. And footy. And snags. And chucking a uey. And calling Barry, Baz. And Sharon, Shaz. And Robert, Robbo. I even travelled with a girl who referred to her binoculars as “binos”.

“Bring a plate”: When my mum first arrived in Australia she was invited to a friend’s barbecue and told to “bring a plate”. So she brought a plate. An empty plate. She was a little embarrassed to find that everyone else had brought some food on theirs.

BYO:  It’s great when foreigners first realise this: “You can take your own wine to a restaurant? Geez, can you take your own beer to the pub?”

Watching the footy: Because there’s no such thing as just “footy”: There are four sports here that could qualify as “footy”, and you can never be quite sure which one people are talking about. Still, you gotta love the footy.

Buying a beer: What the hell is a “pony”? And who came up with “schooner”? And why do “handles” not have actual handles? And in which other country is it normal to order a “pot of gold”? South Australia takes the grand prize for weirdness though, with a glass called a “pint” that doesn’t hold a full pint.

Taking a day off for the Queen’s birthday: I’m not arguing about it or anything, but it’s not even on the Queen’s actual birthday. And the Brits don’t celebrate it, so why do we?

Having a bank robber as a national icon: Ned Kelly was no Robin Hood, was he? No altruistic man of the people. He just shot some cops and wore a bucket on his head. And we revere this guy? (OK, I know there’s a lot more to this story, but from a foreigner’s perspective, it’s pretty odd.)

Dressing really fancy for the races…Then getting absolutely obliterated:  There’s nothing more Australian than seeing a smartly dressed couple stumble out of the races, her with high heels in hand, him with a tie around his head, and start drunkenly screaming at taxis going past.

“How’s it going?” This has to be up there with the American “what’s up” as the most nonsensical greeting around. How’s what going? I remember a few exchange students at uni talking about this, saying, “It took me a while to realise that Australians don’t actually want to know how you are going. They just want you to say ‘good’.”

Complaining about the rain in London:  Somewhat stunningly, a mate of mine pointed out that Sydney gets more rain each year than London. Ouch.

Having celebrity TV shows that don’t feature any celebrities: Australia’s pool of actual, legitimate celebrities is frighteningly shallow, but that doesn’t stop the networks from pumping out “celebrity” versions of their reality shows featuring people you’ve never heard of. We have chefs dancing on primetime TV. It’s embarrassing.

Eating seafood on Christmas Day: I’m all for a few prawns and bugs on the 25th of December, but if you’re from the Northern Hemisphere and were expecting a turkey roast, it might seem a little bizarre.

Worshipping meat pies:  It’s pastry filled with bits of meat, and slathered in tomato sauce. Not exactly a gastronomic masterpiece, but that doesn’t stop us getting all excited about eating a lukewarm one at the footy.

Worshipping swimmers: Just between you and me, swimming’s not really a sport, is it? It’s a pastime; a survival technique. But anyone who wins gold medals over here is a big deal. Heck, we even treat walking as a real sport once every four years.

Playing the pokies:  Surely the dreariest, most antisocial form of gambling there is, and yet Aussies are mad for it. We flock to pubs and clubs around the country to pour money into the gaping mouths of these flashing, dinging monsters. Sigh.

Travelling… Elsewhere:  Australians love to travel, right? Well sure, as long as it’s not in Australia. No, we can’t tell you what WA is like, and we haven’t been to Adelaide. But what do you want to know about Bali?

Rugging up for winter: Northern Hemisphere folk think it’s hilarious, just as we have a chuckle when everyone strips down to their bikinis in England when the temperature nudges 20. In Australia, a brief dip into the teens will mean the scarves and coats are out for the next few months.

Wearing our thongs on our feet: This is for the Americans, who always look a little confused when you ask them if they’ve seen our thongs. Or, do you think I should wear thongs today? Sounds a little inappropriate… but at least it’s not as dumb as sandals.