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…

China memories – Part 1: Welcome to China

This post is by Joachim.  So that we have our travel stories all in a single spot, we’ll be posting some stories from the old ‘newsletters’ that we used to write from China to our family and close friends. Some of these are a good laugh.

April 24th, 2007 – Welcome to China!

Being now in China means starting up a ‘normal’ life from almost scratch. Nothing is familiar. Here are a few experiences so far.


Even if there are actually quite a lot of foreigners in Qingdao, you are still one of the attractions in the supermarket. Your trolley is very interesting for the Chinese with always the big question in their face: What is a foreigner buying ? I guess I disappointed all of them as half of my stuff in my trolley was Chinese food, a little bit of Western stuff as I still haven’t found anything easy as a replacement for a snack like a sandwich and boring stuff like ironing board, towels and plates. If you’re unlucky, sometimes someone will decide to touch what you have in your cart. Not sure why – maybe to see if they might want to take it also?

A small excursion on Soya sauce

You thought buying Soya sauce is a no-brainer as there is actually only one or two types? Come to China and you’ll see. Soya sauce here seems to be more like buying wine. There is thick soya sauce and thin soya sauce,  dark and light soya sauce, mushroom flavoured soya sauce and possibly soya sauce out of every single province in China. The shelf in the supermarket is not much smaller then the wine selection they have here – it’s massive. So I guess it’ll take me a lot of cooking and some time to find the best one!

Ah, and of course there is even a story about fake soya sauce: Apparently last year they caught a company that produced soya sauce out of human hair: Yaaaaak!!!

What not to do in the supermarket

Well, actually, I don’t think there are too many restrictions here. The highlight until now was clearly a mother holding her child with dropped down pants over the rubbish bin next to the fresh bread in order to get the required service done! Kids pants have slits in the bottom for this ‘convenience’. Nice.

Language problems

How to explain you have a problem with your internet connection and you want wireless.

You could imagine you are going to a computer market and they would speak English as a lot of the hardware will only have English manuals. That was at least my hope, but it turned out to be wrong. And as hand and feet do not really work in this situation either, and no customer nor staff member could be found speaking English we turned after a good laugh towards new technology and tried it with the good old babel-fish translation tool. It did not work completely, but we somehow got around and I left the shop with a new modem and a wireless router. Installation was not as easy as promised as the online manual was in Chinese (and my knowledge of signs is even less then my spoken Chinese), but thank god for Steve Jobs, my Apple could finally connect to the internet!

How to explain your ayi (cleaning woman), what to do

That works fortunately much better as you can just show her what you want her to do. The fun part starts when you actually try to have some conversation: First the dictionary, then demonstration with hands and feet, a good laugh always helps, and if you’re stuck you should always have a phone number of somebody who speaks English and Chinese that you can call anytime. So when I returned home, all my clothes were neatly put together in my wardrobe, the windows and all dirty dishes have been cleaned. What a difference to Switzerland! And this for 20 Euro per month: unbelievable!

How to order your food

There are four type of menu-maps:

  • The living one
  • The picture one
  • The Chinese one
  • The bilingual one

The easiest is definitely the living one. You just go in the restaurant and show them the food you want. This works excellent in Qingdao as most of the served seafood is really alive and you can then select the fish still swimming around in the basin. It is pretty scary though, to see turtles swimming around in the grocery store tanks. I think I will stay away from that section.

The picture menu is the one you always laugh at in Europe. But I will never laugh about it again! Without being able to read, it’s so much easier to order and you actually have a chance to know what you get (Not always though!)

The Chinese one is obviously always the one with the biggest surprises. I keep the general terms of food at hand help to get something sorted that you might want at least (e.g. chicken, or vegetables).

The bilingual ones doesn’t always makes your life easier: Who knows what you’re getting when you order a “Chicken softbone!?”

Food cartChinese Menu