Aug 4, 2009

Differentiating "safeguards" and real cops

Friends and coworkers that have come to Beijing to visit have often mentioned that there are a lot of police in China. This is usually because it's easy for visitors to mistake building security guards for real police. Everyone has a uniform in China, and you might have a problem figuring out who's actually a cop and who's a security guard unless you can read some Chinese characters.

Let me give you a simple way to figure out if you're observing a security guard or a real policeman. If the person is actively preventing someone from entering someplace, stopping property from being pilfered, or having a shouting match with someone, he's a security guard. If, on the other hand, the person is filling out an incident report, checking people's identification, or otherwise mulling about, he's an actual cop.

Incidendly, cops in China do not hang out at donut shops as they do in America. (I only wish they did, because that would mean I could have easy access to donuts here.) Cops in China, as you would expect, prefer Chinese donuts, called you tiao, deep fried and rolled in sugar. American cops dunk their donuts in hot coffee served in a styrofoam cup; Chinese cops dunk their you tiao in a warm plastic cup of soy milk.

In Chinese, security guards are called bao an (保安), which if you translated directly, would be "protect" + "safe". I think this might be the reason I've often heard my Chinese friends referring to security guards as "safeguards" when they're speaking English.

I occasionally follow this guy's very cute, Chinglishy blog, which sometimes has an interesting perspective. He's got a posting recently talking about safeguard this and safeguard that. I had to put the whole thing in context to figure out what he meant.

While you're in China, you might occasionally see 14-year old-looking boys dressed up in police uniforms. These boys are not, as you might mistakenly think, recruits fresh out of the police acadamy. Rather, they're usually just entry-level security guards. I think the uniforms must only come in size XL, so they have to wait to grow into them.


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