Before I even arrived in China, I knew that the official rule was for foreigners to carry their papers at all times. But I chose instead to keep them safely at home, in fear that a crafty pickpocket would walk away with my passport instead of my wallet - a much worse outcome. Even so, not once was I asked for my passport, which makes it easy to forget that I'm living in the largest police state in history. That changed today.
I got up early to walk my girlfriend to the subway station, and as soon as we got outside, I knew something was up. There were four or five police, and as soon as they saw me, they started walking towards me. They asked to see my passport, and I said it was in my room. I was told, "According to Rule XX, foreigners are required to carry their passports at all times." I said fine and turned around to head back upstairs. I was annoyed, but I had the foresight to grab my residence permit as well.
When I got back outside, I started to head out of my complex, since they were busy with another white guy, but one of the cops spotted me and did the Asian upside down "come over here" wave. I went over, showed them my passport, and they asked where my paper was showing that I had registered with the police department. I showed them my residence permit, they read it, and said, "We are going to copy some information." I asked them why, since my residence permit indicates that address. They conveniently ignored me while one of them said something about me in Chinese that I didn't understand. Then they thanked me for my cooperation, and let me go on my way.
I'm told by coworkers that this extra "security" is probably because of the upcoming torch relay in Shanghai tomorrow and Saturday. But regardless, now I understand how it feels to be racially profiled, and it sucks.