Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sun Tzu on the Art of Getting Things Done

Yesterday I embarked on a true adventure - I tried to get Chinese Drivers License! Rumors abound that the license is available for either life, or for 6 years. Right now I have no need of a license, but perhaps in a few years time I'll want one.....? Seemed like a good idea!

First I had to run around for preparation work - where would I be without friends who know things? First of all you have to bring your stamped paper showing that you've registered with the police. That was a problem for me, since I hadn't registered! A short bike ride and 20 minutes of explaining the visa's and stamps later and I was on my way home with said paper. Pretty painless all things considered.

Next you have to have a paper showing the translation of your license, officially stamped of course. A friend took care of this for me, driving out to the appropiate government office and getting the precious red stamp on the paper.

So far so good! :)

Then the challenge came - going to the 'DMV' equivilent here in Kunming. The place is huge! The main building has 6 floors, huge open halls, and very little activity going on. First of all we were told that we had to have medical exams - oops, didn't prepare any of that. So off to another building, ¥12 each. They had hospital beds with stands for IV's...A bit much for the DMV isn't it? We played the usual game of 'which direction is the W facing?' and proved our prowess at finding the numbers in the green and red dots. A+ all around! One more paper, one more official red stamp.

Finally we are allowed to take an application! But, and this part really tickles me, you are not allowed to apply without using a Chinese name as well! Choosing your Chinese name is very important so I haven't taken one yet - till I can wisely choose a good one. Well, I had to have one made up on the spot. I guess it means Blessing to Family. I wouldn't really know, the main emphasis of my study is still on spoken Mandarin at this point.

At the next station they insisted that I sign the form with my Chinese name. No, my friend who actually reads and writes Mandarin couldn't do it for me. I laughed, made it clear that I didn't know how, but they insisted. So I tried to write it and it predictably came out abysmal. They were so horrified with how bad it was that they wouldn't accept it! I was shown a few times how to write it and was given another application to sign! :) As if I could suddenly write better by being shown twice.... Well the second time was sufficent apparently.

Okay, so after all of that I thought the hard stuff was through, right? I've paid more money, gotten more papers with official red stamps, I should be near the end!

Next came the actual written exam - in another building, up on the 5th floor. It seemed pretty promising, the people working there did speak a few words of English. The test's were done on computer and they had it in English. Questions were either multiple guess "A, B, or C" or else true false. How bad could it be, right?

45 Minute limit. 100 Questions. I flunked BIG TIME. I've only been driving for 14 years after all. You must get 90 or better correct to pass. I got a 78. Our driving exam in the states has to do with driving. The one here touches on driving but by no means stays there. Depending on your viewpoint it is either more comprehensive or else quite irrelevant.

Some questions were okay. But there were a bunch more culture based, like "You are driving and want to throw away the paper. Do you.... A: Throw it out the window. B: Put it in the dust bin that is in every vehicle. C: Wait till there is no one around and then throw it out the window.
Someone else had a question like that, but about spitting... Hmm, okay. Then there were about 10 questions that I would expect my auto mechanic to know, such as 'The Transmission system consists of....:', or 'At slow speeds the light passenger vehicle seems to be shifting to the side. What is the cause?'. Keep reading, we're not done yet! There were a few EMT type questions, how to give CPR, etc... My favorite though was one of the many that I just couldn't figure out what it meant - the translation was greatly lacking. "The Accident is injury 4 limbs. You should put the ligation to the near side." True or False? What the heck does that mean? Alot of times I can take educated guesses, but this?

Yeah, so I bombed test. No license. You are however allowed a free re-test, so I'll probably go in on monday. The lady nicely said I could study the book to better prepare. But when I asked if there was a book in English the answer was no...............

Sun Tzu was brilliant. Do you think he could have found a way to get a license? And what would his advice have been?


DB said...

So did you get it in the end? I was lucky when I took mine, the test was only available in Chinese so you were allowed to take a translator. I took a traffic policeman who was a friend of a colleague and, incidentally, didn't speak a word of English...

Richard in Kunming said...

That sounds like an excellent strategy! I haven't managed to get one yet... I got a english test prep book from Beijing so now I'm studying away. Why I need to know arcane things such as which signs construction crews are required to put up is unknown to me...

Third time's the charm, right?

DB said...

In my 18 months of driving here, I find that nothing is done in a standard way anyway.

Construction crews on the higways often neglect the 'roadworks in 800m', '400m', '200m' signs and just go with the 'Roadworks NOW' sign which can be quite interesting. Traffic lights are often so far beyond the junction that on unfamiliar roads you can't even see them until you've cleared the junction, etc. etc.

It's not all fun driving either. I posed the hypothetical question to my wife 'So, if I'm driving along legally, in a straight line, below the speed limit, and a cyclist flies out of a side alley and goes under the car before I can even react, what would happen?' Answer: 'Well you'd go to jail of course'. Sweet.