‘How hard can it be to get a Chinese driving licence?’ I thought to myself three years ago, fresh off the boat from Australia. I’ve been driving a car for twenty four years. Surely, like every other country in the world I can just hand them my overseas licence, get a Chinese one five minutes later, and hop in a car five minutes after that.
So now I can tell you. Getting a Chinese driving licence is not just hard, it’s practically impossible. Which might explain why, in all this time, I’ve met exactly one foreigner who has one. One. And she only ever drives between her house in the ‘burbs and her local shops.
For starters, the behaviour of my fellow drivers, who seem to think reversing the wrong way down an expressway on-ramp, or doing a U-turn on a crowded pedestrian crossing, or overtaking a bicycle which is overtaking a cart around a blind corner, uphill while talking on a mobile phone, is totally normal driving behaviour. At least in China it is.
Then there was the gradual dawning that most Chinese drivers in their forties have been driving for well under five years, thanks to the difficulty and cost of buying a car and purchasing a licence plate, meaning the roads are populated by a lethal band of middle-aged teenagers.
But lastly, there was the realisation that to get a driving licence I would have to sit an actual 100-question theory test on Chinese road rules, and get ninety of them correct. Because for anyone who’s ever visited China, you will know that Chinese road rules come from a different planet altogether, somewhere between Planet Kaos and Planet Every-Man-For-Himself.
And again I thought (fool that I am) ‘How hard can it be? I’ve been driving for twenty-four years. I’ve been riding a bicycle in Shanghai for three years. I’ve been a passenger over thousands of kilometres of observation in China. And I’ve been to Med School and passed hundreds of exams. It can’t be that difficult’
When evading an emergency, the driver should be calm and stick to the principle of
A. Evading people first and objects later
B. Evading vehicles first and objects later
C. Evading vehicles first and people later
D. Evading objects first and people later
When using splints, sticks, or tree branches to keep the unexposed bones in position, it is necesary that these things should
A. Exceed the upper and lower joints of the wound
B. Exceed the lower joint of the wound
C. Exceed the upper joint of the wound
D. Not exceed the upper and lower joint of the wound
(Actually, I got all of the twenty first aid questions wrong, being a doctor and all, because they involved questions about the exact placement of tourniquets along the length of limbs and when to take a poisoned person to get fresh air. I couldn’t make sense of a single one.)
When running on a road and encountering pedestrians crossing the road, the motorized vehicle should
A. Honk to urge the pedestrians to go faster
B. Speed up and pass
C. Reduce speed or stop and yield
The main feature of pedestrians participating on road traffic is
A. They move slowly
B. They like to get together and look on
C. They are not stable
D. They walk around at will and can easily change directions
Painting and pasting signs or advertisements on the motorized vehicles should observe the principle that
A. The painting and pasting can be done at will
B. The painting and pasting are mainly for artistic consideration
C. The painting and pasting should not affect safe driving
D. The painting and pasting should be done according to customer requests
When a head-on collision is unavoidable, the driver should free the steering wheel, raise the leg and lie sidewards on the right seat at the moment of the head-on collision. This can ensure his body is not stuck by the steering wheel.
(Because when I’m faced with an imminent head-on collision, I always have time to let go of the steering wheel, undo my seatbelt, and move across to the passenger seat so that the steering wheel doesn’t trap me. On the other hand, sometimes I just stay put and let the airbag do its work……)
A. The vehicle going up the slope
B. The vehicle far from the top of the slope
C. The vehicle going down the slope
D. The vehicle going up the slope should go first, if the one going down the slope is halfway on the slope and the one to go up the slope has not begun going up the slope
Answer: A (Um…..huh?)
My favourites were the true/false questions, which read just like the Chinese Driving Manual. Certainly, they reflected my experience of being on Shanghai’s roads.
When driving in windy, rainy, snowy, foggy and other complex weather conditions, the driver should turn on the head light, honk continuously and overtake rapidly if the vehicle in front goes slowly.
When driving, the driver may spit to the road or street out of the window.
The driver of a motorized vehicle may drive a police car, a fire engine, a wrecker or an ambulance during the period of probation.
A motorized vehicle may make a U turn on an uphill road.
A motorized vehicle may make a U turn on the ramp of an expressway.
A motorized vehicle may reverse at an intersection.
A motorized vehicle may reverse on a one-way road.
If a motorized vehicle hits a building, a public facility or other facility, the driver may leave the scene right away.
When encountering slow-moving old people crossing the road, the driver may continuously honk to urge them.
A siren may be installed on a motor vehicle according to personal need.
For a whole week I did nothing but study those 1500 questions. I didn’t go out. I didn’t see friends. I barely saw my children. My husband I did see, because he was studying for the test too. We drank coffee, gallons of it, and hardly slept.
So it was in a pretty major state of anxiety that I submitted myself to the Traffic Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, Shanghai Divison, for my test this week. After five hours’ sleep and four cups of coffee between 5am and 9.15am, I sat down at the computer terminal shaking like a jackhammer, convinced of my imminent failure. It didn’t help that we ran into a European guy leaving as we arrived, shaking his head and saying ‘Tough test. Just failed.’ Bugger.
But I took the advice of the experts. I didn’t draw on my past experience. I didn’t use any common sense. I just parroted the answers I had learned, by rote, over the previous week. Ten questions, fifty, one hundred. Sixty multichoice, forty true/false questions.
With heightened anxiety, I hit the ‘Submit’ button. Immediately, the invigilator walked over and pressed a button on my keyboard. The screen flashed red, never a good sign, and under the Chinese instructions on screen I read ‘Review the Incorrect Answers’. I sighed. This didn’t look good.
I had no idea if I’d passed or failed, but claerly I was going to be forced to sit and revisit every queston I’d answered incorrectly, one by one. He pressed another button and my first incorrect answer appeared on the accusing red screen. Then the second. Then the third. I began to feel really quite ill. Please don’t let there be more than ten! Please don’t let there be more than ten! I thought feverishly.
Then the fourth. The colour started to drain from my face. This was excruciating. Please, please, please…..
He hit another button.
A green screen appeared. 96%. NINETY SIX PER CENT!!!!!
I really, really passed! We both passed!!