Global Correspondent Report on China



Bob Lucky

 On the Road in China


Last spring I hired the Chinese wife of a colleague to help me obtain a Chinese driver’s license. I had been keeping my eye on the local traffic scene and had decided, though it was much different than the flow of Thai traffic, where I had last driven, there was a certain chaotic logic to it. A few rules, none of which are in the driving license manual, would hold any driver in good stead and maybe even keep him alive. First, all roads are simultaneously pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths, playgrounds, parking lots, and impromptu markets. Second, might makes right. Cars are exempt from the egalitarian notions of communism and the status mongering of luxury vehicle capitalism: the undisputed King of the Road is the cement truck. It stops for no one, no light, no way.

Getting the license was fairly easy. My facilitator took care of the paper work. I took the written test, the hundred questions of which came directly from the study guide. I missed two because I couldn’t make out the English. When that was done, she took me to a building where I was given a physical. This consisted of going through a series of rooms and ordeals. In one I had to open and close my hand to make sure I could grasp the steering wheel. In another I had to swivel my head, to make sure no doubt I was capable of turning around to see what or whom I had hit. Another foreigner who took the hearing test with me claimed his machine was broken and he couldn’t hear anything. He passed with flying colors. Afterwards, it was a series of windows through which documents and money were passed. In the end I had my license and the growing sense that my Chinese name strikes people as amusing.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I took a taxi safari to the far north of Hangzhou and visited Great Wall Motors, maker of the Wingle, a four-door pickup that I had been eyeing. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough money in my bank account to wangle a Wingle, so we settled for a fire-engine red GWPeri, a cute Fiat copy, at least that’s what the Italian courts determined. The Chinese courts saw no resemblance. It was very reasonably priced. In fact, a friend claims he has spent more for a racing bicycle.

It took less than a week – and a good deal of weak tea and a number of frantic phone calls to bilingual friends – to make the purchase, including the trip to the bank to withdraw the full amount in cash. Out of nervousness, I actually tried on the reading glasses tied with twine to the teller’s window. Our longest drive so far has been the hour it took us to drive home from the dealer. I’m going to surprise my wife tomorrow for her birthday and drive downtown for dim sum. If you never hear from me again, know that I died for a dumpling.

This week at work, the women in the office kept giving me odd looks and asking “You drive the car?” I told my wife about this, surmising that they think it strange a foreigner would drive in China. “No,” she replied. “They told me only women drive red cars.”

(A quick poetry note. Stylus Poetry Journal #30, July 2008, has an essay on contemporary Chinese poetry by Simon Patton, who has also translated poems from ten Chinese poets. It’s worth getting on line and checking out.)

For the nonce,

Bob Lucky








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