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,