Well, not a motor scooter but faster transportation then the mountain bike I have. Today I received my Chinese, Shanghai Municipal drivers license enabling me to drive cars and motorcycles. I mentioned a few weeks back about starting the process, well today I took the written exam, on computer, and passed with flying colors. So for those interested here is the saga of getting a driver’s license in China.
First you have to go to the police station that holds the DMV, its busy but not as busy as in large cities in the states, and yes they make you take a number. I was lucky to get help from an agency that took care of all the extra paperwork we foreigners have to go through. I presented Chinese certified copies of my Wisconsin driver’s license, Passport with Visa, Work and Residence permits, lease agreement, and vile of blood (just kidding on the last part).
After presenting all they you have to go to various windows, fork over fees for this and that, get your picture taken, and then get a physical. In the states the physical is just a simple eye test and color blind check. Not in China, I had to get weighed, measured, hearing check, eye exam, color blind exam, blood pressure, and general health questionnaire (diabetes, epilepsy, anything that may cause a seizure or incapacitate you). Then it was back to the admin building to get all the paperwork reviewed, stamped, and made official. Then its off to the testing building where they give you a study guide and schedule the written test. As I have an existing license valid for more then a year they did not require a practical exam. My test was 2 weeks away.
Today I took the test, 100 questions and was informed by the computer I had passed with 3 questions left, meaning I missed 2. From there it was getting the test results certified, stamped, and then going back to the administration building. Here we got more stamps, certifications, paid more fees, got some more stamps, and then sat in a basically empty room waiting on the number to pick up the license. 20 minutes later I received my brand spanking new license, renewal card, and nifty vinyl case to keep it all in.
Here are some differences to note. In China you can’t smoke when driving, legally. Despite what happens on the roads you can’t creep through an intersection or ignore traffic lights legally. You are not supposed to honk, flash your lights, or use high beams when you encounter the millions of things you will see (people in the road, bikes, mopeds, cars going the wrong way, people stopped between lanes trying to figure out which way to go). Shanghai has restrictions on the elevated highways, you have to get a city sticker and registration to use them during the week days, I don’t have that for the wife’s car so we can only use the elevated roads on weekends and holidays. There are more but I will discuss that later, as I get some driving time under my belt.
Its been 3 years since I drove, tonight I got lost on purpose to learn the area around our apartment a little better. Driving here is a huge difference due to the bikes, mopeds, motorcycles, and pedestrians who are always in too much of a hurry to obey any sort of law, rule, or common sense. Next are the buses. Shanghai has over 1,000 bus routes, and the drivers have high turnover so you have to watch out for their suicidal lane changes and running of red lights. Shanghai’s taxi corps is everything except patient and forgiving, they will honk, cut you off, and act like they will hit you if you show weakness, they drive offensively. Finally are the regular drivers who have little in the way of reference of driving as they are the first generation to have this much access to cars. They are learning and the roads are wide and great, but they are anything but sticklers for following the rules of the road. My biggest fear is not getting into an accident, 20 years of defensive metro driving and dodging deer in the country are burned in my brain, no my fear is I acclimate to the Shanghai way of driving.
Next up, get a car seat, a luxury item and rarely here, a road breakdown and first-aid kit, service up the car and then its learning the surface streets and elevated rings. It feels great to have the freedom of driving again, but in a city of this size its a little of mixed blessing as parking is a premium and gridlock is a guarantee. Wish me luck and get ready for new adventure and travel blogs as we start to explore the areas around Shanghai!