It has now been more than four years since I first got my license in China (click here, here and here to catch up) and three years since I lost it. I dropped it somewhere in the middle part of the United States of America and haven’t seen it since. I’ve barely missed it but recently a car owning friend was looking for a licensed driver to look after his wheels while he was out of the country. It didn’t take me long to sign up for that deal. Ok, so maybe I don’t actually have the physical, picture on the front, carry it in your pocket, hold it in your hand, present it to an officer version of the license anymore but it was enough for me to know that I am in the system somewhere and if push came to shove surely we could prove that I’m kind of legal.
Meanwhile I asked Flight (my assistant) to call the Bureau of Chinese Driver’s Licenses to find out how I could get a new license printed. After she called she shared the most dreadful news imaginable.
I’ve heard those words in China before and they have yet to be true. I was hoping that this time would be the exception.
It was not.
“All you need is a copy of your registration card, a copy of your passport and some one inch pictures. You can take it to the office and then they will give you your new license in three days. It should only cost about 100 kuai (around $15).”
“Wow. Great. That’s it?”
“Yep that’s it. Also you need to have your passport translated into Chinese and have that translation certified by a certified Chinese translator. That will cost 80 kuai per page.”
“Ok. Still not bad. Let’s do it.”
“Yep. Also, because your passport has changed since you got your license you will need a letter from the U.S. Consulate that says your old passport and your new passport both belong to you.”
Less excited but still more than willing, “Ok.” (Upon investigation I found out that the Consulate charges 325 kuai per page)
“And it’s probably better to have that letter translated into Chinese and certified by a certified Chinese translator too (another 80).”
“Got it. But that’s all I need right?”
“Yep. Then you take it to the office where you got your license and they will give you a new copy in three days. It’s easy”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Yep. It’s takes about three days.”
“No, no, not that part, the part about the office. Did you say the office where I got my license?”
“Yep. You have to go to the same office that you went to the first time.”
“That’s a whole other city!!. That’s 1000 kilometers from here. Surely they’ve got it in a computer somewhere.”
“Let me check” . . . (calls the Bureau) . . . “Nope.”
It took a few weeks to actually break down and make the decision but daily access to a car under the dark cloud of what would probably happen if I got caught driving it finally tipped the scales. I rounded up my paperwork booked my flights (about 1800 kuai) and packed my bags for a two day trip. I had Flight double check to make sure there was absolutely nothing else I would need.
“Nope. It’s easy.”
When I arrived in my old city it took one full day to get the letter from the Consulate. I took the evening to catch up with some old friends and prepared to go to the licensing facility at the crack of dawn. It takes about an hour and a half to get there by taxi (85 more kuai) but optimistically I booked my return flight for that afternoon because . . . well because it should have been easy.
I had a translator lined up to go with me but at the last minute she had to cancel. It was just me against China. Not exactly a fair fight.
I arrived and went directly to building A where they told me I needed to go to building B to get my physical test done. I said I don’t think I need a physical because I’m recovering my lost license. They sent me anyway. At building B they told me I didn’t need a physical because I was just recovering my lost license and sent me back to building A where they said “Of course, you need to go to building C.” So I did.
Building C was a solid line of thirty some desks and windows. I was sent to window 17 where they took my papers and sent me to window 15 where they stamped my papers and sent me to window 16. I’m not exactly sure what they did at window 16 but when they were finished doing it they sent be back to window 15 where Officer Grumpy Pants barked at me and said something I couldn’t understand. He then sent me back to window 17 where the girl pulled up the information from my previous license and showed it to me. I got excited.
“Yes! Yes! That’s me. Now print it out and I can go.”
Turns out she was trying to show me the note attached to my information which I could not read. I called Flight to translate and handed the phone to girl 17. She walked around for a bit and finally gave me my phone back. Flight said, “Jerry, because you have not done the yearly physical test you must take the written test again.”
I nearly puked. “I can’t take the test. I haven’t studied for the test in four years. There’s no way I can take the test. When can I take it?”
I’m pretty sure I did actually puke at least a little. “Next TUESDAY?!! Are you kidding me?!! It’s Friday! I can’t stay until Tuesday!! Is there any way I can try to take the test today?”
I passed the phone back to window 17. They talked and she passed it back. Flight said, “You can also take it next Thursday.”
We double checked everything and there were no loopholes. No way around it, my entire trip was a complete waste of time and money. I sat and sulked for about 20 minutes. I went back to try begging at windows 17, 16 and even officer Grumpy Pants at window 15 who said something about how the government in Beijing would throw him in prison if he made an exception just for me. At least I think he said that. He may have actually said that Beijing would launch missiles at my hometown if I didn’t leave immediately. He may have also said the weather is nice in Beijing this time of year. I’m almost positive he mentioned Beijing.
Completely dejected I walked out. Half way between building C and building A my phone rang. It was Flight. “Jerry. Go back in and give the phone to the leader. Let’s explain the whole situation and see if you can take the test today.” I thought we did that already but she thought it was worth a shot and I had nothing to lose. I couldn’t find the leader so I gave it to the girl at window 17 and she talked to Officer Grumpy Pants. They returned my phone.
“What did they say?”
“They said sure, no problem. You can take the test this afternoon.”
I had not been so confused since puberty . . . I was 100% full of every possible emotion. I wanted to punch Officer Grumpy Pants square in his nose but I also wanted to kiss him square on his face. I was completely excited that there was a remote chance that this trip would not be a complete waste of two days and more than 3000 kuai, yet I was painfully aware that passing the test with less than three hours to study was virtually impossible, even for smart people (see Step 2).
I sprinted to building A to register for the test and they sent me back to building C to get the test registration paper from the girl at window 17. I ran back to building C, got my paper and jogged back to building A where they sent me to building B to take my physical test which I did now, in fact, actually need. I walked briskly. The ladies in building C were happy to see me again. They shoved me through the line (thankfully not taking off points for shortness of breath) breaking their previous record (step 2 again), and sent me back to building A. I crawled through the doors and successfully registered to take the test at 2:00 pm.
It was 11:47.
But that’s another story.
To Be Continued . . .