Driving Crazy

I took a creative break from writing, but I wasn’t idling. I studied for the Chinese driving test. I do have a European driving license, also an ‘international’ one, but unfortunately international doesn’t include China in that case. I was told that it was around 4 weeks wait ing from application to test, and that there were 1000 questions to study.

I downloaded an app for my phone that had 200 questions, and my translators managed to get a pdf containing more questions from the internet. Unfortunately, that pdf didn’t have all questions answered, and the formatting was a bit weird as well. Lucky enough though I received a more or less official looking pdf with all 1000 questions from a colleague, and a link to a website where you could study and do mock tests (give it a try if you want: http://www.chinese-driving-test.com/).

In order to apply for the test, we went to the mayors office and had my German driver’s license translated, which took up most part of the morning. In the afternoon, we went to the vehicle management bureau at the other end of Baoding, where I officially applied for the exam.

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I had to do a medical check that basically consisted of reading 3 symbols from 3m away, and reading green numbers that were printed in a red pattern. Easy enough. The hard part was yet to start. I was scheduled to have the test the next week. 1000 questions in 6 days, with only one day weekend in between? difficult, but not impossible I thought. I did change my mind while studying though, as some of the questions just seemed entirely opposite to common sense. In order to pass the exam I had to answer 90 out of 100 questions correctly. My first mock tests ended somewhere in the lower 80s.

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Considering the nature of the questions I didn’t think that was too bad. After more studying, and more mock tests, I finally got into the 90s three days before the exam date. Good, but who knew whether the questions on the website were the same as in the official test? I continued my mock testing – 2 tests during breakfast, 2 more during napping break, and more after work. Averaging in the low 90s seemed to be a good sign, but no guarantee to pass. The last test the night before the exam date was 91, which was a little bit too close to feel safe.

In the morning, a driver picked me and my translator up and drove us to the place where the exam took place. I was waiting with a hundred other exam takers in a room that looked like a waiting hall out of a Chinese train station. Names were being called and I paid extra attention to recognise my Chinese name. When I was called, I went up to the 3rd floor to take the exam. The exam room was a big hall with small desks and computers, surrounded on 3 sides with panels to shield your screen from the prying eyes of the neighbors.

 

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I was queuing to get into the room, and when I had reached the front of the queue they asked me “Zhongwen?” which I promptly denied, answering “Yingwen!” – I certainly did not want to do the test in Chinese, but rather in English. I had to wait some more, before I was led to a desk. The police who showed me the desk told the man who occupied the desk to leave (not that I would have understood) and changed the test computer to English.

The moment of truth had come. I started the test, and tried to concentrate despite the noise and shouting from the police supervisor and the people around me. The first few questions were true or false questions. some with pictures some without. On the right side of the screen next to the questions, there were boxes numbered from 1 to 100 to show progress. After a few questions, I realised that the first of those boxes all had a red X marked in them. Damn it – should that mean I had gotten all of the first four questions wrong? What a bad start! I was quite nervous, unsure if it made much sense in continuing. One question later though, I realised that the X only marked my answer, which was ‘false’ in all of the first four correct or false questions. I continued and went through all 100 relatively quick. That gave me some time to go through them again within the 45 minutes given to complete the test. I managed to correct quite a few questions, and with 8 minutes left to spare, I clicked ‘hand in’. Suspense. Did I manage the 90 correct answers, or was all the stupid memorising in vain.
Reading ‘PASSED’ on the screen was quite a relief after all.
A few days later I received my driving license – a translator from another expert knew someone at the vehicle management station, who could speed up the process / typically Chinese.

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So for the next 6 years, I am officially licensed to drive like a Chinese. Beware!