Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Like the Yankees, we gave a valiant effort but failed.

We had our driver’s license tests at 10 am this morning. Mr. Dou drove us out to the big P.R.C. office of Traffic Safety compliance and Road Rules with us cramming in the back seat on the 40-minute drive. We did not bring the books on our great Yangshou trip and just barely cracked them Sunday night before passing out. There must be 1,000 questions to study . about half of which are obvious. Another 30 percent you can more or less figure out if you you’re your time and read carefully – remember, this is all in that horrible, badly translated English – and 20 percent you have no hope to figure out and simply have to memorize.

Lily is off this week, so we didn’t have anyone to explain what was going on – Dou can not speak more than few words of English, which sis remarkable since he has worked for the Journal for 17 years. We went to the foreigner room and sat and waited, alongwith 15-20 other people of all nationalities, including many Chinese, who are, I guess, citizens of other places.

Then we get called in and all of us go upstairs to a big room filled with desks and computer terminals and staffed by about five uniformed police. We are told to sit down at one, or pointed to sit down, I should say. I sit down behind Becky. You enter your six-digit code number and press English, one of about 12 language choices. It gives you some brief instructions, explaining that the computer will randomly generate 100 questions. You must get 90 right to pass and have 45 minutes to complete the test. As soon as you press start, a little clock pops up in the upper right corner counting down your remaining time.

As soon as I went through 10 or 15 questions, I knew I was doomed. One of the questions showed a black rectangle with odd linear white markings and the question said, “in a parking lot, this indicates A) direction you should drive. B) parking space delineaitons C) something else, I forget. Well, they didn’t look like any of the above. I guessed B.

At some point, a huge, sumo-sized Asian guy with a buzz cut wearing a giant, but still-too-small lacoste shirt sitting across the room started coughing and grunting and making strange guttural noises. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, scream or join in with him. I felt like the walking dead, whistling on my way to the gallows. I was moving too quickly through the test, but I really felt like the ones I didn’t know wouldn’t really benefit from extra analysis. It was usually easy to eliminate one answer, which left a 50-50 guess. I hit send without going back to recheck any answers, and almost immediately a frowning red face appeared. I tired to stay to see if I could look it over and see what I got wrong, but a cop quickly shooed me to the front, where another cop took my form and scribbled 82 on the bottom. I actually thought that was pretty good and remembered what our friend Jim said – that he had had failed the test but they gave him his license himself. I wonder if 8 percent off was close enough.

I went downstairs and handed it to Mr. Dou, who frowned and shook his head. While I was waiting for Becky – who would take the full 45 minutes, leaving me about 15 minutes to wait, a chinese guy had some big dispute with the woman we would have to deal with. she was unyielding and harsh in her crisp navy uniform –think a Chinese Nurse Ratchet in full military getup. I knew I was sunk. Now all my hopes were pinned on B. if she got her license, at least we could drive to the grocery store and soccer games while we waited for another appointment. She finally came down, shortly after the Lacoste-clad grunter.

She did better than me, which is only more frustrating – she scored 87, which in any sane world would be good enough. Nurse Ratchet stamped us rejected and set another appointment for October 27, which was the next available date as far as I could tell, though there were 25 empty computer terminals and they could at least twice as many at once easily. I guess we have no choice but to try to memorize all 1,000 insane questions. It turns out that when Jim got his license despite failing, the test was written and it was all at the discretion of the officer. That was just two years ago. A year prior when our predecessors got their license there as no written test. You should just had to drive 100 feet in a straight line. I spoke to some of the teaching assistants in eli’s class and it is even harder for Chinese people to get their license – they have to take 60 hours of classes/lessons and pay 3,000 RMB, a huge sum. And the funny thing is, there are actually NO RULES on the road here.

After this debacle, we headed back to town with dou. I was obsessed with finding a bar to watch the second half of the steelers/Chargers game. I had the name of one place, which I actually found by googling “NFL football in Bejing bar” or something and ending up on a guys’ blog, much like this one. He wrote about watching last year’s AFC championship game at the Goose and Duck Pub. It was in a neighborhood I actually knew so I had dou take me there. I struggled to find the place and finally did – only to realize the game was not on, because it is usually on ESPN but was preempted by the Yanks game, which was on three channels – EsPN English, ESPN chinese and Japanese Tv.

The latter shows all Yanks game thanks to Hideki and it is hilarious to watch – they show him in the dugout between pitches of other at bats. I ordered a $6 Guinness (which is probably equivalent to $20 here, considering how cheap beer is) and settled in to watch the last few innings and let my conflicts play themselves out. They were losing 7-3 in the 7th and sure enough I was rooting for the Yanks to tie it up. But in the 9th when ARod hit into that pathetic 5-4-3 DP with Jeter on first, I felt a surge of happiness. What a chump. Then I went back to rooting for them and was happy when Giambi got on base. But when they lost a few pitches later, I was a little bummed but didn’t really care either way. I wish I could understand what the Japanese announcers were saying about Hidkei going 0-5 and stranding 8 runners.

So, I’m sorry for Uncle Ben and Danny Rosen. You two guys are responsible for my fondness for the Pinstripes and creating this swirling vortex of contradictions in my gut.

The rest of you can read this:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=second/guessing/2005

A guy sitting next to me at the Goose and Duck told me (after having a huge screaming fight with his Chinese landlord about the number of phone lines in his office) that ESPN would play the football game on tape delay after the baseball so I waited through the brief postgame interviews. Then I see the three tenors singing the German national anthem on some sort of race track and sure enough ESPN goes to some European Grand prix race. Rather than giving up, I picked up the remote and kept flipping through the channels. About the third time through, I hit the MNF Game on Star Sports, which had soccer on earlier. There was 9:22 left and the Steelrs up 21-16. I watched that baby out. What a great game. I hope Roethsliberger is okay. I nursed my Guinness to the end, then headed across the street for some Vietnamese lunch before grabbing a cab home. I guess it will be a while until I drive myself anywhere around here.