This morning Travis and I were scheduled to get our drivers licenses. The Embassy provides a facilitator and driver who help Embassy families through the process, which, if shopping at the department store is any indication, was likely to be a bureaucratic nightmare.
As soon as we met our helpers we knew it was going to be an adventure. They took one look at the photos we provided and laughed, shaking their heads and explaining that the white background wasn’t white enough. They passed the photos back and forth for a bit, soliciting the opinions of a few passersby, and debating where we were best off going to have new pictures taken. We offered to come back next Wednesday but they waved us onto the bus and we headed out.
Our first stop was a photo store, where we had another set of photos taken in front of a white wall. They immediately loaded the photos on to the computer and proceeded to photoshop the background to make it whiter. It was clear they’d done this thousands of times, and it must be standard practice ahead of trips to the DMV.
Our next stop was the hospital, obviously, where we paid the cashier and were lead out the door to another wing where we waited in the corridor for the doctor to finish his cigarette so he could give us our eye exams. I went first, and after passing the test for colorblindness (by naming the number – in Chinese no less! – on a card taped to the doctor’s desk), I motioned first to the left and then to the right to signal which direction the giant Es on the eye chart were facing, and I was done. The hardest thing I had to do was tell the doctor how tall I was in centimeters. (I had no idea, so he and the facilitator asked me to stand up and chatted for a few second before writing down their best guess on the application). The doctor signed off on everything, and, because we’re in China, stamped my application with a red stamp before sending me on my way.
After helping Travis cheat the colorblindness test we headed back to the bus, and though we expected to be taken to the DMV, we were driven directly back to the Embassy, where we were told to leave our completed applications with the transportation coordinator, who told us that we could expect to receive our licenses in two days. It was certainly an anticlimactic end to the adventure, and part of me is sorry I didn’t get to experience the Chinese DMV, but the picture taking and hospital visit were entertaining enough, and I am sure that if I actually get the courage to actually drive here I’ll have plenty more stories to tell!