Following absolutely no pressure or encouragement to start writing again, I took it upon myself to begin compiling my thoughts, observations and, well lets face it drivel that comes from an overworked and probably undersized brain.
Just returned from a couple of weeks in Thailand with the family, two weeks of excellent weather, food and drink, so much so that I didnt find too much time to write - but plenty of time to partake in my 2nd favorite hobby - Photography.
So I thought I would share a few of my favorite photos with you - hope you enjoy.
I recently needed to renew my Chinese driving licence, a task you would have thought not worthy of a blog? I remember having to update my licence in the UK due to an address change (I keep a residence in the UK for such things), it was surprisingly simple, painless and relatively cheap. I didn't even need to leave the comfort of my living room - all done online and with the minimum of fuss and palarvour. Now whilst I didn't expect the process to be as simple in Shanghai, nothing could have alerted me to the impending nightmare process that was in front of me.
The story of how I got my Chinese Driving licence has been one of those well worn anecdotes brought up whenever in company of newbies (this is the derogatory term used by 'exprats' to describe any foreigner in China who arrived after them - even by 30 seconds), tourists or business collegues visiting this fair land. You see just because you have an international driving licence and a clean British one, you were never allowed to just jump in a car and drive here (the rules have lessened for visitors mad enough to try since the Olympics), dependant on which city you lived in, you would need to apply and take a serious of tests and examinations before being let lose on mandarin motorways! I actually think the rules were put in place to make it as difficult as possible for foreigners to drive - not out of spite you understand, but out of protection. Anyone daft enough to want to get behind a wheel here must actually be a few slates short of a roof, the safety records are horrendous, road surfaces non existent and road manners have not been invented yet. Drivers here make driving in downtown Paris, Rome or New York look like driving miss daisy.
So why did you get a licence then Paul? well I worked for an automotive company, and as the QD I needed to benchmark our own and competitor vehicles in real situations and not just on private test tracks. Also (and probably the real reason) I am a control freak, if I could jump out of the seat Im in writing this, and fly the plane - this is despite having no knowledge of how to fly a plane, I am still convinced that I could do a better job, and at least we wouldn't have had the obligatory 2 hour delay - air traffic control, pah - who needs them to give us permission, which is probably why the RAF turned me down all those years ago! I wont go into the detail of how I corruptly got my licence as I will not have a mildly amusing anecdote to tell you if we ever meet, and besides this blog wasn't about how I originally got my licence it was about how I managed to get it renewed.
My licence had been issued by Jiangsu department of transport whilst living in Nanjing, one of only a handful of licences they had issued to a foreigner, and something I was very proud of. So when I noticed it would expire in June of this year, a cold shiver rushed down my spine. I knew that nothing involving a government department would be simple and would be embroiled in subdifuge and unwritten procedures. I knew it had recently become more common for foreigners to obtain driving licences, and that obtaining them didn't necessarily require the passing of brown envelopes stuffed with unmarked RMB, however the renewal of a foreigners driving licence would be far less common. My licence originally lasted for 6 years, and the likelyhood of anyone else still being here 6 years on and in need of a driving licence renewed, must have meant they had either been in prison, or imprisoned by their Chinese wife. The majority of foreigners complete their 2-3 year company stretch before going back to the real world, and after 5 years the nasty Chinese tax man wants to grab some of that money you have stashed in property or savings from around the world, anything in-between your lungs, blood stream and kidneys have been poisened so much that fleeing is the only course of action left.
Fearing the worse I had left it until the last minute, I had ensured my helpful aide (Kency), had investigated the process as much as is possible, which in a country where job security is ensured by not telling anyone else the rules, and making decisions based upon feelings rather than procedure, was a difficult task. Documents in hand, my best shirt, tie and cheesy smile we ventured to the enormous department of road transport in the Shanghai district of Minhang. Driving licences in the UK last until you die (virtually) meaning that those who passed their test with a guy wearing white gloves walking slowly in front of their automobile, can still jump into a vehicle today, despite being blind, deaf and incontinent. In China everyone needs to renew them regulary, why? well the cynical view would be that it provides a steady income for the comunist party coffers and keeps millions (literally) of civil servants in employment. The licensing centre is spread over a dozen different buildings, and is one of the few government buildings I have come across that has a decent car park, oh and the air-com turned on - which perhaps supports my cynical view.
I guess it would be logical for me to take you through the process, but I fear this will mean I need to write several thousand words, rather than just a few hundred, so hear is the abridged version. On arriving you first need to address the reception who points you onto your next step of the process - not the whole process mind, just the next step, which was to a cashiers desk to pay for the obligatory photo, then you move to the photographer, then to another office to collect your photo, again another desk for a man to trim the photo, and onto another to be given an application, another to have the application and the photo stuck together, and with application in hand back to the reception, collect a numbered ticket and dependant on the queue wait for your number - my number was 240 places away! 3 hours later of watching road traffic accidents so gruesome they would be banned in 9 out of 10 country's, you get called to a desk. Now I guess this is where most peoples application is processed and they abruptly move onto the final stages of this red tape fuckfest. Not me.
The person at the processing desk didn't like my face, or my application - so they transferred me to another desk, this wasn't much better and despite the valiant efforts of Kency to convince the official we were told that my application was not acceptable, and I would need to travel the 5 hour journey to Nanjing for them to process. Unhappy with this flea in the ear response, we thought we would try another official sitting behind a desk, no joy there either, so onto another. Finally a symphetic ear, and after much pushing, shouting and 5 other officials giving their 10 pence worth, we were directed to yet another desk and yet another official - this guy had several more pips than anyone else, and enjoyed taking the preverbal out of me, I just smiled and gave him as much face as possible. 30 minutes later he agreed to process my application - however I would need to go and get a full physical examination and make a new application, he failed to give any reason for this, just that he felt it would 'help' my application, and that it was pointless arguing.
So onto another 14 offices (yes count them 14) to have money taken, receipts given, applications chopped and my ears, eyes, blood pressure, height? weight? dexterioty, heart beat and penis length checked (I made the last one up), I ventured back to the main reception to be handed another queue number, only 60 places away this time. One more hour and 4 more desks until I managed to get big boss to see me and process the application, he enjoyed taking the piss out of my poor chinese, and i just smiled and took it all again, until he finally approved the application and sent me upstairs to another 2 more desks for the obligatory payment and final 'chop', one more desk and I recieved a shiney new licenese in a shiney new leatherette folder A process that took 6 hours, 25 separate desk/offices, dozens of officials and a hand full of cash, at least I do not have to go through it all for another 10 years as my expiry date has been extended. Now you understand why the term 'Red Tape' was invented here - however when cutting through it you have to cut vertically rather than horizontally - my advice use public transport, get a driver or make sure you get out before you need to renew!