Monday, May 11, 2009
Ride with me (or not!)
I was in Shanghai this weekend. On Saturday I caught up with some people from the company where I am going to work this summer, as they were in Shanghai on a business trips, and had brought an employment contract for me to sign. One of the women from the company is more or less my ’idol.’ She’s in her late 40ies and speaks perfect Chinese. And when I say perfect I really mean perfect. Unless it was for her white hair and super blue eyes and tall height (ehhh) you could have taken her for a local. She used to be married to a Chinese man and has studied Chinese for 5 years in Beijing, so it all makes sense… still, she’s quite an inspiration.
Anyways, we were having dinner and started talking about driving in China. I don’t have any Chinese driver’s license and I’m not planning to get one either (I’d love to live for another year or so at least!) but a lot of foreigners that I know in Suzhou have. It’s apparently quite easy to get a driver’s license over here if you already have one from your country of origin. You just have to take some theory test, and since the test is entirely in Chinese, you need to get a translator/interpreter to come with you on the test day. I know that there is one Chinese woman in Suzhou who is particularly popular, as she has worked for most of the people that I know.
She started off as an innocent translator, going to the tests and translating the questions. Then came the day when she was at the test with a foreigner and realized that the foreigner didn’t really know the answers to the questions. Since she was sitting there next to him, and knew all the answers by heart (it is apparently always the same test every time), she decided to help him out. Once she’d done it once it became more of a common practice… and then, she realized that there was big business to be made, and offered a service of her taking the test, but typing the foreigner’s name on the test paper. It couldn’t have been easier for foreigners to get their Chinese driver’s licensee in Suzhou. They didn’t even have to show up on the exam day!
Although after some months the police smelled something fishy and decided to investigate her, so then she had to actually start brining the foreigner to the test in person again. Although she’s still taking the test for them, telling them what key to press (it’s a computer test).
When we shared this story with my Finnish translator friend, she laughed and told me that once, a Chinese man who was living in Finland and who wanted to get a Finnish driver’s license, hired her to be his translator during the test. She agreed to do the job, and told him that the test was quite hard and that he had to study and prepare well for it.
During the test day, they sat down in front of the computer, the first question showed up and she translated it for him.
-Yeah, OK, he said. And nodded to her. And then….?
-And then what?
-And then… what’s the correct answer? You’re going to tell me that too, right?
-Eh… no. The answer to the question you need to know yourself!
Face loss big time! My friend felt embarrassed by the guy’s requirement and the Chinese man felt embarrassed by the fact that he had thought that when he hired the translator, he also hired someone who could take the test for him. A sweaty hour in front of the computer followed, with suspicious looks from the test supervisor. In the end, the man failed his test and he never hired my friend to re-take the test again.
Note to self: when bumping into a foreigner in China/a Chinese person abroad with a Chinese/foreign driver's license, ask how they got it. I wonder how many people who actually take that test themselves.