January 15, 2010


I first got my Taiwanese learners' permit about 5 years ago so that I could legally drive the family car when it came time to take our first child home from the hospital. I went up and borrowed the test study guide, a collection of 90 pages' worth of questions from which the test is composed.

I had had a drivers license in the States since the 80's and laughed off the suggestion that it was something which needed to be studied for. The motorcycle test had been easy enough.

I got about halfway through the computerized test, though, and was humming a different tune. It was the most profane humming one has ever heard. By the end of the test, I was telling the computer to go plug it's USB into its mother, in similar language.

As I exited the test area I was sure that I could save the world by just giving the bastards my business card and telling them when they were ready to clean up the language on that piece of shit, I would be wiling to help them out. Then I let the door hit me on the ass on the way out.

Five years I waited, and they never called asking for my help in rewriting the test. I still shake my head about this lost business opportunity. I probably should have done a PowerPoint presentation to show the woman at the counter, but it would likely have had just about the same effect as shouting at her in the kind of English that one learns early on from his older brother.

It's time to take the kids back to America and show them the land of the free etc. But to do this properly will require a bit of driving. There's really no difference between driving without a license in America and driving without a license in Taiwan, except the American cops are more likely to know phrases like "step out of the car and put your hands behind your head" that make the eventuality of getting stopped by the fuzz more daunting than in my adopted home.

So, another trip to the DMV was in order. My learner's permit was expired, so I needed another physical exam consisting of an eye check and one deep knee bend with my hands held parallel to the ground administered by an extremely aged doctor in a clinic that was blaring a Sinead O'Connor tune on the radio.

I marched back with my sharp eyes and fully functioning knee joints and ran upstairs to sit down at the computer terminal where I had a choice of about 8 languages to take the test in. I figured English would be challenging enough, and put on the headphones to find out that the feministic voice on the recording was reading slightly different sentences than were on the computer screen, so I turned her all the way down and trusted the Force.

This time, I had no questions at all about taxi driving, or about how to load cargo on to a truck. Absent also, were questions about how many years I would need to have a private license before I tried to get a bus driver's license.


True or False: Traffic laws maintain traffic order. The most important principle of maintaining traffic order is not only to understand but to obey the spirit of law can achieve an objective of good traffic safety.
The spirit of law being more important than the letter, or character.
True or False: Driving is both physically and mentally tiring. Only by leading a regular life, driving safety can be ensured.

Is that about eating enough roughage, or not working 6 days a week?

True or False: I find two drug dealers whispering in my taxi In order to help my country, I should think up a method to report the police station and not let them escape.
I don't pretend to understand how detaining a Ketamine dealer in Taiwan is going to help the USA, but as the openings for Western cab drivers are as few as they are far between, I don't have to worry about narking on one.

True or False: A car should break down because it runs out of oil or water.
I stared at this question for a full two minutes before I flipped a coin. I answered correctly, but have no record of what the correct answer was. Personally, I don't think it should ever run out of oil in the first place.

I missed three and scored 90%.

Wednesday, I went back for the road test. (here it is in Google Maps)

The road test is the most horrific thing that has happened to Taiwan ever. Worse than the White Terror. Those who have tried and failed to get past it speak of it in ominous tones and avoid eye contact. Something about an S curve.

Before you do the course, though, you have to be aware of and understand "The Rules:"
  1. Self car should be parked at the assignment area to practiced in the test area is prohibited.
  2. Bring your identification card, test admission, and some papers all the time for review and to be on time to test
  3. While on your waiting interim should obey order not allowed to stay, to stroll, or to racket in the test area.
  4. To explain the road test rules to score standard and to test route on pretest if any question please offer them in time.
  5. A role call based on the number and check identificaiton photo then to get on car to test on order
  6. In accord with the invigilator's instructions and respect their duties
  7. A testee has reached over 30 score deduction that is judged that has failed his test should terminate his test and get off his car to sit on rear seat and then the invigilator will drive the car back to the initial test line
  8. If there some illegalaties of insult or bribery occur to the inviligators while on the his test will be prosecuted right away
  9. If someone help testees with gestures languages on the test will be rubbed off their scores
  10. If one of them the cars facilities damaged while on his test should restore them or compensate their own prices
  11. Those who are bare feet, bare shoulders or wear clogs, slippers that are not admitable. Also not allowed to smoke, to chew betelnuts on the test.
  12. Those who are not obey the rules or use an inappropriate means to attend the test will be prosecuted by the item 70 of the traffic safety rules.
Many foreigners will leave at this point. The stout hearted, or those who don't read the rules, get into the car with an instructor or two. I was blessed with two invigilators. Each of them told the other one that they needed to practice their English on me, but neither made any serious attempt. They both rode in the car with me as we did a practice lap of the Test Course, explaining in triplicate over each other about how many points were deducted for each crossing of lines. The invigilator at the wheel demonstrated that if one were to cross one of the unseeable border lines between the road and the curb, sirens would blare, lights would flash, and a sign post would light up showing how you how many points had just been deducted from your total.

Lose 30, and you're driven back to the terminal in the back seat. In deep shame.

All those touchy-feely New Age self-help books talk about visualizing success or some such, and in the hours leading up to my test, I visualized a trip around the track like a pro drifter or the Stig in a Bugatti Veyron.

The S curve is created to test your ability to drive into those narrow alleys that you see on Penghu when you get lost heading out of Makong. (You're better off renting a motorbike there anyway.) This emasculating alleyway looked simple enough, but when I saw the sensor cord hidden by the edge of the curb, the Toyota suddenly seemed as wide as a Hummer.

There's no hurry at all, so it took about five minutes to drive 10 meters in and back 10 meters out. This was the hardest part of the test, without question, but I made it through without a buzz.

I backed out onto the road, hit the turn signal and ambled over to the next obstacle where I simulated backing into a parking garage space. This one was a bit more realistically narrow keeping in mind how difficult it is to park in some of the shopping malls. I lost my 16 points here with a jarring siren in my left ear that caught me by so by surprise that I farted. Fortunately, the invigilator was assessing this part of my performance from outside the car.

It's quite possible, though that it wasn't me. When you sit at the terminal pondering the instructions and trying to work out what an "invigilator" is, the empty course is alive with alarms. It could be the wind, it could be sticks falling from the trees. It's imaginable that a squirrel, frightened by my approaching rear wheels, scurried for cover and landed with all of his weight on the sensor setting off the alarm, and that my test was, in fact, flawless, because in the parallel parking, stopping on a hill, and slow and steady, I never made another mistake. I even managed to keep my head together and come to a complete stop at the fake railroad and pedestrian crossings that rounded out the test.

The three people who came out to watch me do the test all congratulated me on my fine motor skills and said something like, "If all drivers in Taiwan had the skill that you have demonstrated by passing this extremely difficult test on the first try, then Taiwan would be a much safer place."

I couldn't agree more.


GLH JR said...

Great stuff. They should just use a night market for the test-course. I ended up driving through one once and it wasn't pretty...but I made it. No one died.

Paul said...

I have the feeling that they must do that for the coach driving test. Reminds me of the time I got hit by a bus in Dajia...

Christina said...

Hysterical - this is a great commentary and I'm still laughing!!!!

I love that you can't chew betelnuts on the test. I'm sure it was really tempting...

Also loved your description of what happened when the siren went off. HAHA!