Friday, July 22, 2011

Driving School

One last post about my visit home with my student: Driving school.

Here's what I know in general about learning to drive in China.  It's not that common, and most people do it after college sometime.  You have to go to a driving school ($$$) and pass some written exams along the way, culminating in a driving test at the end.  Rita (my student) told me a few other things, such as:

*You can't legally drive on the road until after you get your license.  So driving school basically just teaches parking lot driving, and you're supposed to learn other skills from the book.

*She thinks it's bad to be the top student in driving school, because then you might be asked to take the final driving exam first, and then you will be so nervous you might fail.

*Some people go to driving school, get a license, and (almost) never drive again, because they don't actually know how.

Rita is going to driving school this summer.  There are about 30 students in her class, sharing one teacher and one vehicle (pictured above -- manual transmission).  Why is that picture dark?  Well, it's because we woke up at 4:40 in the morning in order to be at the driving range by 5 a.m. to beat the other students.  They sign in as they arrive, and that's the order they get their driving practice in.

(Why not just have a fixed schedule and come at the time you are assigned?  Seems no one has thought of this.)

Anyway, we were the first to arrive at 5:00 but other students started trickling in by 5:30 or so.  Other driving classes and teachers arrived and started driving other vehicles.

After an hour and a half of us waiting, Rita's teacher showed up at 6:30.  Hooray!  However, a small problem emerged.  There was one set of keys to the practice vehicle, and no one knew where it was.  Apparently a different student had walked off with the keys the night before.

So we waited around for another half hour, with about a dozen of the other students, all waiting their turn to practice.

Finally someone tracked down the keys.  Hooray!  By this time it was 7:30 (three hours after we woke up), and finally Rita's turn to drive.  She got in, and the teacher walked by the drivers' window to give her some tips.  She backed into a parking spot.  She pulled out.  She pulled in again.  Then out.  In.  Out.  

Three times pulling in and out and her lesson was over, lasting less than 10 minutes.  It struck me as the most inefficient and ineffective way anyone could possibly run a driving school.  There is no way an operation like this could really turn out qualified drivers, could it?

However, I neglected to consider the power of guanxi -- relationship.  About a week after I left, Rita sent me an e-mail saying she discovered that the driving teacher was also her cousin-in-law.  After realizing they were relatives, he took her out on the real road for some one-on-one driving practice.  And that's how things get done in China.

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