There’s a process that must be followed
A well known saying attributed to some lazy guy called ‘Piers Plowman’ is worthy of Confucius himself ... Patience is a virtue. It’s certainly a trait practiced a lot here in Shenzhen.
We arrived across the boarder from Hong Kong on Monday morning in the care of the ambitious guide who called himself ‘Raymond’ - who begged us to send him all our friends so he could make them the world’s happiest travelers’. I agreed to do that in lieu of the expected tip – but uncharacteristically I’ve weakened and given him both the free advertisement and the tip. It’s a payment I was reluctant to provide given, (a) he did nothing for us except sit in the best seat in the car and yap to the driver all the way through the efficient boarder controls and (b) he ostentatiously flaunted a ‘Louis Vuitton’ shoulder bag which left Flypaper in an expectant mood and myself feeling totally inadequate as a provider. I soon recovered.
Arrival in China was full of expectation – and still is … and that expectation may last for some time yet. Our first task on arrival morning was to obtain our temporary Chinese driving license. A remarkable experience and one that was marginally easier than my NZ license back on the day of my 15th birthday. On that occasion I drove up to the local Police station with some flair but more restrained than usual. Mr Plod strolled out and perched on a chair by the station door from where he instructed me to drive up to the crossroad and back. I did so – in record time – valve bouncing Mums old Austin and using the umbrella handbrake to execute a pretty stylish parking maneuver. The man who was to become my nemesis, strolled to the window and handed me my license with the words, “I’ve been expecting you”. Seems he had seen me driving illegally for the previous 2 years. Here in Shenzhen they were not expecting me specifically, but they were expecting about a thousand others. We watched our new guide fill out our applications in Chinese. Our contribution in addition to a signature was to smear gum onto the back of a photo and carefully apply it in the provided space. We did a nice job of that. That qualified us to undertake the eye test. This involved sitting on a stool facing a mirror that reflected a big bald man with a long stick. He pointed the stick at a symbol on a chart and our duty was to signal with a pointy digit the direction the ‘legs’ of the symbol were pointing – up, down or sideways. For me the third poke of the stick appeared to be in a blank white area but a vague horizontal gesture seemed to do the trick and I was rewarded with a 通行证. A further 2 hours dozing in a hard cold chair resulted in our receiving our 1st precious document.
Tuesday morning was spent at the Silk Road & Shenzhen History Museum – because we didn’t wish to annoy the Customs officers too early. Pity. They wouldn’t see us so we drove to the place where we would be issued our Insurance Certificate. For this we sat in the car for 3 hours while our ever patient guide negotiated successfully on our behalf. That almost made us late for the best sound & light show in the city.
The following morning we were invited to the docks to see Customs. Following some of the now expected waiting, they allowed only me to stroll through the huge complex to discover our container with the doors open exposing the rear of our friends’ car. After an hour or so, 8 people arrived and requested I prove to them the original engines were in the cars. This involved using a torch to compare the number in the engine block with the number on the firewall – checked 8 times. The contents of the vehicles, which we had previously been informed included ‘illegal’ items, were of no interest. That was followed by a dash across town for a quick traditional lunch and on to a large grubby yard full of containers and huge machines that seems determined to run us over. Astonishingly our container was there and 6 men – in years past they would have probably been referred to as ‘coolies’ - released the tie downs and jimmied the timber wheel chocks so we could remove the cars. They were then loaded onto a pair of car transporters – the sort used to recover accident vehicles – and transported to a huge yard adjacent to a driving school. Here Martin & I underwent our driving test which consisted of reversing down from the truck decks to have our photos taken then driving on again. A few minutes latter we were requested to drive down again and take them to a covered area where about a dozen people took a number of ‘rubbings’ of the chassis number on the firewall. A while latter a uniform came out to study the NZ WOF & Road Tax cards on the windscreen and approved our reloading of the cars onto the transporters. They were again unloaded and spent the night in our hotel carpark.
Day 4 Thursday. Early at the license plate issuing building, where we sat for 3 hours with hundreds of others hoping to be favored with a document examination and a set of temporary number plates. Around mid-day an official decided our cars should have a WOF inspection. 30km back to the hotel carpark, back on the transporters and off to an inspection facility on the other side of town. My car failed the emissions test, Martins failed the brake test. Strange – we had completely overhauled the brakes and fitted new pads just before departure. Time in a nearby workshop followed by another test showed the results were worse! Given the fact that 3 failed tests means the car can never pass, we screwed up the documents and loaded onto the transporters yet again to find another testing station. This time, both cars passed without any problem. While we were transported back to the hotel – inside our cars – up on the transporters, our guide scurried across town too the license plate issuer. Too late. He must report again on day 5 when we are promised we will receive the plates and our enormous file of documents that will allow us to start driving West across China. Documents from the Departments of Customs, Tourism and the Military together with insurance will be held by our guides throughout the journey and presented on demand to any interested official. The plates and a mysterious window sticker indicate to all that we have completed the process required to drive our vehicles on the public roads.
The point of telling this marathon experience is simply to demonstrate that China is a great and prospering economy with an enormous number of work opportunities. It is also home to a race of very patient people. Our guides were frustrated on our behalf knowing we were told this process would take 2 days rather than 5. We feel for them – and never more so than when guide Steven spied the NZ national symbol on the back window of my car. He asked, “Why do you have a picture of a chicken on your window?” A very good question.