Like how many other countries insist on their own idiosyncratic way of life, there are some things in China that simply must be done in a Chinese way. Driving is one of those.
To drive legally in China, you need a Chinese drivers license; foreigners aren’t permitted to drive on their home country license, even with an International Driving Permit1 (which is actually just a translation of the home country license). Getting the license is famously difficult, chiefly because
everyone must take a written test; 90 percent is considered passing. The test consists of 100 questions drawn from a pool of nearly 1,000. The test is particularly tough for foreigners, owing to the volume of memorization and sometimes sketchy translations. 2
I got my driver’s license with motorcycle endorsement (C1E) in Guangzhou last week, and it was indeed a trial. (Some have reported on forums that Guangzhou is no longer issuing motorcycle licenses,3 but they didn’t give me hard time about that particular aspect of the process.) Passing the test wasn’t the hard part; after regular studying with the Chinese Driving Test website I was successful on my first test attempt. Dealing with the bureaucracy, on the other hand, ultimately required six trips to the main DMV office (岑村车管总所). Much of this is due to the lack of published information about the process, so learn from my experience so that yours is smoother.
My girlfriend and l will leave Kuwait at the end of this school year, and although Kuwait has a reputation for not being the most stimulating city, we’re sure there are things we’ll miss. We’ve yet to find out what they are, but in an effort to find out we’ve compiled a bucket list of goals we want to achieve before we leave Kuwait forever. So far, this includes:
Outlandishly expensive burgers at Slider Station
Souvenir shopping at the Iranian Souq
Dinner at the Heritage Souq
Tailoring at the Fabric Souq
We’ve decided not to travel for the week off that we get for the Kuwait National Day holiday, so we’ve already started to work through some of these.
A few weeks ago we took an afternoon trip to camel races. The drive took us 30km west, past the airport and down a narrow road in a desolate stretch of desert. The road was lined by an aged wire fence buried under plastic bags and heaps of sand, and a few kilometers in it curved around Kuwait’s dumping group for discarded construction materials, making the whole thing a very post-apocalyptic experience. The camel races themselves were a kilometer or two past the dump, with an unassuming clubhouse sitting next to an 8km oval track. There’s no betting at the races, of course, but it was valuable as a cultural experience.
Outlandishly expensive burgers at Slider Station
Kuwait doesn’t have many homegrown businesses, as most residents here prefer to frequent foreign chains like Shake Shack, Johnny Rockets, and others, but when Kuwaitis do open a business they tend to be innovative and well-executed. Witness Slider Station: an industrial-chique burger joint, replete with house music, dim lighting, and a conveyor belt ala kaiten sushi. Their sliders offer tastes from Thai beef with basil to wagyu beef to cheese-stuffed mushrooms. I’d been wanting to try their 11.25KD (~35USD) monster burger for a while – you get your name on the wall if you eat the entire 1.5lbs of meat – but when I arrived I decided that if I wanted to gorge on meat I could do that at Elevation Burger, which offers a multi-patty option, up to 10 if you so choose. So I opted for their 11.25KD Wagyu beef burger with goose fat fries. Wagyu, famous for its marbled texture, is supposed to be THE prime beef, but this burger didn’t blow me away. It was good, but not enough to justify the premium over Slider Station’s other delicious options. And I’m not sure that goose fat is all that different from other fat – the fries weren’t distinct from their regular shoestrings.
It’s not all that different from what you’d get in the Levant or Anatolia, which is to say that Kuwaiti breakfasts are composed of a delicious selection of eggs, foul and hummous, heavy cream (khaimak) with honey and jams, and an assortment of breads and pastries. I went with my Kuwaiti friend (that’s right, I really only have one) to Cafe Bazza, set just off of 2nd ring and the Gulf Road. The heavy cream really makes the meal – I will miss this.
Over the winter break, my dad introduced me to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series of novels. For those of you who aren’t familiar, these thrillers deal with a transient, ex-MP who drifts from city to city dealing with trouble that just happens to find him, like witnessing a kidnapping, or being falsely accused of a murder. I immediately saw the similarities to my own life – we’re both 6’5″, highly trained, deadly, averse to material possesions, and have a totally accurate internal clock.
Maybe not. But we do, in fact, share a somewhat transient lifestyle. I’ve never lived more than five years in a single place, and last year I had decided to move on from Kuwait (literally) greener pastures. But I met a girl who convinced me to stay on one more year with the plan to recruit together the next. So we stuck it out in the desert and revisited the issue in November, re-registering with ISS and beating the virtual pavement to find schools with openings for both of us (she’s HS English, and I wanted to leverage my COETAIL experience to transition into a tech job). My positions was the sticking point – a lot of schools seem to fill tech integrator positions internally, and I was coming from a classroom position so it seemed like schools overlooked me. But follow-up and peristence paid off, and the American International School in Bamako interviewed us over Skype in December and offered us both positions two days later. They needed a response before the ISS fair, which sent us into intense private deliberations. There were slim pickings through ISS, but our current school had offered me a tech integrator position if we stayed and I would have been working with a great administration and colleagues, so it was a tough decision. I’m a fairly analytical person, so I weighed up the pros and cons in my head:
Hot. Dusty in the north and more lush in the south.
Dearth of certain malt- and meat-based products according to sharia law
Refreshing beverages available
Level of development
Caribou Coffee and Krispy Kreme.
Two paved roads in capital.
Highest per-capita incidence of traffic deaths in the world
Raging Islamist insurgency in north
Watch a Hollywood movie (censored to remove incendiary topics such as kissing) after strolling past designer boutiques through an air-conditioned mall
Phenomenal live music
Swim club near school
Rock-climbing, mountain biking
Obesity and heat stroke
Malaria, mango worms
Ultimately, aided by the hilarious writing on a blog kept by a current AISB teacher, we decided that Mali would be more of a work-to-live lifestyle in contrast to the live-to-work existence that we had in Kuwait. I’ll have to give up competitive swimming and $7 mochas from Caribou Coffee, but I’m excited to be the new IT Coordinator and anticipate deriving a lot of satisfaction from a smaller teaching load and new management responsibilities. After thinking about how I’ll continue my strength training regimen, I’ve transitioned to a sandbag workout that gets my heartrate up to 170-180 for 45 minutes and should be sustainable even in the third world, and hope to condition aerobically through rock climbing and mountain biking.
So there you have it – I’m moving on to a new and very different placement. The funniest thing is, before we started looking for jobs, I stated unequivocally that I wouldn’t go to Africa. Funny how life turns out.
Truth be told, I’m not actually interested in finding my way through the wilderness with a compass and a map. I am, however, interested in helping others to navigate the cultural wilderness that is Kuwait, which is why I’ve spent the last few months managing the transition of my school’s new hires as one of two Orientation Coordinators. It has been a remarkably smooth process, as measured by three metrics: first, all new hires got their visas before their scheduled departure date (this has NEVER happened before due to the myriad and Byzantine bureaucratic procedures required); second, we have yet to have a runner (the phenomenon of overwhelmed teachers shirking their commitments and breaking contract to return home; third, we’ve received numerous compliments and thanks throughout the process. With only a few short days until school starts, I attribute our success to several principles we’ve adhered to in the planning process.