So this brings me to today's Adventures in Licensure, Wherein Two Friends Take the First Step Towards Getting Their Taiwan Drivers Licenses and Are Stymied at Every Point Along the Way. This is not the first time I've considered getting my license but I never got past the at-home practice exam's morbid pronouncement of my skills. I am rope shy. With this attempt, however, I don't have to go it alone, so I am hopeful that I might, in the coming weeks, actually come home one day with a real Taiwan license. This is an illogical hope, really, but I cling to it; if I did not, I would have given up ever accomplishing the first of three steps, the physical exam, at the first sign of trouble today. Or if not the first sign then definitely the second, at the very least the third.
The process seems straightforward enough, albeit a bit drawn out: you first submit to a physical exam at a local hospital, which is equipped to test your abilities and determine if you are fit to sit behind the wheel. If you pass, you proceed to the written exam and driving test when you are ready, but no later than one year on. The physical exam involves checking your weight and height, verifying that you possess two hands (yes, really), checking for colorblindness, performing a vision test and a night-vision test -- which simulates the very real situation of a car suddenly turning its headlights on right in your eyes while you are staring at a sign you can't quite make out (probably the most practical part of the entire three-part testing process) -- and finally, confirming your ability to discern whether a tuning fork is thrumming in your left ear or right. This is useful when trying to balance the speakers, although the buttons on our stereo are so mysterious I leave all adjustments to Tim.
Our adventure started well -- we found the hospital, and even found the parking lot. We got as far as registering (this is called gua hao, the same as when you register a letter. I don't know why I was surprised that it's the same term, considering we use register for both situations, but I was). After paying the registration fee (NT$120, or about US$4.00) we toddled off towards the physical exam wing where we gladly handed over our health cards and registration forms to the nurse. She took them, then asked us for our photos. Screeeech, and... halt. We had no passport-sized photos with us, and the hospital had no photo booth. The nurse told us we could go to the Department of Motor Vehicles a few miles away and get photos done there, then return. Our registration would still be valid if we came back the same day. (Have I mentioned that my M., my friend-turned-licensing sherpa, had left her infant son at home with a sitter, and we were hoping to get back before he woke from his nap?)
We gathered our documents and drove to the DMV; I was pleased because we had spent so little time in the hospital we didn't owe any money for our few minutes of parking. My friend pointed out that the NT$20 we saved on parking would be used up in gas. But no matter! We (meaning I) managed to negotiate the very tricky Nanzih interchange and get us going the right direction on the right road, and within minutes we were there. I knew right where the photo booths were, so, again, our confidence was strong. All went well until suddenly it didn't: after M. got her photos I hopped in the booth, practiced my most natural non-smile, and then waited for my visage (times eight) to drop into the slot. I was told to wait 27 seconds, but after a full minute went by with no photos, I peeked in and saw an error message on the screen. M. went for help, and before long someone came along: she told me to use the other photo booth, the one with the "Out of Order" sign pinned to its curtain. "It's not really out of order, it just won't take bills. You'll have to use coins."
Back at the hospital (after reversing our Nanzih interchange journey), we made our way back to the exam wing, noting the undeniable smell of cigarette smoking wafting through the waiting area. We handed the nurse our papers, again, and our photos. She gestured to a counter and stools behind us, where we were to use the provided scissors and glue to affix our photos to our documents. Hand sanitizer was also provided, thankfully. M. and I enjoyed our brief crafting session before she was called in for her exam; I believe she passed. Mine followed, and while it's likely that the nurse's hao le just meant you're done, I'm hoping that I passed, too. She stamped my health report twelve times -- that has to be a good sign. Right?