If you think U.S. bureaucracy is bad, don’t ever live in China.
China has a rule or regulation for everything. Opening a bank account can take hours. Getting a visa extension can take months. Getting a drivers’ license can take years.
Tons of paperwork. Long lines. Endless instructions. It’s a libertarian’s nightmare.
I got another dose of this byzantine world a few days ago while traveling from Zhengzhou to Kaifeng to visit Qingming Garden, a Song dynasty theme park.
My friend Brenda, a Chinese teacher at my university, was driving me and another colleague to Kaifeng via a toll highway. When we got to the exit, Brenda couldn’t find the ticket she was given when we entered the highway. Instead of just paying a penalty the way we do in the U.S., the toll taker here must verify where the driver entered.
Sounds simple, right? Not in China.
Apparently the only way to communicate between tollbooths is through the Internet, and since the Internet was down, we had to sit in the car and wait until the connection was restored.
So we waited … and waited … and waited. Brenda spoke to a half-dozen people in uniforms, but nothing happened. She had to move the car four or five times, and at one point barely avoided being crushed by a tractor-trailer. Several times she was told to drive back up to the booth, raising our hopes that we would finally get through. But each time, we sat there for several minutes before being told to back out again.
This dragged on for an hour. Finally, we pulled up to the booth and, after a long discussion, were allowed to pass through. But we still weren’t done. After clearing the gate, Brenda had to pull over to the side of the road and wait for a toll official to hand her some papers to fill out. The Internet was still down, so she had to verify in writing that she entered the toll road in Zhengzhou. I’m still not sure how they were going to confirm this, but Brenda said eventually she’ll get something in the mail telling her the resolution of the case.
As a journalist, I covered murder-trial deliberations that took less time.
Fortunately, the delay was worth it. We watched a dazzling lakeside show at Qingming Garden that chronicled the history of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127), whose capital was Kaifeng.
The show featured hundreds of performers wearing colorful period costumes. They rode horses and camels, strutted on stilts and juggled swords. The special effects included a giant lotus-shaped boat opening its petals, pagodas that appeared to be on fire, and rainbow-colored floodlights reflecting off the lake.
There was singing, dancing, even a wedding. Judging from the show, the Song dynasty was definitely a happening time.
By the way, the theme park is based on an iconic painting by Zhang Zeduan completed in the early 12th century. The long scroll, which depicts daily life in Kaifeng during the Northern Song dynasty, is now housed at the Palace Museum in Beijing’s Forbidden City.
After the show, we had dinner at one of Kaifeng’s famous night markets, where you choose your food from dozens of outdoor stalls. I enjoyed a couple of local specialties — sweet potato “mud’’ (pureed sweet potatoes with black sugar) and almond “tea’’ (gelatinous soup flavored with almonds, berries, peanuts and sesame seeds) – but I passed on the goat’s feet that my companions ate with relish.
In China, they love to eat animal parts that Americans usually avoid like feet, ears and eyes. Personally, I won’t eat anything that reminds me that my food could once walk, hear or see.