In recent years, Korean culture has become the hottest thing throughout East Asia. Chinese citizens, in particular, have a voracious craving for South Korean pop music, TV dramas, cosmetics, and fashion. Even South Korea’s booming cosmetic surgery industry seems to be exerting a great influence on its neighbors.
But many Chinese are now heading to South Korea not for what they can buy in its shopping malls and beauty parlors, but for their very own South Korean driver’s licenses.
A driving school near South Korea’s capital, Seoul, has reported an influx of 200 Chinese wanna-be drivers a month, making up half of the school’s applicants. The school, and many others like it, now also offers the questions for the written test in Chinese, with mock exams broadcast over TV screens in both Korean and Mandarin.
Three years ago, the South Korean government relaxed the rules for attaining licenses, trimming the hours of training to 13, including six hours of real driving time — completed from start to finish in only a week. Drivers can even do their driving practice on rooftop tracks, so they needn’t even venture into real traffic before being given the green light to drive on their own.
Since the loosening of regulations, 70,000 Chinese citizens have become holders of South Korean driver’s licenses.
“It is easy to get a driver’s license in South Korea. Although I feel nervous, it is fast and easy to convert into a Chinese one,” said Yingfang Wang, a 46-year-old Chinese applicant on her first drive in Korea.
Wang took a ferry to South Korea along with four other hopefuls. After getting her South Korean license, she can convert it to a Chinese driver’s license upon passing only a written test after returning to China. On her first day behind the wheel, the school’s part-time translator was absent and the driving instructor had to communicate using body language.
In China, would-be drivers often wait up to a year and pay double the $420 that the license costs in South Korea.
“I will tell my friends to come here,” said Yi’ai Gao, a 35-year-old housewife from Shandong province, proudly holding up her new license.