Penang Momma is OOO for a few weeks, and luckily I have some fellow bloggers to help fill in the radio silence! Sally over at Dew Diaries will be contributing for a few weeks. Enjoy! Thank you and see you soon!
After completing a short application and paying a small fee, I was handed an international driver’s license. Apparently, this qualifies me to drive in any number of foreign countries, though no-one bothered to check that I was educated in any way with the local rules and road signs before getting behind the wheel. And by the way, the wheel is on the right side of the car here, a big adjustment in itself. I can’t count how many times I’ve started the windshield wipers when meaning to signal, or tried to enter the wrong side of the car with my keys in hand!
Hearing my husband describe what driving here was like, I was already terrified, but once I decided to bite the bullet and “just do it”, it was actually not that bad. Driving for me was completely necessary, needing to transport my kids back and forth from school several times daily. My husband has a driver to and from work, but the keys to the car are in my hands!
So what’s it been like driving here? Well, it’s “ok-lah”, after I adopted a new driving mentality. Cutting other drivers off is the norm and not the exception. In fact, if you can nose your car into the lane, you’d sure as better go! Oddly, however, people here expect it and don’t get upset. Though this type of driving would seem aggressive and extremely rude in the States, people don’t make a big deal about it here. They slow down just enough to let you in, and traffic keeps moving at a steady pace. Drivers generally don’t even turn their heads to look when switching lanes; they focus straight ahead, checking their mirrors often to see if someone’s coming up behind or on the side. Daily when leaving our condo, I have to make a hectic left-handed turn onto a busy street, then quickly get into the far-right lane to make a turn. I quickly discovered that if I waited for the perfect gap in traffic and cars to slow down, I would be sitting there all day. So . . . I take the plunge and dart out, praying that those cars will see me and slow down, a little. At least my comparatively HUGE car gives me an advantage in these situations; most local cars are super compact. Unfortunately, these few years of aggressive driving are probably going to make me an even worse driver than I already was. When I get back to the States, I (and those around me) better watch out!!
My biggest driving challenge is keeping track of all the motorcycles that sneak up out of no-where. Apparently, if there is at least 2 feet of space, it’s enough room for one to squeeze by, and boy, they sure do! On either side of your car they zoom past, and often I see mopeds coming straight towards me going the wrong way. They congregate at stoplights, and move forward as a mob when the light turns green. It is generally acceptable to pass them on the right side, if there’s room. They like to wait in the shade when possible, and they wear their jackets backwards to prevent bugs from flying in.
Another challenge is parking. Lanes and parking spots here are teeny, tiny (not like the wide lanes and large parking spots meant to accomodate American SUVs). Parallel parking is everywhere, and crowded parking garages in the malls leave little room to manuver. Most people back into spots to make getting out easier. Also, there are always alot of cars on the road because locals drive everywhere here, even places that are close enough to walk. Personally, I’d much rather walk, or park somewhere far away but easy to get in and out of. My greatest fear is not driving itself, but parking! I’ve been known to change my mind about going to a certain place, simply because I’m not confident that I can find a place to park.
A bit about safety issues. First, anything is allowed when it comes to transporting children. There are no carseat or helmet laws here. I’ve frequently seen a family of at least four riding a single motorbike, all without helmets. The biggest shocker I’ve seen was the day I saw a toddler riding standing up on the motorcycle seat, directly in front of the driver! Also, pedestrians beware in this city. Don’t expect the cars will stop for you. If you attempt to cross a busy street, you’d better be able to run fast, because there’s no Texas “drive friendly” here! Sidewalks are uneven, not well-maintained, and often with open holes leading to drainage ditches. Definitely not stroller-friendly or accessible for the handicapped.
It’s not all scary though; some things I really like! Stoplights are wonderful here, because most of them have timers attached, letting you know exactly how long you’ll be waiting before the next green. Also, parking garages have red or green lights over each space to indicate which ones are occupied. And, of course I can’t forget to mention my newest friend. A lifesaver when I first arrived, my Garmin GPS has become my copilot; I was literally “lost” without it! Having to focus 100% on driving left me no time to figure out where I was going. As I’ve been here longer, I use it less and less (except in downtown Georgetown, with its intricate web of one-way streets), but many things still keep me on my toes. Lanes will appear and disappear without any warning, and often animals, piles of burning trash, or road construction crews will be in the middle of the street! I learned quickly the meaning of AWAS!! (Caution!!)
All in all, I’m managing the streets pretty well. My mind stays alert, and my goals stay small. As my dad would say, “Keep the car pointed straight ahead, and don’t hit anything, or anybody!”