Driving Ms. Honey

November 23, 2007 at 11:20 am (Driving, Uncategorized)

I think I have finally found someone prepare to teach me to drive. I promise it’s not such a daunting prospect. My technical driving is actually fine. I was up to test standard in the UK, the only reason I didn’t sit my test being that it was snowed off and I simply ran out of time to re-book and re-sit.

Obviously when I have tried to explain the concept of snow here I have pretty much been greeted by blank faces but I have pressed on regardless. However my reputation obviously precedes me and I have so far had several near misses with driving instructors.

I now have a driving instructor (hoorah) but here is a list of what could have been.

When I first arrived here, I tracked down (via our wonderful school secretary N.) a driving instructor who spoke English and taught driving. You may be wondering why it is necessary to say she speaking English and taught driving as what else would a driving instructor do? Read on.

I rang her to arrange some lessons. When I explained where I lived and she drive she asked if I had transport, I told her no and explained this would be the reason i wanted to take driving lessons, then she asked if how I would get to the lessons. I asked her if she could pick me up and she said no. I explained that in the Uk it’s customary for instructors to go to pupils as the pupils (obviously) have no independent means of getting around. If that wasn’t the case here please could I pay the extra to have her come to me. She said no, it was too far away (how? How is it too far away? From anywhere. The entire country is only the size of Bristol!) She told me to ring if anything changed and then put the phone down on me.

Obviously that was quite nice, since then I have been to the Land transport office and obtained my Brunei provisional driving licence. This is also where there is a list of driving instructors. I took a list of all the numbers of driving instructors and have texted half a dozen to ask if they are English speaking driving instructors that would be able to come to me and give lessons around my working hours. I have had no responses.

I tried a number somone had got for me and when I rang I maganed to get through to someone offering drawing lessons. This there may have been a communication mix up there.

I have e-mailed the lands transport office and asked them if they can recommend anyone or at least let me know the procedure for taking a test over here and they have not responded. I went back to our school secretary (who obviously knows everything) and asked her what to do. She rang the driving instructor and asked her if she could pick me up from home or work. The driving instructor agreed to it and asked me to ring her myself so we could make the arrangements as to passing on the information I needed to sit my theory test .So I rang her. Then I had the exact same conversation with that I had last time I called her. In spite of having had someone ringing her last Thursday and arranging this, she has now decided that I am too far away again and that I want to start the lessons too early, and that my work schedulable doesn’t fit around her 8 – 12pm 2pm – 6pm schedule. Even if I am prepared to pay for her time to drive out and pick me up, it’s too far. If I organise a taxi to get myself to her (before or after school) then she’ll do it but she won’t be happy about it and not until December at the earliest and to be honest she’d prefer January.

So I have managed to find someone else, who is pretty close to where I live. I went there last night, with Kim, my loyal (and very expensive taxi driver) and C. My moral support. We went to the house and the door was open, se we knocked and there was a man, sat watching telly in just his shorts. He sent us around the side of the house, in the dark and over the pond and building work, obviously to the office. We knocked on the door and he opened it. He’s gone through the connecting door in the house. At least he had now put a shirt on. I’d thought it was odd but had been managing to not giggle until C lent over and stage whispered *that’s the same man!* as if I might not have noticed. I was at this point looking round for hidden cameras but no, he seemed completely serious. Even when C asked iof the pictures of car crashed on his wall were inspriational?

I need to do a theory test ($110) before I’m allowed to start lessons and I need to do three practice papers at the driving school before I can sit my theory (well, he said three but then he lent over and winked and suggested that we could probably get away with one, actually he didn’t wink at all, that’s blatant exaggeration on my part) Once I have that and have done the theory, I can start the lessons.

I can book a course of 10 lessons but he will come and collect me for a little extra cost. Why is this not standard practice in Brunei? This strikes me as odd, if someone had transport, they wouldn’t need to drive would they? I haven’t started them yet so I don’t know what my instructor is like to drive with but I have signed up for the theory. I am going to have to go back to his to do a practice paper. I thought I might try and do that tonight and probably Tuesday next week. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

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“The art of the police is not to see what it is useless that it should see.”

July 13, 2007 at 1:13 am (Driving, Police)

So last weekend I spent an evening at the border. As designated driver,  I wasn’t drinking.  This has nothing to do with legalities (how can you be done for drink driving in a dry country?) it’s simply that I don’t drink and drive. No lectures (this is a lie, I’ll sound off to anyone who so much looks at lambrini when they have the car) it’s just my choice.

Knowing I was sober,  makes me sure what happened on the way home was both real and surreal.
We pulled up at some traffic lights and the car next to me was a police car. I looked over and caught the eye of the passenger, who smiled. I smiled back, then he waved, so I waved back. The I noticed the driver of the police car was wearing a motorbike helmet. In the car.

I understand I’m a relatively new driver but I’m not so bad that drivers in the surrounding areas need to wear crash helmets.

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Driving round a bend and skidding on a mat of dead toads is very unpleasant for all concerned.”

July 13, 2007 at 1:06 am (Driving, Swifty)

My breaks failed the day before yesterday. I was heading to the Seri complex on a busy, busy, busy dual carriageway and was on the bend round to the right, when the brakes felt, well nothing really. I knew I had put my foot down but as Swifty hadn’t slowed at all I assumed I had touched the accelorator. So in my minort confusion, I touched the accelorator with my foot.

Imagine the scenario, I now still have no brakes but I am going a little bit faster. Thirty seconds later I approached a stopped car at a junction, by this time I’m stamping my foot like a show pony, with no response from the breaks at all. I did try gesticulating madly at the car in front to move but I suspect if he saw, (checking mirrors while driving not being a huge thing here) he merely thought I was disco-ing. (“Mad Western women, always dancing, always provocative”) I didn’t have time to use the gears to slow down but fortunately I managed to use the hand brake to stop before I hit him, .

‘S funny really, normally I just need to look at traffic and I stall, the one time I could have done with stalling and I completely lost the ability.

Swifty is now feeling much better, comparing it to a 24 hopur hour bug and swearing it will never happen again. Hhe’s going in for a check up anyway.

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Driving is a spectacular form of amnesia. Everything is to be discovered, everything to be obliterated.”

March 15, 2007 at 2:15 am (Driving, Swifty)

suzuki_swift_blue_vr.jpgI did buy a car! A Suzuki Swift GA hatchback ,  it’s red.  Very sadly, one of the staff  has had a mental breakdown of some description and is being shipped back to the UK. His boss is selling off all his stuff quickly so he has some money to go home with. Sad for him but bargin car for me. I checked with the counsellor and you can’t catch mental from a car so I should be fine.I went for a test drive yesterday with someone and then drove home ON MY OWN! I did follow someone (who lives in my block – he had offered –  I wasn’t stalking or anything) just in case.Then I did my first border run last night, while my passengers gripped the chairs and let their knuckles turn white!I drove to work this morning. Not following anyone or insisting that I had someone in the car with me or anything. Just me and my Swift. I am parked in the car park and have just invited everyone I have ever met to come and admire my parking skills. I’m in-between the lines and everything. Bet that doesn’t happen twice. I’m still a little over cautious but I don’t know that’s such a bad thing, especially as we don’t have pavements here so if for any reason someone does try and walk, they do it on the hard shoulder. I know most of you went through this at seventeen but please cut me some slack, I have been a phobic driver ever since my driving instructor when I was 17, asked if he could see my underwear then at a later date told me that he had put his fist though a window after an argument with his wife where she accused him of fancying me. Then there was the instructor with the false ear. Can’t think why I developed such a terror of learning to drive.

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Drive carefully! Remember, it’s not only a car that can be recalled by it’s maker.

March 10, 2007 at 10:43 am (Driving)

The latest saga in the tale of my driving lessons. In case you thought that the seven hours of driving lessons taken could be covered in one (admittedly extremely long) post, you are wrong. I have resurrected my posts from my now defunct blog so I can share the joy of not just learning to drive here but the additional treats o finding an instructor in South East Asia. In a rather self explanitory manner, all can be found under the category Driving.

I have been taking lessons and it has been hard, especially because I’d had lessons in the UK so on my first lesson here, I checked my mirrors, blind spot, signaled and moved out, to hear my instructor ask why I had looked behind. They don’t check their blind spot here (I’ve seen how the locals drive, I should have known that) and you can get penalty points on your test if you do. That is what your mirrors are for apparently. Even when reversing, you have to look in your mirrors, not anywhere sensible, like behind you.

I have also been quite surprised to find out I need the right hand lane to take the first exit on a roundabout. I don’t need to cut anyone up though; I just have to go round the round about twice. This is route one for the test and if you try and take the left hand land for the first exit, you FAIL.

Suddenly the appalling driving makes so much more sense.

I know now that having accused my driving instructor of trying to kill me was on reflection an overreaction. This is just how they drive here. He may manage to kill me but it’s probably not on purpose. However I did listen and when he told me not to cry in front of the examiner ( I can’t believe I needed to be told that, how embarrassing) he told me to smile so I did a practice smile for him and he just shook his head and said “not like that”

Another invaluable piece of advice from my driving instructor *don’t have a drink before the test* He was picking me up at 7am. Does he think I have special brew for breakfast? I could go into more detail about the whole driving thing, including the fact that when the examiners watch you doing your maneuvers they do if from the inside of an air-conditioned office. Obviously they have no idea if you stall because they can’t hear you. On the plus side, you can keep the window down and if you forget what to do, your instructor shouts through the window to you!

Anyway, I took his advice, I smiled nicely and didn’t cry and passed my test this morning!

One of the staff had a mental breakdown and is being shipped back to the UK. His line manager is selling off all his stuff quickly so he has some money to go home with. Sad for him but bargain car for me! It’s a Swift. I’ve taken it out lots already, Just me and my Swift.  I checked with the counselor and you can’t catch mental from a car so I should be fine.

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A driving ambition is of little use if you’re on the wrong road

December 4, 2006 at 11:18 am (Driving)

My driving instructor arranged for me to do my written theory test on Tuesday monring last week. He very helpfully told me about it at seven o’clock on Monday night. I love to be prepared.
The test was at 8:30am so I got there for about 10 past just in case. Haji (my instructor, who I cannot understand) had told me that it was on the first floor. At least I think that’s what he’d said; quite frankly he could have been saying “you don’t get many of those to the pound”. I would have smiled politely and nodded anyway. There were no signs or anything to help direct me to where I needed to go, although there was a sign telling people what they could and couldn’t wear to the test center (it’s a government office, I can’t help thinking we should implement that in job centers in the UK. It probably doesn’t make much of a difference to the people looking for work but it would make the day a little more pleasant for the staff) On the list of Stuff not allowed for women was Short skirt or pant, safety boot or cover all and they had to *avoid unwanted smell* however women can wear Long pant or trouser (not too tide).

I eventually found some stairs but there was an unlabelled door at the top. I asked someone in a uniform (my mum says I can trust men in uniform although I’m not sure what I can trust them to do) who gestured me inside. There were lots of people sat around in those horrible little chairs with half a desk attached. I took a seat then at about quarter past, everyone got up in unison and walked into another little room, like a classroom, with more of the rubbish chairs. Obviously I followed (I hate the thought of missing out). A woman in uniform came in and barked at us all and made us all sit close together. She sent one man home for wearing jeans, got out her notebook, and ruled a page in it and made us write down our name IC number driving school, number of times we had taken the test, the she sent us off with an answer sheet where we had to write our name and address and license number twice, on the same sheet of A4. Obviously modern technology and computerisation hasn’t reached South East Asia.

The she asked (in Malay) which of us needed and English test. Obviously the people who didn’t speak Malay and only spoke English missed out on that completely. Luckily I was the only western woman in there so I stood out like a sore thumb. She didn’t even ask me, just handed me the English test paper. About eight other people said they needed an English version (the Filipino’s who come here to work all do their exam in English) the examiner said sorry, there are only five English booklets so the rest of you will have to come back another time and sent them off.

When I finished she asked me to take a seat opposite her so she could mark the first half (you need to get 100% on questions 1-15) she marked it all right then said to me “look again at number seven” so I looked again at number seven and then she said “what do you think that is?” It was a sign with a scull on it. The choices were a) danger b) warning or c) soft verges. I was looking at it and thinking A & B are the same, I said A and she said, “What A? No” so I suggested B and she said that’s better and made me cross out my original answer and change it.

So I guess I got the first half right. I don’t know how I did in the second half. The questions themselves seem pretty easy but the English is really hard to understand and the choices on some were almost identical. At the end there were half a dozen pictures of cars on the road and you had to say which had right of way. It was hard though because the land transport agency seemed to be under the impression that only one car can be on a roundabout at a time and that each will wait their turn. From experience, what actually happens is that if drivers here think they can get away with it, instead of going all the way round the roundabout and taking the last exit, they will just drive the wrong way around it. This isn’t the case for the roundabout of death which is the busiest round about in South East Asia. There they just get to the front of the queue, close their eyes and put their faith in Allah.

Hopefully I will have got questions 16 – 40 right and then fingers crossed I can start actual driving lessons in a car. It’s so frustrating, I was up to test standard back in the UK but my test in April got snowed off, when I got a replacement appointment , instructor was in an accident (not my fault, I was nowhere near him at the time) so his car couldn’t be used. What with the two month waiting list, I never quite managed to fit in another test before I left the UK. Now I have to start from the beginning. I also have to keep explaining the concept of snow. South East Asians don’t really have much of a problem with snow and don’t understand how that might affect driving, other than to think it might be like driving through marshmallow.

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Drive me crazy

September 19, 2006 at 11:17 am (Driving)

I have discovered I definitely need to drive. Relying on lifts is fine and people are really generous but taxis are really expensive and really hard to get hold of. It’s probably like living in a small village. You can’t just step out and flag a car down. There is also virtually no public transport. The teachers here leave for work at half past six IN THE MORNING, so if I want a lift I have to be up and ready to go by then too. That’s fine but I don’t start work until nine so it means that I’m sat here for two hours before I need to be. It was dark when I got up last week! If I wanted to be getting up in the dark I would live in the UK. I told you, didn’t I that someone is looking into finding an English speaking driving instructor for me. Unfortunately I need to wait and get my IC card (which is just like an ID card). I have had a health check and all is back and fine. It’s to make sure you don’t have HIV, TB, bird flu etc. and you have to give some blood and they give you a chest x-ray. It bothers me to think I have come all the way to the Far East and there is still an obsession with my chest.

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