Expat

How’s my driving?

Red car taxi dashboard covered with good luck charms [Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2013]
Red car taxi dashboard covered with good luck charms [Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2013]
Cambodian traffic is something to behold. (Is behold the right word?) This is because you pretty much can drive in any direction you please. Now, in Thailand, I thought it was crazy when you saw a renegade motorbike going against traffic, hugging the shoulder and occasionally I did it, too. Sometimes it makes sense, especially if you are going a short distance or if it’s a bigger hassle to go down the right way and turn back.

But here? There isn’t just a driver or two going the wrong way, everybody is driving against traffic. It’s a fucking free for all. Two lanes might as well be four. It’s normal to be cycling down the correct direction and have a swarm of motorbikes, bicyclists and even cars moving towards you. And to add insult to very possible injury, I’m often the one who has to move blindly out into traffic to avoid being hit. I hate bicycling here. I hate being bullied on the road.

The only redeeming factor, it feels like, is traffic is forced to go slow. But there are also SUVs speeding up out of frustration and Khmers driving faster louder motorbikes. It’s a future problem, ripening and developing as I type. I fear I can never complain about the way people drive in America ever again…

This is what happens when everyone goes at the same time. Standstill traffic. Brilliant. [Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2015]
This is what happens when everyone goes at the same time. Standstill traffic. Brilliant. [Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2015]

Overall, I’m a fairly easy going personality. I’m polite, funny, courteous, yeah, in general, and I feel many of my friends would agree.

But driving has been my nemesis whenever I have quested for calm and peace of mind. It was a challenge in the States and it sure as hell has been a challenge in SE Asia. I don’t know what fucking happens. Now, it’s not like I floor the gas, weave in and out of traffic and try to hit anyone. Occasionally, I take safe risks. I have a good driving record. I’m a good driver. It’s just. I don’t know. Driving brings out the American in me.

Of course, you might be like, “What? A female driver! An Asian female driver!?!” And I’d still nod and say, yes. “But, I don’t understand. What’s going on here? Women can’t drive. Asians can’t drive.” Blah, blah, blah.

I was taught by a Caucasian male.

Oh?

So, it’s not like my dear mother taught me (which would have gone badly for the island of Oahu). She has the most speeding tickets of anyone I know. My mother’s first husband was a police officer so maybe she feels some sort of affinity for the law. Although, my dad taught her and he was sure to be careful. In fact, she didn’t even want to learn in the first place. And now look at her – she’s a Thai Speedy Gonzales.

But my step-father (mom’s boyfriend technically) taught me in the California desert when I was 13. I learned in a little blue and white Toyota truck. It was a stick-shift, and I remember how frustrated I would get and how patient he was with me. It was god-like, really. I’m surprised he didn’t snap at me or give up. I was such a whiny mess.

Somehow I persevered though. I even had to take a Driver’s ED class in high school. But perhaps I took away more than I realized from my parental figures because I remember two instances where my mom and my step-father – how can I say this – “lost their shit”.

Is this the ugliest car you've seen? No, seriously. [Battambang, 2015]
Is this the ugliest car you’ve seen? No, seriously. [Battambang, 2015]
Let’s start with mom. I was working at Little Caesars Pizza during my community college days and she didn’t like me walking home at night after my shift was done. Even though Mililani is a safe town, she insisted on picking me up. Well, one night, my step-dad shows up at the back door of Little Caesars Pizza to whisper, “Your mom’s been in an accident. She’s at the Kuahelani intersection. You better walk over there.”

“What? Is she okay?”

“Yeah, but she’s pissed. She won’t stop attacking the Korean who hit her.”

“What! Why can’t you take me home?”

“Cause you need to go see your mother.”

“Wait. Where are you going?”

He laughed, “I’m going home.”

“Sh-it.”

It was a short walk, but I could see the police lights. Everyone was still at the intersection. Our champagne colored Honda Accord looked okay, it wasn’t totaled or anything.

After assessing the situation, which was indeed my mom hurling pontificated profanities at the poor Korean woman, I went to sit in the car. The Korean had hit my mom when she was turning to get on the road which led to the shopping center, and my mom was letting the woman know exactly what she did wrong.

Usually it’s funny to hear my mom swear because English is not her first language, but I was tired, smelled like a dirty kitchen, after all, I was still wearing my green and white Little Caesar’s uniform (sans visor) and wanted to get home. As I stared out into the night, I felt bad for the Korean woman who had no chance of defending herself against my mom. My cheeks blushed over how nasty she was being. I wondered how long they were going to fight – or in this case, how long my mom was going to yell.

Then the police officer came to my window. He was a typical local, tanned, Asian and in cop-fashion, a little donut heavy.

“You da daughter?”

“Yup.”

“You’re mom’s crazy.”

“Yeah, I know.”

We talked logistics, then basically he said we could go home. I was relieved. But before he walked away he said something I’ll never forgot, “You’re cute.”

 

I'm so cute. [Chiang Mai, 2013]
Cute. [Chiang Mai, 2013]
The other instance was when I was still in high school. I worked with my step-father for a construction company. No, I didn’t do any construction. I just followed him around counting nuts and bolts and doing data entry next to obscene amounts of boxes of Twix candy bars, which I ate in sickening quantities.

He always drove a white work truck. One in particular I remember having to slide all the way down the seat to try to reach the clutch because that truck needed to have the clutched pressed all the way down in order to attempt to start it. It wasn’t an easy truck to start. I certainly couldn’t see out the window while I was trying to will my self to floor the clutch and turn the ignition.

In any case, the automotive incident that I’m about to refer to might have happened in this truck.

I was too busy eating my French fries from McDonalds to see what happened, but I was unfortunately seated between my step-father and the other driver so I got to experience the full blown force of my SF’s ferocity as he uncharacteristically shouted at the driver. (You have to understand that this was the only time I had ever seen my SF get angry. He’s a quiet man. He’s never yelled at anyone in my family.)

The other driver was an old man, his features frozen in horror and shock as my step-father told him just what a bleepin’ idiot he was. I don’t think he was aware of what he did wrong. I felt kind of bad for him because he looked so surprised. It was probably the worst tongue-lashing he ever received in his life.

I sat there was calmly as I could. After the light changed, I reached down between my legs for the bag of fries and popped one in my mouth.

So, I don’t know. Maybe I inherited these fits of freeway fury from my family. Monkey see, monkey do. I remember when my friend Maile and I were headed to Pearlridge Mall. I was driving my mom’s brand new Honda, as opposed to my exhausted and overused Isuzu Impulse, so I felt confident, perhaps a little cocky with the horsepower I was working with.

As I was merging, the asshole in his 80s sports car wouldn’t let me in and there was hardly anyone around, so, I stuck my arm out the window and raised my middle finger high above the roof in full glory.

This was a bad idea.

He wouldn’t let me pass when I swung over to the diamond (aka fast) lane.  In fact, we began to play a high speed game of he drives in front of me and slams on his breaks while I try to get away from him and slam on my breaks so I don’t crash into him.

I gripped the wheel and gritted my teeth, determined not to let this jerk fuck with me.

Maile sunk into the seat and kept saying, “Pull over. Lani, pull over. Take the next exit.”

It was dangerous because: 1) I was afraid someone would slam into me since I had to break so hard in the fast lane and the road is not straight.  2) He was with his girlfriend or what appeared to be a female figure that he was probably trying to show off to. And 3) This was my mom’s new car and I was with my best friend.

And oh, yeah, people’s lives were at stake.

Eventually, thankfully, he took the Waipahu exit, his passenger probably telling him to stop it and our hearts returned to their normal pace.

Look, I’m not proud or trying to show off, dear readers. I’m just trying to figure out where this anger on the road comes from. For years I worked on being a calmer, less reactionary driver and it worked! Then I moved to Thailand…

When I lived in Chiang Mai, where I drove a moto, I felt like I couldn’t possess the sabai sabai good natured disposition that most Thais have. Thais (and Cambodians) don’t get road rage. If you hear someone honking like crazy or acting like a fool, chances are, its a foreigner.

I drove a little Honda Wave, just 125ccs and I kept it away from 4th gear as it forced me to drive slower. Driving in Thailand took some getting used to, it looks like there are no rules, but there are rules (rules Cambodia could use) and there was a time when I drove quite a bit.

So here is what happens. Whenever a bike, car, tuk tuk, gets too close to me, I swear. Whenever someone doesn’t let me into the lane or does something I perceive as wrong, I curse! Of course, I swear under my breath, behind the safety of my helmet shield. Then I feel immediately bad, like an idiot, for letting external forces bring the bitch out of me. I apologize, laugh, shake my head and keep going. I like to think I have more control, but swearing at other drivers is my knee-jerk reaction.

Thankfully, I never gave anyone the bird. Well…

[Chiang Mai, 2011]
You know, I swear, but I’ve never been a big horn user. Are you? [Chiang Mai, 2011]

Ever drove in a foreign country? What’s your driving record?

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40 thoughts on “How’s my driving?

  1. Driving in Joburg is much tamer than in Thailand or Cambodia, from the sound of it, but way crazier than in the US. It took me a long time to get up the courage to drive here but I love it now, even though it’s definitely dangerous. Thanks for sharing your stories!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I have heard about South African driving from my friends and trust me, it sounded dangerous, too! Glad you’ve mastered it. Cars and transportation offer such FREEDOM. I actually miss not having a motorbike or a car or a better way to get around.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Driving is fine in the suburbs – not much different from home. But downtown there are hordes of minibus taxis, whose drivers are literally insane.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think they are insane everywhere…it’s probably a job requirement.

        Do you like to take risks?
        [check]

        Can you park anywhere?
        [check]

        Are you insane?
        [check]

        Liked by 1 person

      3. And also add: ‘Are you ok with driving through red lights for no reason, at tremendous speeds, without looking to see if there are cars coming the other way?’ Check.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Only been driving in Germany, France, Sweden and Finland thus far. In all those countries there are lawas and everybody follows them…ok not France, France is a mayhem zone for people who follow laws very strictly as Germans. I mean they park in France so close to each other that you can only get out of the spot by hitting other cars. Never saw a car without scratches, parts missing or bumps.

    Me driving in China? Hell no, I would die, really! In Germany I ain’t got a problem to floor it and push the car to its limits (thanks to my brother’s BMW back in the day to 270km/h!) but being in a place where cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, bikes and whatnot all are coming bascially from every direction and create a horn symphony, no thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hahaha! Why is France so crazy? They must be hard up for parking space 😛

      Yeah, I couldn’t imagine driving in China although I hear they use electric bikes! Friends have complained though that you can’t hear them and they come up behind you while you are walking on the sidewalks!

      The horns, right? Cambodians are much more liberal horn users than Thais. Even though that is changing in Thailand, Khmers love to use their horns. Where I’m from, and where I’ve lived in the States, horns are only used for an emergency (and few times when someone is mad)!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They have a lot of electrical vehicles, also many cars these days. It is true the electrical scooters are called silent death 🙂
        In Germany and Finland the horn is used as well only for emergencies. In China though it is used whenever you feel like making some noise. I have been in taxis more often than not where the horn isn’t really working any longer due to overuse. Somewhere I read that the horn gets used in Germany during a car lifetime around 200 times and in China over 50.000 or something like that

        Liked by 1 person

      2. OMG. I believe that. My friend JP is from Chicago and NYC, so when she motos in Thailand she is a liberal horn user. It’s so embarassing sometimes. Hahahahhaa. When she told us her horn was broken we laughed. It was bound to happen!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, the entitlement of idiots is hard to take, and people do snap. But it’s good that you have your priorities. French fries are important.

    I’ve driven in D.C., Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, and New York City. I’ve driven all the way across the U.S. and back. Multiple times. What I see is an increasingly dangerous environment as an increasing number of recreational cyclists refuse to ride single file, drivers insist on texting, and the aging population refuses to give up driving despite their failing eyesight and reflexes. I usually yell or lecture at least one idiot (with my windows up, because road rage and guns are real) per mile. Except for cyclists. I can yell at them out the window with impunity because they don’t carry guns and they can’t catch me. Damn pelotons don’t belong four cyclists wide on a two lane road, for chrissakes.

    As for driving overseas, here’s my take:

    Germany — so easy, everyone follows the rules.
    Italy — there are rules?
    England — how many fucking roundabouts can one country have? (Please don’t let me hit the curb).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So well said – “the entitlement of others is hard to take”. I know. Sometimes I wonder if people think we are just living to revolve around them. I mean, I thought we were trying to have a society, a community…it’s maddening, not to mention extremely dangerous.

      Cyclists here love to ride side by side. You’d be in yelling heaven! I don’t understand how driving rules don’t get developed, esp after a few nasty and fatal accidents, but I think folks just believe that accidents are a way of life.

      Great, I’m going to be too terrified to ride to the store now.

      Yes, Italy. I’ve heard about their ways…yeahhh, driving. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. California enacted a great law to protect cyclists — a car cannot pass them unless they have three feet of clearance. Which is completely reasonable. UNLESS they decide to ride 3-4 abreast. Which is illegal as all hell, but they get very righteous and do it anyway. I would say more bike lanes would help but they spill out of them anyway. And I swear, the recreational cyclists are all white guys in their 40s and 50s. So, yeah, entitled assholes all the way.

        Wait, did I say that out loud?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Interesting. I did not know that. Sounds like something Oregon would do. Big biking communities. Chico was also a great place to bike, but everyone does up there, so I suppose it depends on where you are at. But yeah, regardless, share the road, that means you, too bicyclists!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I started driving when I was sixteen. When I was in college, I spent two summers driving a big dump truck eleven hours a day in the pea harvest. I did have one accident. Backing up in a small space, I backed into my boss’s station wagon and broke the back window. He wasn’t too happy, but he didn’t fire me. I guess he had insurance on his drivers.

    I’m pretty mellow behind the wheel. Seattle traffic can be bad, but most people follow the rules. During our twenty years in Manila, I learned not to be too serious about the rules. The traffic was terrible, but people didn’t yell at each other. They just looked away and pretended they didn’t see you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is rather amazing how many little accidents I’ve witnessed in Asia and how calm and cool everyone acts. Sometimes folks even smile in forgiveness and everyone drives on their merry way. The scary bit is when people are hurt on the side of the road and everyone ignores them.

      The pea harvest truck! 😀 Yeah, like you, I’ve never gotten into a bad accident, just fender benders, fingers crossed!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Crazy! I guess if you can drive there you can drive anywhere, you think? And they talk about the California drivers… Haha. When we take road trips I’m amazed at how crazy people drive in other states and I always wonder why California drivers get bashed the way they do. I guess in your neck of the woods they got nothin on California huh?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure I would quickly forget as soon as I was in LA traffic. My uncle would drive like a mad man on the freeways. I was terrified that he’d rear end a car. I’d never seen someone drive so fast in such thick traffic.

      I think every State believes they have the worst drivers! 😛 Trust me, Hawaii drivers drive me crazy!

      Like

  6. This is such a great read and wonderfully written with your usual dose of humour thrown in 😛 Oh dear. “It’s a fucking free for all.” And I thought traffic in Malaysia is bad. In Malaysia, it’s common to have two lanes become four but nothing like vehicles coming in the wrong direction like in Cambodia. Unless you are talking about intersections. I’m thinking if a policeman were to direct traffic in Cambodia…well, that is just not a good idea at all..

    I am not much of a driver. I have only driven a handful of times apart from passing my driving test in Australia a few years ago. Where I live, it is more convenient and affordable to get around using public transport.

    On the subject of honking, you don’t here it as much in Australia compared to Malaysia. When cars or trucks are coming out of one-way alleyways here, they usually give friendly toots to warn pedestrians. In Malaysia, the second the traffic light changes green and if the care at the front doesn’t move, the horns start blaring. Oh, and in Malaysia no one in the backseat really cares about wearing seatbelts though there are laws against staying unbuckled back there…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know it was nice to not have to wear a seatbelt in Thailand. I hate seatbelts even though they *gasp* save lives. It was pointed out tho that there are none on buses and well, T-land has had some nasty bus accidents. In fact, Thailand is the like the second most deadliest place to drive. I think the only reason why Cambo is not up there is because there aren’t enough people 😛

      I wondered if you drove down there. If I lived in a city with excellent public transportation, I don’t think I would drive either. It’s great to drive, like on a road trip, but it’s very stressful, too. And expensive! I’d much rather walk. I love to walk.

      Yeah, the honking here. Jeezus. They use it as a way to say, “I”m coming through. Fuck you!” so intersections are nothing but horns. And of course, they are ignored, people don’t look, they just drive. Such trust! It’s madness I tell you, madness!

      Hey, thanks. I’m glad someone appreciated all the swearing 😛

      Like

      1. Like you, I never liked wearing seatbelts. I was a small kid, so the seatbelt always felt like it was pulling hard against me, trying to bite into me. I always got a headache wearing seatbelts then.

        In Australia, for some who suffer certain mental health conditions, you might not even be allowed to drive on the roads.

        If you can drive where you are driving, you are a pretty darn good driver. You can be my chauffeur any day, on the bike or in the car 😀

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Many expats do it, but I think they are nutters! Not worth the risk as far as I can tell, but I understand. It’s a great and quick way to get around. It’s freedom.

      Although I did see a foreigner (or two) driving with her baby in her arms…I thought, why? Why have one hand on the bike and the other on the baby? Why would you do that here when you know better. It was damn hard not to judge. No helmets either.

      Like

      1. I thought maybe it would be useful to have it if I ever needed it. Another foreign colleague was also getting it so we could do it during work time, the company paid for everything and helped us with everything… I had to take the chance haha!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh my, the dashboard!

    I nodded while reading about driving in Cambodia. Driving in Lagos, Nigeria can be just as frustrating. It can bring out ‘stuff’ from you! I avoid it where possible.

    I try to leave very early for my destination as this reduces the panic of being late and the stress that creeps in while in mad traffic.

    All the best Lani! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂 I like the way you put it…”bring out the stuff from you”. Yeah, lots of stuffing, depending on the situation!

      I try to leave early as well. Rushing is a pet peeve of mine. Even if I’m not doing the rushing, but with a friend who is rushing – I hate it. A little planning avoids this!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is an awesome, awesome read. I think we do learn from those around us, especially when it comes to the activities behind the wheel of a car. And especially when we’re young – it’s just natural!

    I grew up driving in the UK, which is pretty damn easy. Driving in the city of London itself, you’ve got to be a bit aggressive. And I think in general, in England, I’m a fairly aggressive driver. Getting annoyed at those people driving under the speed limit, not looking, taking ages at the lights, sitting in the wrong lanes. Bah!

    Portugal’s similar to the UK, though there on the smaller country roads you’ll have people sitting up your arse in their car behind you, waiting for the next over taking section. And they’ll be doing this at speed. It can get dangerous.

    Bahrain’s a crazy place to drive. Apparently one of the best places for driving in the Gulf, but it’s still mental here. I used to love driving. But you have to be so hyper aware of other drivers here. Everyone’s in cars – big cars too. No one uses their indicators. People will just drift into lanes. People drive ridiculously fast. We’ve been chased down the highway because… well.. road rage due to an idiotic driver. Raising your middle finger here is illegal – you can get put in prison for it, but it’s so hard to not do it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My peeps! Finally! Hahahhaa. Yeah, aggressive. I never thought to use that word. I think I’ve been out of the country too long – you do need a bit of aggression I think to drive. OMG. What does that say about cars and such?

      I mean, if you don’t feel aggression, then you must be driving in your comfort zone, familar neighborhoods, etc,or you are a saint. Of course, I don’t mean you feel this way all the time, that would be nuts…

      It’s rather amazing how we take risks, sometimes really unnecessary risks on the road. I worked so hard to be a calmer driver and then moving to Asia through it out the window. It’s such a challenging environment! And it sounds like Bahrain would be too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely think you need a bit of aggression when driving. You either need to drive defensively or aggressively, depending on the situation. Or, well, neither when you’re faced with an awesome quiet country road and you can just do your own thing!

        You know what? In some situations it’s hard to be a calm driver. As much as you might try, when you’re put in jeopardy by another driver, or the ones you care about, tempers can boil.

        It’s funny, when driving my parents around in Bahrain, they said I was driving much slower and a lot more different to how I drove in England. Told them you have to change your driving style for whichever country you’re in. If I drove how I did in England, I’d have probably been in an accident by now!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, you definitely have to adjust to where you are at. Good point. I think that is the problem with a lot of us expats in SE Asia (or Asia in general), we expect things to operate like they do back home and they simply don’t!

        It’s funny to watch a near collision/close call and watch the drivers smile, nod and then drive away – then think about if that had happened in the US – there would be shouting and swearing (most likely!).

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Lani love this post about driving! Your mom sounds like a crazy woman on the road! Haha! My mom is a TERRIBLE driver as well, but she doesn’t curse or scream. She actually has a good temper.

    I’m very shocked that Thai and Cambodians don’t get road rage!! Talk about total opposite of China! In Japan everyone is too polite and drives so slow I don’t know how traffic accidents even happen.

    One of the hardest hurdles of reverse culture shock for me was driving. Although having a car is very liberating, it’s a totally different ball game when that’s all you can rely on. Driving in LA has been such a nightmare for me, but I think it’s really built up my thick skin and confidence. If you don’t aggressively drive here, you’ll either get in an accident or miss all of your exits 😛 When I went back home to Utah to drive after living in LA for a while, it was such a breeze. It was actually kind of more dangerous because I became too relaxed and my guard dropped.

    I do miss walking around a city, and being able to reach places by bike/walking and not being 100% reliable on a car. Sigh.

    Again, great insight and I love your personal reflections.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I was just saying to Jaina that I think we do need a bit of aggression when we drive. It seems to be part of the game. I think about how we cruise along and then we start to sit up when we know our exit is coming…or when we have to merge or when traffic gets tricky, we have to put ourselves in there or out there to get anywhere!

      LA traffic is its own animal. I’ve been in LA traffic plenty of times. Usually though, sitting as a passenger, clutching my seat or grumbling about how the other side of the freeway is clear but we are not. Hahahaha.

      Yeah, Thais and Cambodians are sooooo chill about traffic snafus. It’s amazing how they smile and nod their heads or don’t react at all. I’ve tried to be more like them!

      Mom’s much more calm these days 🙂 but she’s still a character. xxoo

      Like

  10. Now that I’ve read this for Cambodia, I don’t think I would ever try cycling in the country. Being on the road and swearing at certain close encounters, is justified: it’s your life on the line.

    I don’t have driving stories: I gave up my driver’s license in my early 20’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There have been cyclists that have been killed in Thailand. So, yeah, I don’t think SE Asia is very good for cyclists. That being said, everyone is still riding around!

      Like

  11. Ah, driving. I do great now (haven’t been in an accident in years) but I definitely got into so much trouble starting. A mess with a stick-shift, just like you described yourself in that California desert. Driving where I’m from in the Philippines is a bit like Thailand. Crowded, crazy, but not a mass of vehicles rushing the other way like you describe. One memorable time, I got late to school (I live in a developed city, btw) because a herd of cows decided to squat in the middle of the road. No honking and road rage could get them to move. That was probably the funniest most exasperating experience I had driving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahhaa. Yeah, I think I’ve been in a similar situation, but it was various places where we’re waiting for that lone cow that has strayed from the pack. Or wait a minute, that one time where the cow refused to move!

      Liked by 1 person

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