Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Driving in KL
Last Friday we met with Kristy's new co-worker, Yuka, and got our "new" 1997 VW Vento. This car is the equivalent of the VW Jetta in the US. Normally, getting a car is an exciting experience. I was less excited about getting a car and more nervous about driving on the opposite side of the road than what I'm used to.
We had a driver pick us up from the hotel and drive us to Kristy's school. I rode in the front passenger seat (on the left side) on the way over. I noticed that cars make up their own rules and the "motorbikes" are in a world of their own. The scooters and motorcycles come from nowhere and race into your blind spot before you have a chance to see them. Then, they zoom in between you and the car immediately beside you and on up to the front of all the cars. Seeing all of this just made me more nervous as I envisioned myself wrecking our new car or maiming one of those motorbike riders.
When we arrived at the school we went inside and traded paperwork for the car and arranged to follow Kanaga over to the Malaysian equivalent of the DMV, the JPJ (see Kristy's post <here> for more about the JPJ). I'm always cautious about getting a used car to begin with, and now I had to deal with crazy Malaysian drivers and driving on the opposite side of the road. I was more than happy to follow someone for my first drive across town. It made me feel more at ease to know that I wouldn't have to navigate AND learn to drive on the "wrong" side at the same time.
We made it to the JPJ without incident and it was there that I first realized how crazy driving here can be. I only thought I knew. It's every man for himself in an over-crowded parking lot and there are no rules. I was attempting to follow Ms. Kanaga through the parking lot, but that was easier said than done. When we first pulled in to the parking lot entrance, there was nowhere to go and I blocked the entrance for a solid minute. I couldn't do anything but sit there and wonder where the heck I was supposed to go. Ms. Kanaga finally decided to reverse a little and find another way around. Once we cleared the entrance we were able to drive around to the back lot and find parking spaces. Kristy and Ms. Kanaga went inside and Jaxson and I stayed in the car for an hour and a half and watched Curious George on my iPhone. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about how we had dinner plans with our new housemate later that night and I had no idea how I was going to get there without resulting in a fiery crash.
Kristy and Kanaga finished up inside and came back to the car. Kanaga let us in on a bit of information that made me feel much better about my current situation. She lived very near our new housemate, Lori, and could guide us over to her house. I was so happy to hear that. We loaded back up into the cars and headed over to Lori's, again, without incident. Dinner at Lori's was great and we had a good time chatting about Malaysian ways. Still, in the back of my mind loomed the anxiety that I would have to safely carriage my family back to our hotel in one piece and do so at night.
The time came to leave Lori's house and head back to the hotel and I started to get nervous again. Kristy was great, and tried to calm me down. She said, "...the worst thing that can happen is that we crash the car". She was right, that was the worst thing that could happen. Strangely, that did calm me down and I realized that I could probably keep that from happening if I was super careful and made my way cautiously back to the hotel. We headed down the road from her house and out towards the guard gate. It was my first time out on my own without a guide. I felt good. I felt confident. I made my first left out towards the main road. Then I felt something else. The left turn I just made felt a little to familiar. It felt a little too natural to be right. It felt like I was ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD!
I had done the very thing I feared the most, driving on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately, there were no cars coming in the opposite direction, so I quickly reversed and turned on to the correct side of the road. From there on out, Kristy made sure I knew I was supposed to go on the left side of the road the rest of the way to the hotel and I was grateful for that. We made it to the hotel without crashing the car and we decided to valet the car because we didn't want to deal with parking in the parking garage. I was happy to get out of the car and have my first "opposite sides" experience over with.
Since then, I have become more comfortable with driving in Malaysia. Kristy even feels more at ease with me driving and that's how I know I really am doing a good job. The streets are becoming familiar and Kristy and I are having fun navigating these strange roads and finding our own way. I love driving with her as my co-pilot, helping me find the way with her iPhone as a guide.