Each country has its own set of driving rules but we Malaysians seem to make ours up as we go along.
As someone who gets paid to write about cars, one of the things I have to do is drive an unfamiliar car in an unfamiliar country on unfamiliar roads with unfamiliar driving rules. You get used to the first three bits with experience and a little bit of research but the last part is as confusing as watching Inception after you’ve had a heavy night out with the boys. What is the meaning of those flashing lights, why is he waving his fist at me and how does the bloody top spin endlessly?
A case in point is India. I’ve never been there on a media junket but having experienced it as a tourist, I never want to drive on public roads without a guide and a steel cage around my car. How they get 10 lanes of traffic to fit on a two lane road is beyond me but they’re also the most patient drivers on earth as nobody bats an eyelid if you smash a wing mirror while trying to squeeze by.
I’ve been to China several times, but only driven on the racetrack. You couldn’t force me to drive on public roads in a large city like Beijing or Shanghai unless you put diodes in my underpants. Why? Because they’re just as congested as India but with none of the Zen-like patience; so, unless you want to get cursed out by a van driver with a Shuang Xi hanging out of his mouth, it’s best to be driven around.
Then again, as a Malaysian, I should be used to every single written or unwritten rule of the road because we truly have it all. On a recent 1000km family holiday trip I witnessed the bad, worse and worst drivers we have to offer and all of them would make a Mumbai cabbie blush.
Firstly, there was my all-time favourite, Mr. I-Miss Turnoff. He’s more prevalent than you think despite having barely enough brain cells to operate a nail clipper. For this special driver, a missed turnoff on a congested highway with cars zooming past at 110km/h is no big deal as the solution is to pull off to the side, engage reverse and back up the car till he can make the turn. Dangerous? Of course not, because he’s signalled his intent by turning the hazard lights on.
A little later I encountered the Hoggers, who are the main reason why I can never go more than five minutes without calling someone a donkey when I drive. They’re actually very law abiding drivers but just because they’re driving at exactly the posted speed limit they think it’s okay to sit in the right lane.
Here’s a clue. The right lane is for overtaking. If I am going faster, move over if there is a space to do so. Failing which, I will flash my lights, press my horn like a maniac and give you a death stare if I have to pass on the left. My middle finger will however remain holstered if my family is in the car or you look like a gorilla that escaped from prison.
Hopping off the highway into small towns represent their own challenge as roads heave with three to four times the normal amount of traffic. The first one is to exit out of a T-junction before ‘Gandalf of Wheels’ runs you over.
Having watched LOTR: The Fellowship of The Ring too many times, his motto is ‘You shall not pass’, so the moment you look like you’re exiting a junction he or she will speed up as much as they can. It can be nerve wracking to go up against them and flashing headlights mean you better not even think of crossing but I take the opinion that most are just bluffing and don’t really want to smash their cars into me. Bear in mind though, if there is an accident, the law will consider it to be your fault.
When you finally get into town, there is the small matter of parking. For some reason, Malaysians are the most creative parkers in the world and if there are no more allotted spaces, they double park. No more double parking space? We use the road median or sidewalk with the bonus that we don’t even have to pay for it.
I’ll be the first to admit to having done more than my fair share of illegal parking, but I also make it a point to keep an eye on my car, leave my mobile number in the window and only double park if I’m going to take less than five minutes. Anything longer and I’ll get proper parking and walk.
The Must Be In Front clan however think nothing of leaving their cars and then going to get their hair washed or toenails painted or whatever it is morons like to do. You can plant your palm on your horn for as long as you want or call their number but they won’t come out until they’re ready to do so. Most of the time, they’ll have an annoyed look on or a stupid grin as if to say ‘sorry I wasted the last 20-minutes of your life” but nobody really apologises. The next time it happens, the driver better check his brake lines!
Get back on the highway and if you’re in traffic, conditions are perfect for the appearance of the Queue Cutters. Characteristic behaviour includes driving in the emergency lane, straddling lanes to jump them and cutting forcing other drivers to give way when it becomes painfully obvious there are cops handing out summonses ahead. I must say I admire their resourcefulness but every time one passes me I’ll say a silent prayer hoping for their gonads to drop off when they go to the toilet the next morning.
Of course, you may have your own versions of Malaysian traffic characters and I my actual list runs several pages more but here is my motto when it comes to driving. Anyone who drives faster than me is a maniac and anyone who drives slower is an idiot. Therefore…it’s obvious isn’t it?