Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Happy Friday

I had my motorbike skills test today, and, if the reaction of the half of my
staff members who accompanied me and cheered as I cleared the figure 8 and
the smiles of the testers (who may have just been amused to be watching a
white person navigate a figure 8), I must've passed.

The whole thing started kind of funny. I took a key to a bike and went down
and jumped on and decided to take it for a warm-up spin in our neighborhood
while waiting for everybody who wanted to come to make their way down the
stairs. When I came back from around the block - whoops, only one biker was
left waiting for me and nobody was left to drive me to the testing ground
(I'm still technically illegal to drive - especially TO my driving test!).
But they all laughed and said it was their plan - my warm up was to be the
drive to the test - don't get in a crash now! Well, we made it without

It was kind of a strange atmosphere - I didn't really know what to expect,
whether I would be the only person taking a test or if it would be a zoo.
Zoo won - I never guessed that so many people in Cao Bang didn't have their
motorbike licenses - and it wasn't just a bunch of first-time driver kids
either. In fact, most were middle-aged men and women (more men) who looked
like they should've been riding for years. I mean, how else had they gotten
around for the last 20 years of their lives? And many of them actually
looked wobbly and tentative, not like they had simply been operating without
a license either And the thing is, they do that same test tomorrow and then
next month and next month ad next month...I suppose for the amount of
wobbliness it could have been a bunch of repeat test-takers, but really, not
that many.

So we showed up and had to wait. And wait. So I did a couple of practice
figure 8s. Now that was fun - there are 2 practice 8s painted on the ground
and about 10 people using them at any one time - 5 per 8, and seriously,
that 8 is not very big, so it was a very crowded. It's one thing to be
navigating the tiny 8 on your own, but when you have to worry about the
other guy crossing your path in the middle every time...and that other guy
isn't exactly in the greatest control of his bike. It would be fine if it
was in-and-out 8, but no, the last chunk requires you to backtrack on the
part of the eight against traffic - that caused a lot more traffic jams or
close calls than the middle crosses. And it actually would have been fine if
everybody lined up and did their eight and out, but no, some people just
kept going around and around and around... then some people started at the
starting point, others just jumped in at random (thankfully all going in the
right direction).

So after all that excitement I was still waiting. Like I said, half my staff
accompanied me to the test for moral support. So, we had 5 or 6 motorbikes
for all of us. So I decided I was going to choose the motorbike I was going
to use for the test. So I systematically went through all of the bikes we
had with us. The one I had originally was running too rough for me to be
really confident in it. Another one was surprisingly heavy - really good
control around the corners (nice and smooth), but getting into the 8 at the
odd angle required was touchy - I tended to just drive straight on out. Then
there was the motor scooter which was fun, but not really appropriate for
this test. Then there were 3 other bikes of the same make, both which I
really liked and handled well with a good brake. I finally settled on one to
use for the test - and just in time because my name was called.

Like I said, they were all amused to see me. There was a bit of a panic
trying to get me all checked in. My staff members had gotten bored so they
took off to grab street food on the corner. My translator wasn't there when
my name was called so the admin assistant who had stoically waited with me
whipped out her cell phone and called the translator while dragging me over
to the judge's table. Turns out what I needed to do barely needed
translation: sign here...sign there...again...and another time here. Then
they asked for my Vietnamese car driver's license - good thing another staff
member with a bit of English was there, so it came out as "paper for know
driving car."

Then fun was over. It was time. There was sudden silence as I took my turn -
ahh, I love being the center of attention. Fortunately I didn't freak too
much and while I didn't drive as smoothly as I would have like, I did it!
And like I said before, if I was at all worried, my staff gave me reason not
to fear when I excited the 8 and the whooped and cheered and basically
embarrassed the heck out of me while other people were beginning the test.
When I finished the whole course they cheered again and I had to hush them
up so that they didn't disturb the people on the course behind me. Sigh.
Then they proceeded to translate the comments of all the other people
standing around and watching (and some of the judges' comments).

But it's over. And then they left me to drive away by myself again - I was
like, is this really okay, to be leaving your test (you still have to wait 2
weeks to actually get your license) where they KNOW you don't have your
license yet, driving out onto the open road? But they didn't stop me and now
I can only hope they don't penalize me by not giving me my license.

But I drove safely all the way back - only to be cut short at a red light
right across the street from our office. So I pulled the trick of making a
right turn thinking to just whip around the block and come in from the other
side. But no, they chose that day to clean our street with compressed air
and there was such a mess of dust that I had to pull up short, do a u-turn
and circle back again the other way. At least it was a good joke for my
staff who were seriously wondering just how I could have gotten lost when I
was just across the street behind the other two people a minute ago. Serves
them right for running the yellow and leaving me behind...

So, there you have the getting-your-motorcycle-license-in-a-foreign-country
story. And thank goodness it's over. That's an experience I only need to
have once!!

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