Friday, February 11, 2011

behind the wheel

If you know me, you know how I drive. Now, let’s top that winning combination off with driving on the other side of the road AND car, and no working GPS. And…voila! Douglas has been understanding and patient the whole time. Couldn’t ask for more than that.
   The basics of me driving were to stay out of the drainage ditches and on the correct side of the road. A fun fact about Japan is that the turn signals and windshield wipers are reversed here. So, if you saw a car driving about 10kmh under the speed limit trying to make a turn with the windshield wipers raging – that was me. I apologize. In fact, I cleaned the windshield just about every time I attempted to turn anywhere. Douglas assured me that everyone new to the island did that.
    The speed limits here are considerably lower than back at home. Anywhere from 40kmh to 60kmh is what you’ll see most often. That means I drive at about 24 to 37 mph. Since I’ve always been a bit of a Sunday driver, this suits me absolutely fine. It’s usually pretty congested out in town, so the opportunity to whiz down the road doesn’t present itself, anyway. It’s also not uncommon to see a few people run red lights, cars stopped in the far left or far right lane, or people crossing the road at their leisure. So, needless to say, I’m okay with the lowered speed limit.
   I also learned the term “white lining”. Here in Okinawa, a lot of people choose to get around by moped or motorcycle. Excellent. Good for you. However, what happens a lot is a motorcycle or moped will drive in between cars right down the white line. (Therefore, “white lining”.) Mopeds and motorcycles are not always easy to see coming and often come up pretty fast. When I was first learning to drive, it was terrifying. They sometimes weave in and out of traffic. If you are stopping at a red light, it is an almost certainty that at least two or three mopeds or motorcycles will drive quickly in between the stopped cars to the very front. It is illegal here, but common. I checked with Douglas and, as it turns out, I’m not allowed to accidentally yawn out the window and clothesline offenders. Apparently, not a good idea.
  Driving around Okinawa is wonderful.  It really is a beautiful island and there’s so much to see and do here. When you can’t drive, your world is pretty small and you’re dependent on other people to get around. Initially, I walked to get around most places (post office, bx, commissary, library). It helped me figure out where things were and get used to my surroundings, but I desperately missed driving. Soon enough, Douglas and I got a great deal on a car from a family that was PCSing  back to the states. Being able to drive on my own here was like the whole world opened up. I’d missed the freedom that came with simply getting in the car and just driving.

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