Changing lane

I had to drive on the other side of the road. Drivers in Australia stay on the left lane and drive from the right side of the car. For me, that’s the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car.

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Visiting and driving in Brisbane, May 2007

Visiting and driving in Brisbane, May 2007

This was first posted on May 25, 2007 11:59 PM as “Changing Lane” on lalarimando.multiply.com.

Getting behind the wheels should be no big deal for a veteran car driver like me. Only the brave and fearless could ply the crazy and free-for-all streets of Metro Manila and I have done that almost everyday for the past 13 years.

The first time I drove in another country – Switzerland – the only kick I had was how the cars literally zoomed away. I was driving my friend’s friend’s teeny-weeny Mr. Bean-sized car on a superhighway and the speedometer showed a 225 miles-per-hour pace. Yet, my companion said I should floor it because I was in the fast lane. Otherwise, he said I should change to the slow lane. What slow lane? 225 mph speed is slow? That’s about 360 kph! I was used to the 20+ kph average speed in Edsa and even in North Expressway, I rarely go more than 100 kph. But then, I was in a different country. And that was one year ago.

A few days ago, I was driving again in a different country. I was in Australia, and I had to drive a rented car to be able to move around. This time, neither my Manila driving skills nor the speed craziness prepared me for what was in store.

I had to drive on the other side of the road. Drivers in Australia stay on the left lane and drive from the right side of the car. For me, that’s the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car. Everything was confusing. When I want to turn the lights on, the wipers start working. When I’m about to hit a one-way road, I have to turn left, not right. When we’re near a tollgate, I had to remind myself that the booth is on the right because I tend to open the left window.

The first time I had the chance to do some touristy stuff in Brisbane, the highlight was not the city sights nor the tourist attractions; it was the fact that I went driving on my own. All throughout the drive, back and forth, I kept reminding myself, in almost chant-like fashion: “Keep left. Keep left.”

Driving on the other side of the road has been the ultimate reality check to me that I am not home. It far outweighs the other facets of being in a foreign land, like extreme temperature drops during winter (I’m from a tropical country!), super efficient and down-to-the-last-second arrival timing of trains, trams, and buses, and the obvious difference in the locales’ accents, forms of expressions, colors, shapes and sizes.

I had few opportunities to drive again after my Brisbane city experience. My companion drove most of the time. I was told it would take us forever to reach our destination if I stay behind the wheels since I was too cautious (read: slow, nervous). But by then, I have started to conquer one of my greatest fears: to change, to come out of my comfort zone.

I was telling my companion that I would be able to master driving the roads of Australia. “Just give me time,” I said confidently. All I needed was more practice and to re-wire myself to stay on the left side of the road. Heck, send me to other countries where the lane assignment is different from that of Manila’s and I’ll be the Queen of the Left Lane in no time at all.

After all, isn’t any change difficult at first? Once the adjustment phase is over, things should be generally smoother. All Filipino OFWs I have talked to insist so. And they’re not just talking of driving.

DIFFERENT RULES. Navigating the "road" in Fraser Island in Australia, May 2007

DIFFERENT RULES. Navigating the “road” in Fraser Island in Australia, May 2007

I returned to Manila dawn of the day right after the mid-term elections and immediately turned on the TV to catch up on what I missed. The opposition candidates for the senate were dominating the 12 slots, and those from the administration immediately alleged media groups were brainwashing viewers about the fate of their contenders. Since then, cheating stories and allegations of fixing the results have dominated the news. It’s sickening, utterly revolting.

I know my role as a member of the press is to help document these, but I am finding myself forced to watch and read and hear anything about politics right now. Sometimes, I have to remind myself in almost chant-like fashion, “You have to. You have to. You have to.” It’s no fun at all.

Yesterday, I was coming out of a carpark from a building in the Fort Bonifacio area where I had an interview. The street where I exited has been newly opened and there were barely other cars in the area. A few meters after, I realized I had been driving on the left lane. I snapped out of whatever state I was and immediately changed lane.

Perhaps, unconsciously, I was craving for all the things the left lane represents.

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