here's me walking the course before my test
i've been thinking lately about my experience in japan as a minority. i realize i'm a well-treated and celebrified minority, due to the current vogue of american culture, but i still get stared at and gasped at and treated like a child. in a country as monocultural (at least at first glance) as japan, i am part of the virtually illiterate minority. sure, i can buy groceries or a train ticket, but i can't do much of anything else without help. i still can't make a reservation at a restaurant, talk to my bank about a mysterious transaction, or take a driving lesson without it being a big ordeal. what would only be about driving for a japanese person is about overcoming everything else first (how to get there in the middle of a school day when the train stop is much too far and i can't read a bus schedule?) before i can even start trying to figure out what the instructor is saying enough to learn something. it feels like a battle. i've gained a much deeper appreciation of what you miss when you don't speak the native language. it makes me think of immigrants in america--all they're up against and how much courage that takes!--to be away from your homeland, missing your family and the familiar, speaking the language like a three-year-old, and hoping no one takes advantage of your ignorance.
but back to driving. i've been living a small-scale existence without a vehicle. i don't go many places after dark, i have to abide by the infrequent trains, and i can't buy more than one bottle of tea or juice at the grocery store unless i want to give myself a heart attack on the ride back. i had lots of fun last summer trying to get weird items home on my bike, but nothing rivals the comfort and convenience of a car when it's pouring outside, you're sick, and all you want is to buy some cold medicine and go to bed without riding for thirty minutes, getting soaked to the skin, and having a small emotional breakdown when the closest pharmacy is sold out of what you need...not that that's ever happened to me. but it would suck.
so maybe you don't realize why i'm still on about my new driver's license, but this is why. i endured three months of having other people make appointments for me at a facility three hours away ($100 round trip), taking three different vacation days to go there for 1. submitting documents 2. a 10-question true or false written test that you'd have to be dumb to fail 3. the final performance art piece that is called the "practical" test on a closed course with no other traffic. you fail if you chew gum. you fail if you wear sandals. you fail if you don't execute the 18 instances of using the blinker exactly at the right time every time. i bribed a japanese-speaking friend to go with me once, i stayed up till midnight once so i could call the colorado DMV and get the professional evasive-government run-around for an hour which nearly ended in me putting a hit out on each of the three unhelpful persons with which i had to speak. finally the truth came out--they don't even keep the records before seven years ago, so NO ONE has the record i needed, nor would they write anything to that effect on DMV paper. i got to deal with the worst of two countries' bureaucracies. but finally, finally, i jumped through all the rings and they found me worthy of my own freedom.
in two short weeks, i will own a little white