We've lived overseas for almost 7 1/2 years now, and if you didn't know, life in another country can sometimes be quite different from the country you grew up in... it's definitely wonderful and exciting, but different. So I've come to think of everything that happens as adventures. In the Philippines, we had quite an adventure obtaining our student visas and getting Justin's passport. In fact, anything that had to do with the immigration office in Manila is remembered by the LONG train and jeepney rides to get there, the LONG hours of waiting in lines, and the MANY trips we had to take back and forth until we finally got everything... and then we had to renew our visas every few months. :) But we were always overwhelmed by Filipino hospitality and everyone's love for Justin that it's easy to forget the stress of those moments a few years ago.
In Japan, we've had no stress at all with our visas or with Noah's passport, so I almost don't even remember the details of those adventures. However, we are in the middle of quite an adventure right now... obtaining our Japanese Driver's Licenses. In Guam, we just went to the office, paid some money, and exchanged our stateside licenses for a Guam license. I never got a license in the Philippines because we didn't have a car, but Brian got his fairly easily with a friend's help to guide him through the half day process.
Well, when we moved to Okinawa, we came with an international driver's license, but that doesn't really mean much. We just went to a Triple A office in the states, paid money, took a picture, and were given the license. So the Japan government knows that this is not the most official kind of documentation and they prefer us to obtain a Japanese Driver's License while we live here. So first we had to prove that we already have a valid license from our home country... I won't bore you with the details of how hard this seemingly easy step was for us to complete, but praise God, after a few months of negotiating and fed-exing papers from Guam, we were approved to begin the process. So first we had to take a written test... everyone said it was super easy, and it was pretty easy, but there were a few trick questions, so I did get a little nervous as we waited for our results... but we did pass the written test. I mean, come on, we've been driving for 15 years now... we should be able to pass a test about driving, right?
Well, the next and final step is not so easy. We have to take a driving test. And it takes most foreigners 6-8 times of taking the driving test before they pass it! AND it costs more money every time you take it! We've been hearing about this from other missionaries and foreign workers ever since we arrived, so we've been trying to glean as much helpful information as we can so we don't have to take the test so many times. But our first driving test is tomorrow morning, so please pray!
So, you may be wondering why it's so difficult to pass a simple driving test. Here's a picture of the course:
It looks fairly simple... just a few curves, turns, stops, general stuff. But it's all about what the test-giver (I don't know what they're called... instructors, judges?) is looking for. For example, you must check around the car for any people or things that may be in the way before you open the door. And of course you must look up and down the road before you open the door to make sure the way is clear... and all of this must be very exaggerated so the instructor can see you do this. The test is not given out on normal roads; it's on a course at the driver's license office. We've heard so many horror stories of how many times it took people to pass, make sure you use very exaggerated motions, don't go too fast, don't go too slow, etc., so a few days ago, we went to a driving school to spend time with a driving instructor on a practice course... and what an adventure that was!
First of all, we couldn't find a school close by that claimed to have any English speaking instructors. So our amazing Japanese friend Shuichi went with us. Shuichi is 70 years old and has been a member of Keystone church since it started. He has helped us with EVERYTHING since we moved here - visas, passport, insurance, car buying, translating our mail, etc. I really don't know how we could have settled into life in Japan without him... so once again, he came to our rescue and accompanied us to the driving school to ride with us and translate during our practice sessions.
I (Julie) went first while Brian hung out with Noah and studied notes from other foreigners about how to perform on the driving test. Things started out fairly normal, but the first obstacle was remembering specific sequences of things... adjust the rearview mirror, put your foot on the brake, then turn the key in the ignition, then put the car in 'drive', then release the parking brake, then check your mirrors, look over your shoulder, turn on your blinker, look over your shoulder again, and slowly ease into the road... or something like that. I was so concerned about checking mirrors and blindspots I think I actually did it too much. Then there are many little things to remember like turn on your blinker 30 meters before you need to turn, pump the brake a few times as you go around a curve, pull close to the curb before you make a turn, and many other things that seem like not a big deal until you're in the middle of a driving test and you act like you've never driven before because you're so nervous about forgetting something or messing up... not that we would know what that feels like. ;) And to top it all off, Shuichi is sitting in the back seat translating all the little things we're doing wrong... if nothing else, this experience will keep us humble. ;)
So, here are some of my favorite memories of the practice day...
1. Our instructor knew some English words, so he didn't always rely on Shuichi to tell us what to do... there is not an "L" sound in Japanese, so when he said 'blinker' it sounded like 'winker'... It's a very small course, and you're supposed to turn on your blinker 30 meters before every turn, so that means your blinker is on a lot... so all I heard for the better part of an hour was, "winker, winker, winker!"
2. The S-curve... you have to drive through a 'crank curve' and an 'S curve'. If your tires touch the curb at all during these curves, you automatically fail. I think I had to drive through the S curve about 15 times before I did it right... and all I could do was laugh. I'm sure that's not what the driver expected, but I just had to laugh... and poor Shuichi kept translating all the instructor's attempts to explain to me how to do it, so when I finally did it the right way, Shuichi just clapped from the backseat. It was hilarious.
3. So I laughed when I got stressed, no surprise. Brian reacted a little differently... he got so stressed about trying to remember all the tips and sequences, he ran a red light in the middle of the course, and then both the instructor and Shuichi were telling him what to do. ;)
4. There were many other funny moments but when we were both finished with our practice session, I said to Shuichi, "So, was Brian better than me?" And he replied, "No comment." Then about 5 minutes later he said, "Julie, maybe you should come back and practice again another day."
Well, it's a slightly stressful adventure, but Brian and I have already laughed about this experience so much, it's carrying us through a very busy and overwhelming week... all we have to do is say "turn on your winker", and any stress just melts away.
So, tomorrow morning, we will have our first attempt at passing the driving test. It would be great to pass it tomorrow; we really don't have time to do this all the time. So, if you think of us, say a prayer, and we'll let you know the results of our current adventure... and don't forget to turn on your winker! ;)