Thursday, August 4, 2011

Almost Everyone Drives on the Left Side

AWAS! That means "caution" or "beware" in Malaysia. Take it to heart if you ever decide to hit the roads here.

Driving on the left side is, in itself, not as mind-boggling as I was worried it would be. After a couple days on the road, I've pretty much adjusted. At first, I'd forget that the car extended to the LEFT of me and would unintentionally straddle lanes. Also, the turn signal and windshield wiper controls are flipped, so I'll often turn on my wipers when I mean to signal a turn. I'm now comfortable enough with driving so that I don't turn around and tell the kids a heartfelt, "Always remember that I love you," whenever I start the engine. However, I still haven't reached the point where I can simultaneously drive and listen to music.

I've never properly appreciated road planners in America. In fact, I've probably complained about them and their crazy ideas. But now that I've driven over here, I'll never take them and good design for granted again. There's a main one-way thoroughfare in Penang that's three lanes wide... until it suddenly turns into two lanes with all of 2 meters of warning. Bam! Just like that, my lane has disappeared. Lanes disappear and reappear so that you can't just pick one lane and stick with it if you want to drive down the road.

On a daily basis, I'll be in a through lane, but there's something else immobile in it. Sometimes it's a row of cars parked in the narrow lane, so that I have to move over to get by. Sometimes it's a truck making a delivery. Once, I came out of a roundabout and dodged a restaurant that had extended it's patio dining into the middle of the road.

Scooters abound over here, and they're constantly darting in and out of traffic. They are the prime culprits of driving the wrong way on a divided road. Part of me knows that in a game of chicken, my minivan will win. On the other hand, I'd feel really guilty running head on into the scooter and the family of four riding on it. But I don't want to stereotype. I've also encountered a lorry driving the wrong way, too. ("Lorry" = "Truck"; Malaysia belonged to the British until the late-1950s, so the English language has a definite British slant to it.)

The other difficulty with driving is that I don't know the Malay language, so I don't understand some of the signs. I was driving down the road that Clark likens to the twisty part of 2222 in Austin. Suddenly, I see the sign "AWAS". Caution! Okay, that's fine. I understand that. But then the next sign says "AWAS  Blah Blah Blah". The sign after that one says "AWAS BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!!!" Clearly, something bad is about to come up. And then -- no kidding -- comes "AWAS" with a skull and crossbones under it. I'm still alive, so I dodged whatever danger was on the road, but I'd really like to know what it said. For the record, Andy interpreted this all as "School Bus Stop Ahead."


  1. hi, I visited your website by accident while trying to research about visitor's expectations of Malaysia. I ended up reading every single posts :)

    I can totally relate to your story about not understanding the language. I once had a friend visiting that messaged me that she is waiting for me at 'Jalan Sehala', which actually mean one way street :) poor her.

    1. I hope you enjoyed it and am so glad it kept your interest. I quickly figured out Jalan Sehala and have only driven the wrong way when it wasn't clearly marked. : )


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