04 July 2007

Travel: Langkawi, Part 2

So I return from the mangrove tour and decide I need to be mobile to see the island. As I mentioned, the main mode of transportation on the island is the scooter, 150cc and below. Well, that looks like fun, why don't I try? So, I go to a rental place, which is basically a convenience store with a bunch of scooters and small cars for rent ("for hire" as they say here) out front. The charge per day for a 150cc scooter is roughly $13, with a $30 deposit. Sounds good! So, I showed my drivers license, paid my $43 (RM 139 - Malaysia's currency is the ringgit), grabbed my helmet, and hopped on. Mind you, I have never ridden a scooter, but I know how to ride a bike. Well, I took off out of the parking lot, tried to turn, went straight across the street, and laid the scooter on its side, breaking the mirror, scratching the side and my right leg. I did not get 30 feet. Apparently, riding a scooter is not like riding a bike. The two attendants, 20-something Malaysian girls (one wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf) come running up to ask if I am okay and show me how to ride it. So, they take turns telling me what to do, driving it up and down the street to show me, trying to make sure I was going to be alright. Finally, I looked at one and said, "You know what, maybe I should just take a car." So, I turned in the scooter and got a car. Now, I had just signed an insurance contract with a RM 2500 deductible - gulp! They looked at the scooter, talked it over, and charged me 15 ringgit for the damage to the mirror. So, for about five bucks, I got a lesson in humility and three strawberries on my right leg.

Now, I have to get in my car. They rent Perodua Kancils there (see picture), which are about half the size of Mini Coopers. I haven't driven a car in more than 5 weeks, and now I am going to have to drive away from the girls, in front of whom I have just completely embarrassed myself, in this little car, all the while remembering to drive on the left hand side of the road. Yes, the car is right hand drive, and it will be my first experience on the opposite side. So, I am a wreck. The first five minutes were quite scary (at least I got out of sight of the rental store quickly enough). After those first minutes, however, it was a piece of cake. I did go to the wrong side of the car a couple of times when I had parked and was getting back in, but otherwise, no problem. There are some interesting things about it - some things are reversed, others are the same. The steering wheel is obviously on the right side, but the gearshift is still configured like in the US, as are the pedals (although in this car, they are quite small and spaced very closely; I had to drive barefoot to avoid mashing down on the clutch and brake at the same time). The turn indicator is on the right side, however, with the windshield wiper controls on the left side. Several times, I tried to signal a turn and ended up with the wipers on full blast.

After driving around the island for three days, it was apparent that everybody there but me can ride a scooter. There were old women in full traditional Muslim headscarf and long dress, there were teenage boys and girls, there were the young mothers and toddlers mentioned previously. There were fathers with two or three kids. But, there wasn't this idiot American with a banged up leg. So, one of the things I can put on my list is "learn how to drive a scooter."

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