Friday, February 19, 2010


This seems timely, since the Olympics are in full swing and Tiger Woods is set to make a public apology tomorrow. I have a confession to make, Constant Retard, and as insignificant a failure as it it may seem to you, trust me when I say that today has been absolutely devastating to my psyche. I'm not kidding.

As you might have read here, despite my misgivings I've been in the process of obtaining a Korean driver's license. I took the required three-hour education class, took the horribly written computer examination and barely passed, took four hours of course practice, and today I took the course test.

I failed.

How did it happen? I'm still putting the pieces together in my memory, honestly. A few factors are to blame, but ultimately I have to resign myself to the fact that I choked. What follows is a short explanation of the test and where I made my mistakes.

The course, which takes around five minutes to complete, is a series of driving challenges which -- like communism -- works in theory but not in execution. It's supposed to determine a driver's competence, but instead it's all about memorization. I joked to Legs that it's like Mario Kart, only at 20 km/h. Anyway, a driver has to get a score of 80 or above to pass.

I got 74, and here's how:

I'm car No. 25. I get called up and get in, put on my seat belt and await the announcement that I can start. When I hear the announcement, I start the car. I should have started the car as soon as I got in, because the announcement to start means that I should have turned on my left blinker and waited for the bell. This was not explained to me during course practice. I start the car, but it's a newer model than the one I practiced in, and I can't tell if it's running or not. Stupid me, it's been running the whole time, in neutral.

I turn on my blinker and wait for the bell. When it rings, I turn of the blinker, but it's so sensitive that I mistakenly turn on the right blinker. That, or the time it took me to get started, costs me 5 points.

Next, I stop at a stop sign and proceed up a hill where I must stop and wait between two white lines before the car's computer counts to three. Then I can proceed. I drive around a curve and into a zigzag with wire sensors on each side. In practice this was easy peasy Japanesy, but the dimensions on this course are considerably narrower. The car, a Hyundai Verna, is also a newer model than the one in which I practiced, so I'm higher up the driver's seat, unable to see the sides as clear; and the steering wheel is a lot more sensitive.

Once I'm out of the zigzag I see on the computer screen that I'm at 90 points. Unexpected, but I drive on. I come to a red light and stop. When the light changes I take a right curve into an S-shaped road, similar to the zigzag with wire sensors on either side. Knowing that I lost 5 points in the zigzag, I'm a little nervous navigating the S, but I make it through without any demerit points.

Still at 90. You can make this, Forbes, I tell myself. (Yes, I call myself Forbes in my head.) I stop at another red light, and when it turns I proceed past the intersection into a zone for reverse parking. Again, sensors all around the roadsides. I'm equally nervous and upset, because the dimensions here are much narrower than the ones I memorized on the practice course, but I hold myself together and make it through. I still have 90 points, and I know that it's pretty much smooth sailing until the last challenge, parallel parking.

Out of the parking zone, I approach an intersection and turn on my left blinker. I turn left and drive toward a faux railway crossing. Before I get there, the car's bell sounds again. During practice I was taught that that means I have to brake and turn on the cars emergency blinkers. I stop and frantically search the dash for the emergency light button, which, since this is a new-model Verna, isn't where I'm used to it being. I have three seconds to hit the button or I'm deducted another 5 points. In what was probably a fraction of a second before, I locate the button and breathe a sigh of relief.

Still 90.

After the railway crossing I go into a turn and have to speed up to over 20 km/h, then quickly slow down to under 20. This was never a problem during practice, but again the dimensions of this course aren't exact, so I lose a single point for going above 20 before the sign. Still, I'm at 89 points. Even if I can't successfully parallel park, I still pass. Time to pop the cork on the champagne bottles at Chez Sparlegs.

I've never been good at parallel parking, but my instructor at the practice academy taught me a fail-safe method that worked like a charm: Line up to the curb, shift into reverse, turn the wheel all the way right, release the break until your left mirror lines up with the back right corner, turn the wheel a revolution and a half left until the right side door handle is seen in the right mirror in line with the white line, then turn the wheel hard left until you line up and two red lights come on the computer screen to indicate that you've succeeded.

Again, dimensions. Again, newer-model car. I make a passable parallel park, but my right wheels are about 30 centimetres away from the white line. Stupidly, I try to correct my mistake, god knows why. It can't hurt to try, I think, and I go at it a second time. But it's clear to me that -- like strawberry jam with ham on sandwiches, like Rebecca De Mornay as your nanny -- this won't work out. I wanted a perfect score, but I'll have to settle for 84, I think.

I pull out of the slot, and that's when an alarm rings. The computer's screen flashes red, and I see that my score is 74. How? My guess is that, upon driving out of the parallel parking slot, I angled the car during my second attempt in such a way that I hit the foremost corner curb sensor, although that doesn't explain why the fail signal sounded a full five seconds after I exited that stage, but whatever.

I failed a driving test that, in practice, I passed every single time, usually with a perfect score but sometimes with a 95 because I suck at parallel parking. I've been hanging my head in shame all day, and nothing can console me or make me feel better, not even Legs's admission that she failed the course her first time only 10 seconds in because she didn't stop on the hill, resulting in an automatic failure. I can blame a lot of factors, but the reality is that I choked. That's the starkest explanation. And what hits the hardest is that I haven't felt this humbled since...ever?

I'm an introspective guy, and because I've had all day to beat myself up mentally and contemplate just why I feel so down about a test I couldn't care less about (I'd rather walk carrying Legs on my back than drive in Korea), the only answer I have is that I'm allergic to failure. I'm 31 years old, and failing a driver's exam is, to me, embarrassing as hell. Like most people my age, I've carved out a comfortable niche in life, one which doesn't include tests or exams, one which favors experience and practicality over rote memorization; but today I was reminded that I'm not infallible, and that realization hurts.

Hurts bad.


denz said...

denz said...

Still, s'gay.