A first time for everything


Today’s lessons learned:

  1. It is easier to procrastinate about something than to just do it.
  2. Thinking about doing something scary is worse than actually doing it.
  3. It is easier to do something scary when someone else asks you to do it for them as a favour than it is to do it for yourself.

Last week Emma suggested she take me to a shop-cum-café in Chinatown called Peter Hoe. Apparently, it is one of the places to go in Kuala Lumpur and I certainly did not want to miss out. Our trip was set for this morning.

“You drive,” said Emma. “Then you will learn the route.”

“How far is it?” I asked. A simple enough question which means is it easy to get to for a novice driver like me?

“Five minutes,” she replied.

“Do I have to parallel park?”

“There’s a car park.”

Even I should manage that. Emma is amazingly tolerant. She also knows what is good for me. I agreed.


 Only, yesterday, the air-conditioner breaks on her car.

“Could you take me to the garage to pick up the car after our trip?” she asks. “You can follow me home after.”

“Sure,” I reply. “No problem.” I forget to ask how far away it is. I omit to realize this means I will have to drive home, alone, from the garage, from a strange place. This will be the first time I have driven the car on my own. But Emma is my good friend and I owe her this return favour big time. So, I agree.


 And so, this morning, we drive to Chinatown. Sorry, correction – I drive to Chinatown for the first time. Emma is patient and tolerant, careful to ensure I spot any holes in the road, traffic lights and parked cars. We park in an open air car park and walk a couple of blocks to Peter Hoe. By now I can feel my stress levels start to rise. In a couple of hours I will have to DO IT. As the countdown begins I try to enjoy looking at the lovely things in the shop and forget about the trial that will soon begin. I spend some money on pretty things. That helps. We have lunch and I realize that I am both ravenously hungry and have no appetite.

“Time to go,” says Emma.

“Where are we going by the way?” I ask.


“Where’s that?”

“About fifteen minutes away. Not far.”

“Is it near anything I might know already?” My voice quavers a little.

“I doubt it. But you’ll be fine. You’ve got a TomTom, right?”

I do have a TomTom but so far I have not got used to the lady who speaks to me. When she tells me to keep left, I do so ever so obediently, but keep ending up taking the wrong road. “Recalculating,” she says over and over, rather seriously I find, in her American accent.

“Want some gum?” asks Emma as we take the lift down to street level.

I take a piece gratefully. I hate gum, but my subconscious knows that in cases like this it will be good to chew away some of my angst.

PJ, or Petaling Jaya, seems to be in the middle of nowhere. Emma goes to find out how her car is doing while I fiddle with TomTom and get it plugged in. I punch in the word Home and it tells me I need just eight minutes to get there. Fine, I think. Even I’ll manage that.

Emma reappears at the driver’s door. “Sorry,” she says. “It will be another 40 minutes. It’s OK, I brought a book. You can go.”

“Right,” I say as the realization dawns that I now have to drive in the car from a strange place, alone, for the first time and I have no one to follow. Yes, I know I am a complete wimp. I know that once I have done this there will never be a first time again. I also know, deep down, that I can cope. It’s the idea of it that is more scary than actually doing it. But I bravely do a quick U turn and head for home.

Within three minutes I have misunderstood the confusing American lady.

“Recalculating,” she says.

Surprisingly, I am calm. I just follow her instructions and am soon on the right road again. It happens again. I chew harder. The gum stopped being minty minutes ago.


Five times this happens! Five times I just say, “sod it but never mind,” and chew like my life depends on it.

The clock tells me that my eight minute journey has now taken more than 30. Do I care? Not a jot. I am in a part of town I recognize at last. I am doing it. I am almost home.

When I reach the barrier to our compound I wave my entry card at the gate with a flourish. Once I am through the barrier I raise my fist in the air and whoop. “I did it!” I grin like crazy and march back to our apartment puffed up with pride.

I send Emma an SMS to share my success story including the facts that I got lost five times and took more than three times longer than I should have done.

I am so sorry for putting you through it. I feel so guilty ::(  she texts.

Don’t be sorry, I reply. It was GOOD FOR ME.

And I mean it.


13 thoughts on “A first time for everything

  1. Woo Hoo! Well done, I know exactly how you feel. I remember getting hopelessly lost in my first week in Madrid ..and in the days before tom toms, I don’t think I even had a map in the car. But I found the ring road; I think its the A40 and stuck to that until I recognised some huge towers which I knew were near our appt, It took all afternoon, but I did it and never worried about getting lost again. It’s good to be pushed.. a bit -:)


  2. So proud of you! I could feel the angst with you as I read this. How true the anticipation is worse that the action. You captured exactly how I felt when I first had to drive in the US. I understand that fear of the first drive or first of anything in a new place.


    1. Indeed, yes, first anything is crap. That’s why I kept an achievement diary when I first got here and included things like… got in a taxi for the first time, found a supermarket and bought something and used a cashpoint. But, yes, they are BIG achievements at the time and worthy of noting down. If I’d had young kids here I would have found it easier to start doing many things I am quite sure.


  3. The word “Recalculating” brings so much laughter to me. I was lost with a group of ladies trying to get out of the city. The funny thing is the driver new how, but thought she’d try the new gadget. We ended up in a section of Taipei that none of us knew. We laughed all weekend at a conference about that “lady” and the directions she gave us, and we were all American. LOL


  4. Great job! It’s so true that the stress and anticipation is always worse than when we actually do it. And it feels so wonderful when we achieve our goal 🙂 I learned to drive when we moved to the US; I was 25 and had never needed to drive before. Completely new place and learning how to drive – there was a lot of fear to get over, but I was triumphant when I finally drove on the highway by myself! Deep down we know we can do it, we just need to trust ourselves and give ourselves (or have someone else give us) a little push 🙂


  5. Oh my God! I snorted I laughed so hard reading this… it’s soooo me! Happens… every… time. You would think after learning our way around Dubai, anywhere else is going to be easy peasy, right? You should have seen my face the first time my husband told me I should be able to find immigration in Phuket Town by myself. “It’s one right turn at the heroine’s monument and straight on until you get there!” He exclaimed when I hesitated. I did’t dare ask what the heroine’s monument was. I sure know where it is now. Problem is, that main street is one way when you get into town. I can’t seem to get back without several wrong turns and a full half of a circumnavigation of the island! But I take a deep breath and just enjoy the scenery 🙂


    1. Very funny. Isn’t it great to know we are all so similar. I need to try Waze, Rachel. When you are new in town and new to an automatic and new to motorbikes coming at you from both sides it all adds to the fun!


  6. You can always change the language option on the TOMTOM and kill 2 birds with one stone: learn a new language, SAMI, for example and get lost at the same time! Exciting times.


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