Friday, August 7, 2009


This will be unashamedly politically incorrect. I don't care. I'm an immigrant and have earned full rights to criticize other immigrants. It says so in my naturalization certificate. So let me say a few words about DWA, Driving While Asian.

I realize saying 'Asian' is like saying 'European' and Heaven forbid anyone lump the French, German and Italians into one general category, but what the hell, I plan to do this with Asians, even as all Asians hate the Japanese, many hate the Chinese, and no one ever admits to being Cambodian. Here's my complaint: where do these folks learn to drive? Do they ever actually take and pass a driving test and with who? Asian driving instructors?

On an almost daily basis, I have a close encounter of the worst kind with Asians behind the wheel of their SUVs or vans. They turn left from the right lane, drive three miles under the speed limit while talking on their cell, wander heedlessly all over the road. Occasionally, they stop dead in the middle of the street to drop off passengers, oblivious to the unhappy honking of cars behind them. And since I am being a chauvinist, I might as well be a sexist: these cursed drivers are mostly young or middle-aged Asian women.

Some of the shortcomings, I understand, are cultural. What is the norm in the West is not so in the East. Here, for example, we flash our high beams as a measure of courtesy, an implicit "yes, please, go in front of me." In many Eastern countries, flashing your headlight means, "I will let you rip my liver out with your bare hands before I allow you to pass."

Augustus Cho--he's both of Asian descent and Chairman of the Chapel Hill Transportation Advisory Committee----wrote in the Chapel Hill News & Observer, "Most FOBs ("Fresh Off the Boat")--primarily international graduate students and the new, legal immigrants--lack driving experience before arriving. They did not drive in their homeland; it was too expensive and/or dangerous. Instead, many are learning now, on our roads, trying our patience.

"Amplifying the quandary, their driving is dictated more by their cultural state of mind (i.e., not stopping at STOP signs, "No cars there") than the proven rules of the road. The automobile may be a Western invention but the drivers in question have an Eastern mentality.

"Furthermore, the lack of automobile history implies equal lack of proper road infrastructure. Most roads are narrow: visualize paved alleys, barely wide enough for two vehicles. Such is used for walking, pushing carts, storing excess inventory by stores, children playing, parking and yes, driving. The motorists have no choice but to hold up traffic to let people on and off. Though here now, their ingrained customs are not easily changed."

Does that make me feel better? No. Less critical? Nope. I've always believed that immigration is--or should be--an act that encompasses serious cultural changes. You come to live in a new country, you learn the language, the laws, the habits of your new environment. As an immigrant myself, I am totally opposed to multi-language ATMs and bi- or tri-lingual signs in national parks advising visitors that the park is not a trash dump.

As H.L. Mencken once said, "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me." So learn the language, drive like me (most of the time) and don't turn left from the right lane.

No comments:

Post a Comment