I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but I’ve been busier than usual and haven’t found the time. I hope this makes you laugh. Also, I share this story with permission (unlike my last post about Kevin. Also, he still hasn’t read it so I think I’m in the clear).
My first week in Arizona was a little lonely as expected and I was excited to make friends as quickly as possible. When I attended the grad student orientation that week I purposely wore a BYU shirt hoping it would help me meet some Mormons (preferably the single, pretty, female kind). I had forgotten to register for orientation and since I wasn’t on their list, the check-in people wouldn’t give me a free t-shirt. They did say, however, that if I waited until everyone else checked in they would give me one if there were any left.
While I was waiting for my t-shirt a small, Chinese woman walked up to me and said, “You went to BYU?” and I said that I did. She said, “We shared an office.” At the moment I recognized her. At BYU all the Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean teachers share an office. It’s really big and we mostly kept to our own language group. I didn’t know this woman, but I’d seen her many times. She didn’t know my name and I didn’t know hers, but we were both happy to see each other and we exchanged phone numbers. Her name is Hongyi and I was not expecting us to become good friends.
A few weeks later I got a random text from Hongyi that said: “I am taking driving class and I have learning permit. After driving class, can you help me to practice more? Thanks.” My first thought was, my dad would tell me not to let a foreigner drive my car. I’d never seen her drive before and had no idea if she was good or bad. Honestly, I almost said no, but then I applied the Golden Rule and replied: “Yeah, I’d love to.” Not the most honest text I've ever sent. And so began yet another plot to a foreign film.
I told Hongyi that we should practice driving on Sunday morning since there would be fewer people on the road. On the first Sunday I rolled out of bed and drove over to her house in my pajamas. As I was driving over to her house I kept asking myself how I'd gotten myself into this situation. I was fairly nervous because I’d never seen her drive, but I relaxed when she walked out of her house already dressed for church. Her church clothes made her seem very competent and that put me at ease. I had her get in the driver’s seat and she told me that she was so nervous. I could empathize. I showed her how to put the car in drive and we were off. It was immediately evident that she needed to practice a lot. She stayed in all the lines and didn’t hit anything, but she drove painfully slowly, made left turns dangerously slowly, and parked in four spots instead of one. Luckily only once did I have to say, “Stop. Stop! STOP!!!” I was glad when I got back behind the wheel.
Hongyi's English is very good, but it's not great and there were a few times when she didn't understand what I was saying. For instance, I'd say, "Use your blinker," and she wouldn't do anything so I'd say, "Use your turn signal," and then she would. Our language barrier made me nervous, too.
After our first time driving I didn't give her any feedback on her driving because she was already so nervous while she drove. The next week I made a list of some things that she could master that day. First, I taught her how to stop without giving us whiplash. Then we practiced going the speed limit. She would go 20 in a 40 and so I kept saying, “Hongyi, what’s the speed limit?” and she’d say, “40,” and I’d say, “And how fast are you going?” and she’d say, “Oh!” and speed up. She improved a lot that day and her progress was very gratifying.
Our third lesson was when things started to get really fun. We practiced parking and driving at Pima Community College. The parking lot is enormous and there’s no one there on Sunday morning. While we were driving in the parking lot I was talking to Hongyi and she was focusing more on talking than driving. I said, “Hongyi! You just ran a stop sign!” She apologize and said, “There is a word in Chinese [she then said some word in Chinese]. I don’t know how to say it in English. It means that you cannot do two things at the same time.” I wanted to say, “Oh, we’ve got a word for that in English – it’s called man,” but I thought she wouldn’t get the joke so I said, “You're saying that you can't multitask.” On another day we practiced driving and talking at the same time. It wasn’t a skill that I had thought about practicing, but she needed the practice. Even though the parking lot was completely empty we pretended there were other cars there. If she turned too sharply into a parking spot I’d yell, “Hongyi! You just hit a parked car!” and she’d apologize. She always backed up really slowly – painfully slowly. When she’d back up I'd start to say, “There are cars waiting your spot. They’re getting mad. They’re honking at you now.” And then she’d drive a little faster and drive through an imaginary parked car and I’d say, “Oh, you just hit a parked car.” It was a lot of fun and we both laughed a lot.
A few weeks ago I took Hongyi to the DMV to take her driving test. She’d gotten a lot better, but neither of us was sure if she’d pass. She was really nervous and I had to keep encouraging her and telling her that she’d already passed her test in driving school and since she'd done it before she could do it again. I waited nervously in a plastic chair while she took the test and when she came back she had a huge smile on her face because she’d passed! I was so ecstactic that I wanted to give her a big hug and jump around in circles, but due to our different sizes I just gave her a high five. She probably didn't want to hug my stomach.
|Hongyi in front of my car with her new license|