You’ve never really seen the world till you’ve learned driving with a private instructor. They’re everywhere, just doing their thing – snoozing, belching, digging their noses with a refreshing refusal to pretend they’re really just scratching, placidly listening to tales of Sun Wukong on a radio channel you never knew existed – but for all I know they are a different species, an extraordinarily advanced breed of ironic subhuman that never has to learn manners, but never has to worry about not being in constant demand either.
The Instructor starts off really nice and patient on the first lesson: only the mildest of annoyances with engine stalls. “Cannot liddat ah!” he warns softly. In fact, the first few lessons are where you get the most bang for your buck. Constant guidance, very hands-on tutoring, minimal attention paid to Sun Wukong and his proverbial westbound expeditions. They’re also the most annoying lessons because you don’t get to go a touch over 30km/h.
After a few lessons his temper rises when you display an unwillingness to learn how to control the clutch. “Control! CONTROL CLUTCH!!! Must control, understand??!” you nod penitently because you’re not exactly sure what else is appropriate. “Very poor!” he mutters, contempt clouding his brow as he proceeds to pay 10 times more attention to your driving for the next three minutes, before a phone call comes in and he starts flirting with a female student and leaving you completely unattended for the next twenty.
(“Why so long never come lesson? Cannot go for test leh liddat!” *throaty giggle* “Busy still must learn what! Call me okeh?” You fix your eyes firmly on the road ahead but you fancy you can still hear his erection over the sound of oncoming traffic. You suppress the urge to cry but a tear rolls down your cheek as you slide into second gear.)
You’re going to be using the same few roads lesson after lesson so it’s refreshing when he suddenly asks you to go a different route. You wind in and out of unfamiliar industrial areas. You’re certain you’re going to end up raped today – must have been the shorts – when he asks you to pull over. “Need to return an umbrella to my friend, you sit here okeh? Don’t move ah. Very fast. Later I give you more time.” He disappears for 25 minutes. You get five minutes back.
Your relief at turning into a carpark quickly dissipates as you realise that you’re learning parking for an hour. For the uninitiated, parking is a skill arbitrarily entrusted to random people. That don’t include me. It doesn’t worry the Instructor though since he gets to get out of the car to eat his apple. “Reverse… not yet ah, continue *munch* reverse… a’ight, one left turn NOW! HAIYAH… too late *munch*. Fail already, understand?” You nod resignedly and move to repeat the drill. Just then, he spots a fellow of his species, guiding his bemused student in another lot. “Okeh you practice yourself ah? I go talk to my friend.” He opens the car and throws his apple core in the glove compartment before traipsing off with all the verve of a primary school kid going for recess. You assiduously check the mirrors and reverse, happy for a chance to FINALLY prove you can do this without any assistance – thud! Struck kerb.
It’s not the most straightforward of educations and for a while the only change you’re going to see is a steady dwindling in your savings account. Slowly but surely, however, you’re not going to stall as much, or even almost kill people as much. You ease into gears and filter with lanes with – dare I say? – panache. Mainly, though, you find vindication in the Instructor’s distraction: he grows to spend the bulk of your lesson scheduling his other lessons, or listening intently to the telling of Sun Wukong’s misdemeanours, or fixing some strange machine he took out of his boot, or digging his ear with a pin he found in the glove compartment. Languid with the scorch of the afternoon sun, he trades in his ever-precise instructions for vague advice. “Left. Right. U-Turn. Brake. Slow. Straight.”
On the drive back he reclines into an easy stupor, his nonchalance further bolstering your confidence. “Not bad lah. Can do well.” His words for once sound more avuncular than malevolent, you note with well-suppressed gladness. No more criticism, no more sweeping declarations of disappointment and threats to “burn my test date” (the species is better acquainted with metaphor than can initially be observed)! Gone are the days where lessons used to be a drag; you now feel like you could go on forever, fed merely on the purr of the accelerator. Just then the Instructor lets out an approving fart – the soundless sort which nevertheless makes its presence felt in an enclosed area really quickly. You gag for breath and your foot slips off the clutch, causing the vehicle to vibrate uncontrollably. “Eh, careful ah! Control!” but he is already half-asleep. Fighting the fumes you check your watch urgently (the clock in the car has been showing 3am since the start of the lesson) – 37 more minutes to the end of the lesson. Gritting your teeth and keeping your nose just open enough to let in air for survival (or at least that’s what it feels like in your head), you cruise through the cross-junction, wishing feverishly for the end of days.