Monday, February 25, 2013

Winter driving me crazy. Or Miss Daisy.

Well folks, another blog back in the cold reality of Iwate, Japan. Winter here is long. I was informed that they call winter over on the 4th of February. This seems a tad hopeful. That was three weeks ago, and it has snowed the last three days! Things are certainly warmer in Tokyo and the south, but still colder than a Melbourne winter!
Here in Iwate the hardest thing of late has been adjusting to the winter. I’ve had to organise a few things like a new visa recently, and in particular a Japanese driver’s licence. My international driver’s licence is good until the 2nd of March. That’s this coming weekend! So anyways after one year you need to organise a Japanese licence.
Well, it’s not so straight forward, however comparatively for myself it’s not too bad. If I was American or Canadian, I would need to sit a proper driver’s test. Thankfully that wasn’t necessary – I understand it’s almost impossible to pass on the first attempt. To be thorough the driver testers almost feel obligated to fail people on their first attempt!
Then there is a huge pile of paperwork. Basically I had to prove I had been in my home country for three months in a row since I got my licence. One thing they look for is the issue date of the licence. Well, the state of Victoria doesn’t put that on the licence! So, I had to get a ‘driving record’ sent here. The fact that in the past five years I have had two speeding tickets (both for less than 10 km over the limit!) worked in my favour. It proved I had been driving in Australia. I also submitted over 30 payslips to prove my continuously being in the country. However, it still wasn’t enough to grant me a full licence.
I am on a beginners licence for a year now. I have the special mark/sticker/magnet on my car to say I am in my first year of driving. I think I have less demerit points to lose, but I am not sure. I’ve only been driving since 1995!
Anyways, such is life and if I don’t speed I should be ok. The roads are something else I’ve had to get used to. I woke up one day in January and the usual 35-40 minute drive to work suddenly took 75 minutes! I had allowed for delays thankfully and made it on time by five minutes. When there’s snow, the roads are slow. When there’s ice, they are dangerous.
What tends to happen is driving on snow churns it up, turns it to water etc. Then at night the temperature drops, maybe to minus five, sometimes colder. Last night was more like minus ten. The water, even though there’s not a lot, freezes. The winter tyres don’t grip very well the next morning. Breaking is something to be done very carefully. I’ve experienced a little bit of skidding on the ice. The key is not to break hard, but gently, and leave plenty of space between you and the car in front.
I was driving home one very cold day when it didn’t reach 0 and this post van zoomed over the hill the other direction to me. The downhill slope (for him) was iced, and suddenly he lost control. He went from side to side, desperately swinging the steering wheel (which I’m sure was a bad move) and I thought – I was a goner! Somehow he missed me and regained control.
Downhill is the worst, the scariest part of driving when the road is icy. Usually people are painfully slow on those parts. Hence a 35 minute trip turns into over an hour. Patience and being careful is the only remedy here.
The forecast is for more snow this week.

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