I got it! I can finally drive in Dubai!
After weeks of commuting up and down the driving school, undergoing stress, shedding tears and giving my utmost focus, I finally obtained my driving license. It was frustrating and nerve-wrecking having to start everything from scratch, especially when I have been driving for the past 15 years – so much so that I had to psyche myself to keep an open mind and take it as an opportunity to brush up my driving skills. I kept reminding myself that I’m doing this for myself and my kids, as relying permanently on public transport isn’t something we want, especially in the long term when E goes to preschool full time come this September. I’d rather be responsible for the safety of my children than to put it in the hands of reckless taxi drivers. In fact, I was determined and positive, aiming to get my license within the first attempt!
No thanks to the infamous reputation of my home country (corruption), Malaysians are not allowed to convert their existing driving license directly, unlike other nationalities such as Europeans, Australians, Americans, Japanese, Korean and more. Even Singaporeans can get their license after taking one theory test only but for Malaysians (and some other nationalities), we are required to undergo both theory and practical classes as well as tests. Repeating the road tests is very common here; a friend took eight tests before she was given the license. A cab driver told me that he had to undergo four times of road tests while his colleague took 22 times before passing. And every time you failed, you have to fork out money to pay for extra eight practical classes. $Ka-ching$
Cost-wise, it was an expensive affair. Because I could only go for classes during Hubby’s off days, I signed up for the Shifting category, meaning I could choose any timing and take a maximum of 12 classes a week. The VIP category allows you to take up to a maximum of 16 classes a week, hence expediting the process. And because I already own a driving license, I am required to take 20 practical lessons (total of 10 hours), instead of 40 for first-timers.
It was a tough journey having to juggle between the kids and household, nursing Xan through the night and going for lessons feeling sleepy and tired the following day. Two weeks before I was due to begin the course, I started pumping for storage. As I have been direct latching on demand all the time, it was really difficult to build up the supply. I turned to fenugreek and shatavari capsules for help and pumped several times a day, no matter how little I yielded. My goal was to produce 10 three-ounce packs for standby and I did it in the end.
There was a lot to learn. To begin with, it’s right side driving here so I have to get my brain and directions adjusted. It’s also more than just starting the engine, moving the car and making sure that you don’t run into anyone or anything on the road. There are different rules and techniques to observe, hence making the learning process even more tedious.
Here’s to share my journey to obtaining a driving license in Dubai:
18 April – Signed up for the driving course with Belhasa Driving Center. Opened a file and decided on my choice of branch. I chose the one at Al Wasl/Al Jaddaf, located around 25 minutes away from home. According to the guy over the counter, this branch is more woman-friendly and gives a higher chance of passing due to “less traffic in that area”. True enough, there’s a special ladies waiting room along with a priority queue lane for documentation processing as well as special sitting areas for women there. As for traffic wise, I was told that the roads around the other branch in Jebel Ali is less busy compared to this.
23 April – Theory lecture class #1 to #4 (5 hours)
29 April – Passed my theory test. Scored 34/35. Common sense, straight-to-the-point, objective questions.
30 April – 4 practical lessons (2 hours). I specifically requested for a male instructor and was assigned a nasty, impatient and egoistic one. He bashed me so hard throughout the first lesson that I almost believed that I wasn’t meant to drive and would be a total danger to everyone on the road. It was a combination of communication breakdown and male ego thingy. I had a hard time understanding his strong Arabic accent while he was impatient in explaining things in details to me. At one point, he raised his voice at me because I had to clarify my doubts about his commands. Men here don’t like to be questioned, I realized. He also started insinuating ideas that if I help him to buy something from Malaysia, I “will pass and get the license within the first time”. I did not know at that time that he was asking me to bribe him. Thought we are not supposed to do that here?! Feeling bruised, I burst into tears at the end of the lesson but decided to give him a second chance.
4 May – Theory lecture class #5 to #8 (4 hours) + 4 practical lessons (2 hours). Instructor burnt his second chance after an unpleasant experience with him again. A day before the lesson, he called to bash me again – this time to interrogate me on why I only confirmed the lesson a day before, instead of two days. This monkey actually said to my face that I should text him ONE day before to confirm but decided to push the blame on me when he accidentally double booked. Not my fault. During the lesson, he snapped at me when I asked to be given more time to practise my parallel parking. It was so bad that I became paranoid and reacted anxiously by lifting my hands away from the steering wheel every time he opened his mouth to criticise me. Despite all these nonsense, he had the cheeks to shove his shopping list to me, which costs around RM900+. I asked him to go fly kite, then requested for a change of instructor, citing “communication breakdown”. He got a good sounding from his superior after that, I believe. Hubby and some of my friends have asked me to file a complaint against him now that I’ve got my license. We’ll see…
5 May – Passed my parking test. See, I can drive! I don’t need morons like him to bring me down. And I certainly don’t need him to help me pass. FYI, all practical tests are conducted by examiners from the Road & Transport Authority, which is not related to the driving schools at all. So there’s no way you can ‘cheat’.
6 May – 4 practical lessons (2 hours). Got a new instructor. He spoke clearly, was patient and assuring. He was quick in pointing out my mistakes yet at the same time, praised me on things I did well. I liked him but unfortunately, he was just a stand-in instructor.
11 May – 4 practical lessons (2 hours). Another new face. This instructor was professional and gave a balanced view too. He was slightly impatient too but not as rude or harsh as my initial one.
12 May – Preliminary assessment by Belhasa representative to gauge my readiness for the final road test. I quote the examiner, “You did excellent but you’ll need to take another 4 more lessons” What?! It’s a money-making scheme but I have learned not to question. Just do it. Paid another AED400 for extra lessons. Whatever.
18 May – With 8 more lessons to go, I finally got assigned a permanent instructor. Luck was on my side, he was the nicest of the bunch. He was friendly, patient, took time to answer my questions and kept motivating me. He never once said I will fail or not make it. At the end of the lesson, he would summarize my strengths and asked me to work on my weaknesses. He put me into perspective and never asked for any favour.
22 May – Xan fell sick and I didn’t sleep much the night before. This was my last lesson before the final road test and I made many mistakes due to exhaustion. I was stressed out and couldn’t sleep that night. I kept going through my notes. I really need to nail this. I don’t want to repeat the test. I don’t want to go back to the driving school on Hubby’s off days. Ever.
Road test day
23 May – The final road test day. I made sure that I dressed conservatively as per a friend’s advice. I took a shower that morning to freshen up my mind. I drank latte to keep myself awake (I am not a fan of coffee). I visualised myself driving confidently and calmly, and passing the test. Told myself that today, I would walk out of the centre with a driving license. The rule of thumb – as many have told me – is to keep calm and steady.
E gave me his wildebeest figurine toy as a good luck charm before I left for the exam. “To take care of you, mommy” and “Have fun, mommy” – he said.
I took the test with two other female students. The examiner was a policewoman. I was the third to go. Both students before me failed on the spot. One almost hit a pole while turning into a junction and another almost crashed into a stationary vehicle parked at the roadside. The examiner had to intervene and redirect the steering. When that happens, you’ll know for sure you have just failed. My turn came; I was to drive along the small road out to the highway and return to the test commencement spot. I was asked to change lanes on a busy highway, take a roundabout, and park the car. All was good until the examiner commented that I should drive faster on the highway. My heart fell when she touched the steering wheel while I was trying to park the car. She wanted it to be parked a certain way. Oh no…
All three of us waited for five minutes before being called into the examiner’s room one by one. The other two ladies came out with a sullen face. When my turn came and was told that I have passed, I almost did a star jump but gratefully thanked the examiner and left the room quickly. Just in case she changes her mind!
26 May – One of my birthday wishes this year is to get my driving license. I received the physical license today. Yay! And to thank my instructor, I bought him a box of Patchi chocolates. He was so happy that he showed it off to his colleagues!
All in all, we spent a total of AED5,305 (RM4,500) for the driving course up until the license was issued. Probably the most expensive license I would ever pay for.
Next up is gathering the courage to drive around on my own using a GPS. The idea still seems daunting for now, although I have been practising short distances with Hubby. All we need is time…time will boost my confidence.
Thanks for reading 🙂