What New Blood Can Gain From Old Tricks

There are certain skills in life that are considered elementary, that everyone must master them, however, nobody is perfect and there are certain times when you learn something at a slower rate compared to others.

This is one of those times when I need to face head-on something out of my comfort zone, and while not the most pleasant experience, I realize it could be a tool or exercise to build a connection between cultures and generations.

In a 2017 article by Simon Usborne in The Guardian, ‘The U-Turn generation: have British (UK) teenagers stopped learning to drive?’  statistics from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency show that the number of 17 to 25-year-olds taking their driving test has dipped by 18% over the past decade. The reason has been attributed to rising costs for vehicle insurance, maintenance and impromptu quitting, attributed to the rising cost.

Had you told me this, maybe around a year or two back, I would have supported this movement, precisely for the reasons behind this very piece. But a recent event made me reflect: if this trend continued, on what essential life-lessons would the upcoming generation  miss out?

So how does operating a vehicle reflect the application of multi-cultural traits and ethics?

I hate driving! I dislike it, I am not fond of it. My first experience behind the wheels was not like in a commercial where I was driving a roofless corvette on a beach in California with impeccably beautiful women crossing the street, or cruising at a hill area with a cool breeze blowing in my face.

My first experience behind the wheels was the driving seat and steering wheel being sizzling hot and I was grasping it with sweat drenching my palms…and rumps… I hate the feeling that I ought to be constantly on alert, especially here in Indonesia, where everyone adopts the devil-may-care-attitude, especially the motorcyclists and coolies who in relation to the mindset of a developing country, couldn’t be happier to be hit by drivers as they could seek compensation. My impression from this is that it is a lawsuit-screaming metal deathtrap.

Alas, in popular opinion, driving is a compulsory skill to possess. Several blogs and columnists for the New York Times, such as Megan Specia (2019) who covered Saudi Arabia’s law to grant women the right to drive, relate this to independence. A sentiment shared by teenagers as it provides freedom from having to rely on parents for lifts everywhere, along with accreditation for social status amongst their peers.

Having lived in Singapore for over a decade, a developed country with efficient public transportation, I put off learning to drive for years, then I did the same in the UK, mainly for the reason of being financially prudent. This sentiment, however, would not be shared by the locals, especially a self-made man like my father. I already mentioned my contempt for the process of acquiring this skill, but I did learn much more than what I could have asked for.

When you are in other people’s country, don’t just focus on your objective, but the social issues and cues

In this meme, two lessons were being imparted:

  • Just because somebody sees or does something in a different way, it doesn’t mean that they are wrong.
  • Why don’t these two gentlemen just ask which is the correct number that is being drawn? In real-life for global citizens, this indicates the importance of following the customs and ethics of the country you are living in.

Speaking is easier than action, and it can be dilemma-inducing. In developed countries, social media branding and financial gurus would tell you that to succeed, you ought to give back to others, and if you are in the position to do so, there’s nothing wrong with emulating it. However, if you are living in a still-developing country, having a care-and-share-mentality is worth as much as a bag of fairy dust. You can spare a dime or two if you are more well-off, but when you have nothing, the mindset of ‘if you are not the best, you are just the rest’ has been too well ingrained, and everyone fights for their own sake. In fact, how one’s character functions in real-life, could be reflected by how one operates a vehicle on the road as I noticed here.

While the skills and mindset of a multicultural open the door, values and characters from a monocultural elevate you to the next step

According to Aetna International, multicultural people such as a Third-Culture Kid, are able to adapt their communication style and are more empathetic and open-minded. Being exposed to multiple cultures, ethnicities, ways of life and even uncommon issues that they might not face in their birth countries, such as racial and social class issues, make them more dynamic and open-minded.

This differing mindset, however, might serve as a disadvantage, especially in developing countries which tend to value tradition over efficiency and might misunderstand multiculturals as rebels or disruptors. Hence, learning to drive or if you are already capable of doing so, a long drive especially with one’s father who is monocultural, could be pivotal. Especially for a multi-cultural returnee as he could explain the behaviours of the locals based on the road situations.

Some examples:

  • Understanding how we operate our vehicle: this should be how we move in life. On Indonesia’s highways, the most right lane is the fastest with a minimum speed of 100 km/h, and not reaching that speed might cause an accident. In life, we tend to stick to what is tried and tested, whether food, playlist since high school or even with our careers. Even though it is said that ‘Change is the only constant’, most people are extremely averse to it (Mamtani, 2019). Unlike other countries, where people pay a premium to escape the frustration of the normal roads and get onto the highway, in Indonesia you actually pay (heftily nowadays) to sit in the same amount of traffic, if not even more! This, actually teaches adaptability on finding the most efficient ways to succeed in life.
  • In an article by WowShack (2019), a lifestyle website that shares content on Indonesia’s metropolitan, there is a sentiment that if you can drive in Indonesia, you can drive anywhere. Earlier, I mentioned the numerous coolies on the streets of Indonesia. They are just some of the obstacles which you might encounter. Large vehicles, such as bus Kopaja or Angkot, can stop anywhere to pick up customers, road markings are not clear in some areas, pedestrians could step out onto the road with a single hand stretched out towards a driver, and your vehicle needs to stop abruptly since hitting them means you have to pay their treatment. All of which seems to show the mindset of caring about nothing else but their welfare, something worth taking note of when one is an expatriate in a developing country.

We tend to understand what kind of environment moulded the past generations and the characters of monoculturals from the area

Just as Arwa Mahdawi, a Guardian columnist and brand strategist based in New York, I share the sentiment that in an increasingly urban and digital world, cars are no longer the vehicle of liberation they once were. However, it will be decades for the majority to adopt this mindset, and affordable self-driving vehicles are not coming anytime soon. So in order to get to a location that is not easily accessible, there is still some additional walking after public transport.

And just like Mahdawi (2018) wrote in her article ‘How I finally came to terms with not being able to drive‘ about her first horrible driving experience: As I recalled my experience with my first driving instructor, with whom in addition, I had a communication issue, several times I was terrified of losing my life.

Years later I did learn the skill from my father, but the experience was not the most pleasant. A lot of scolding went around, and one major gripe I had was the need to speed up when there seemed to be nobody ahead of me. This initiative tied to a Hockey great, Wayne Gretzky’ quote: “You Miss 100% of the shot you never take”

My father insisted for me to go beyond my comfort zone as just like in real life, you lose every reward and benefits possible for not capitalizing on the smallest opportunity you got. But another thing: I realized that the reason why I disliked this experience was that I got to see the least pleasant side of my father. Every boy looks up to his father, sort of like to a superhero, and seeing a side of him that is flawed, and is channelled towards you, damages the image.

However, this is not to be avoided. In fact, embracing it as this tough, complicated love, makes you a better person – a lesson to model and refine in order to face the harsh reality of life, and imparting a less than glamorous, but meaningful lesson to the next generation.

When you’re driving, you can actually reboot your mind which would allow you to think more clearly.

The last lesson I got is actually reflected in my articles, or any of my other works which I did since my undertaking of being a multicultural and intergenerational advocate. The idea behind this is the same as professional organizer Scott Roewer’s theory “clutter is simply delayed decisions” which has also been covered by Forbes. It is found that people working at a messy workspace are less efficient, more frustrated and weary, and less persistent when faced with a challenging situation than those with organized ones: in fact, the status of their desk reflects the disorder in their personal life.

Clearing the obstacles and traffic on the road serves the same function, and it ties back to my theory on how one’s driving reflects one’s personality. Therefore mastering the basis of safe, defensive driving helps to achieve a sense of internal organization.

Calvin Widjaja

Image 1: Courtesy of sincerelyspain.com
Image 2: Courtesy of steemit.com

Picture of Calvin Widjaja

Calvin Widjaja

I am an Indonesian-born Chinese who lived in Singapore for almost two decades. In my effort to feel connected to the bigger part of the world, I created a Facebook Live Podcast, Global CKtizens, to invite those who experienced multicultural lifestyle such as TCK, Cross-Cultured Kids, Digital Nomads and Expatriates in order to share their experiences working and living in their host countries. By creating this community I also gained insights how certain cultures had formed their personality and characteristics. My goal is to reach out to every 195 nations under the United Nation Charter, being a global advocate to multi-cultural representation that I feel will benefit the world which gets even smaller due to technology.

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