Friday, June 29, 2012

Days 225 and 226, Tuesday and Wednesday, 26th and 27th June, 2012

I went to T'aif on Tuesday to try and get my driving licence. My travel to T'aif was accomplished by taking a lift in a truck driven by a Kannadiga. He was about 50, very affable, and has been in this country for over 6 years. His family lives in Riyadh, and his driving takes him almost three to five times a week from Riyadh to Jeddah and back. I took care to check that I hadn't dropped anything in his truck when I got off on the bridge where he took a right turn to proceed to Jeddah, while I had to go to the Traffic Dept , T'aif police, to subject myself for the licensing exam. 

A Saudi taxi ferried me to "Dallah", the relevant place that is about 25 km away from the city's center. He even accompanied me inside the enclosure, and helped me submit my documents etc. to the correct counter. He was, however, very business-like about this and extracted extra fare from me for his unsolicited services. 

Armed with a properly constructed file, I went inside and across the square to the test area, where I met a Sudanese driving instructor who made me sit in a car (with him sitting next to me) and asked me to drive the car in reverse. He did not me allow any time to get comfortable with the car, and summarily asked me to get off when I was unable to do his bidding in a smooth way. He told me I had failed the initial evaluation, period.

Dejected, I decided to meet the police major in charge; he allowed me to pay the cash for a test, whereupon, I went to the cashier and tendered SR 100 for the test. I was told to then go home and return at 4.00 p.m. for a signals/indicators class and a driving demonstration.

I returned to T'aif and took up a room in Hotel Noof near Gazzaz - the usual place for me. The care-taker gave me a discount of SR 10, and offered a small room for SR 140. I settled in for the day, with one handicap. I had not prepared to stay overnight, and hadn't brought my laptop charger, or change of clothes or toiletry. I went down to eat my breakfast at the Thara Restaurant, made calls to home and told them the news, and then went back to the room to relax and watch cable T.V. Zee Aflam was showing "Badshah" (the SRK movie). Later, I went down to T'aif's Heart Mall/Panda, and went around the mall, browsing through the shops that were open. I had a lunch of Chicken Pasta at Pasta Bella, one of the shops in the Food Court (SR 20, including a free Pepsi and a free salad). It was very filling. Adding cheese to it would have cost an additional SR 2/= and I skipped it.

After this, I went back down to catch a cab to go back to Dallah. The class assembled at about half past four. The teacher was an Egyptian man who kept talking in Arabic, to the utter incomprehension of me and a few other Indian students. He showed us all the signals and road signs, walked us through the format of the computer test on road signs, and also spoke a lot on what was expected of new drivers when they went on the road in their cars. I told him to explain what he had already said in English, but he did not oblige. After an hour long session, he took us all to the test driving area (which he referred to as the "maidan"), and there, he showed us what was expected of us when we appeared for the driving test at half past seven the next morning. We were to take one round of the circle, and demonstrate reverse parking and so on. 

I made friends with a young Saudi called Abdul Majid. He offered to take me back to my hotel when we finished our class at 6.30 p.m. I saw him drive a SUV with such grace and ease that I was surprised when he told me he had no licence as yet and was simply winging it in his father's car. He spoke a fair amount of English, something that helped make the acquaintance without much difficulty. I requested him to pick me up the next morning as well, and he agreed to co-ordinate it with me the coming morning. I then went up to my room, saw a little more of TV, etc. I went down to the nearby Asian Restaurant for dinner (chi. masala and roti). 

By and by, I returned to my room and went to sleep at a little after 11.00 p.m. 

I left the room at 6.20 and walked down Shubra street to arrive at the mall a little after 7.00 a.m. Abdul Majid came at about 7.15. He picked me up opposite the mall and just outside the local branch of Al Rajhi Bank. We reached Dallah at a half past seven. We gathered outside the test driving area, but it was only at 8.20 or so that we were called in and handed our test cards one by one. We were then led to a waiting room where we would be occupying chairs and await our turn to be taken to a car for the exam.

In a nutshell, I bombed my test. Although I accomplished the circle of the area with just a few minor hiccups, I could not reverse into the designated area. In fact, the vertical post that marked the rear limit of the area toppled when I drove back into it. The policeman who was evaluating me gently asked me to leave the car and showed me what I had done. I smiled sheepishly then. He marked me a zero, and asked me to return on Saturday when the school re-opened after the weekend. 

Abdul Majid did very well, and emerged with a new licence within 45 minutes of his test. He empathised with me, and took me back to my hotel where we parted. I was in no mood for hanging around, which I could have done as my room was booked till the afternoon, so I checked out before noon, took a dabbab to the SAPTCO bus stand, and was in a bus that left at noon.

I returned to Al Muwayh at a little after 2.40 p.m., and walked all the way to the Hospital where I met Dr. Yasser and the others. I told them about my performance, and also thanked Yasser and Dr. Shehab for covering me in my absence for a second day. After that, I went back to my room.

Nothing eventful happened after that. I went to the local Pakistani restaurant for dinner. I returned to my room to do a bit of internet surfing, saw an episode of "Lie To Me" (Season 1, episode 1) and did some other stuff before going to bed at mid-night.

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