Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Drivers Test: Third and Last Chance

After failing twice at the Kittanning Driver License Center, Spencer suggested I should mix it up a bit and booked a test for me at Butler.

Last Chance
The nice thing about Butler is that you're actually allowed to practise parallel parking at the actual test spot. Outside of test hours of course. So I did. I came to the test with a whole hour's worth of practice.

I Nailed Parallel Park!

Examiner Jim told me to proceed with the on-the-road portion of the test. We headed left at the traffic lights, onto New Castle Rd. Then at the next set of lights, we turned right onto Alameda Park Dr and next right onto Alameda Rd. From there it was a short detour around Duncan Dr and Marwood Dr before getting back onto New Castle Rd. I was careful to keep under the 25 mph speed limit (but no lower than 20 mph) in the residential area. Stopped and counted to two at each stop sign.

Examiner Jim pointed out my mistakes as I made them. I made two mistakes, one of which I thought would fail me. This was failing to check the rearview mirror and turn to look behind my right shoulder before moving right into the turning lane to turn right.

But I guess it wasn't a fatal mistake.

Because I passed!

Next post - my first time in a Courtroom.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hungry Americans vs Hungry Malaysians

Americans: Obese yet Hungry?
When I first visited this country, I was astounded to see so many big people. Obesity is a huge problem afflicting more than one in three Americans.

Obesity affects pets in the US too. Meet Obie the 77 lb daschund. Photo:

So, I'd least expect to find people hungry here in the USA. And yet there are. One in six Americans are hungry. That's about 50 million people. Of these, 8.3 million are seniors and 16 million are children.

Non-profit organizations like Meals on Wheels provide one million meals to seniors who need them each day. And Feeding America's network feeds 37 million Americans every year.

Malaysians: No problemo?
Are Malaysians less hungry?

  • Google turns up only one article on 'Meals on Wheels' for Malaysia and it isn't really even comparable to the Meals on Wheels in the US. 
  • In contrast to the 1 million meals delivered daily by Meals on Wheels, Kechara Soup Kitchen feeds 1800 homeless and urban poor (walk-ins) in Kuala Lumpur weekly. 
  • Malaysia was chosen to be the Asia HQ for Stop Hunger Now because "Malaysia does not experience severe hunger" and its "vibrant economy creates a middle class - there is a culture of service..." (Allen Renquist, Stop Hunger Now). 

I don't buy that
(That Malaysians are less hungry than Americans).

A Surprising Find
Guess what: Malaysians and Americans are equally hungry but not severely hungry. An FAO publication "Undernourishment around the world" gives the 'depth of hunger' for both Malaysia and the United States as '140 kcal' (deficit).

Oh, and there are hungry Americans who are obese! Hunger contributes to Obesity.

My two sen
Information on where hungry Malaysians can find food assistance is meagre. I tried the Welfare Department of Malaysia's website, but couldn't find information on applying for monetary assistance or food stamps. I don't think the concept of 'food stamps' actually exists in Malaysia.

I think hunger in Malaysia is simply not highlighted as a serious issue as it is in the US. Americans seem to be taking better care (or at least attempting to) of their hungry.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Driver's Test: FAIL AGAIN

I didn't even make it out of the parking lot this time.

I failed Parallel Park.

I don't even know how I could fail parking. Twenty years of driving, twenty years of parking experience.

I blame the posts. These posts mark the parking box. You must park inside the box without bumping any post.


I use cars as my guide when I park. I don't know how to use posts as my reference point. The last time I used a post as my reference point was in my drivers test in Malaysia 20 years ago.

So how?

Moving on.

Dad, my accompanying driver, gets back into the car.

Dad:  I didn't know you don't know how to park!
Me:  (Thanks Dad)...
Dad:  Let's go practise in town.

We drive to town. Dad picks out a spot between two really expensive cars. I obediently parallel park.


Dad: Hmm... It's perfect.
Me: I know. I know how to park.


I have one more chance at taking this test.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Poor Parents Who Can't Pay Child Support Are Jailed: Kick them while they're down!

I'd never known you could be jailed if you didn't pay child support. Here in the US, 1.7% of the jail population are men who didn't pay child support.

One of these men was a war veteran, Lance Hendrix, who after returning from service, was unable to find work and fell behind on his payments. He was put in jail. (Read the article HERE and a civil class action lawsuit against the state of Georgia HERE). That just seems wrong on so many levels, I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't actually know someone like that.

So, this friend of mine, also a veteran who served in Iraq (and whom we all are convinced suffers from PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), loses his truck driving job right as his marriage falls apart. His child support payments are $481 a month. He goes through a few more truck driving jobs, none of which pay as much as his former one - actually not even enough for him to survive off. 

A year later, he is put in the slammer for not paying child support. He is released three months later, with worse PTSD from having to be on guard all the time against threats from other inmates. His driver's license is suspended to punish him for not paying child support. So now, he can't drive trucks anymore. He can't drive, period. 

He manages to find work washing dishes at a restaurant, 30 minutes walk from his parents house, where he now lives. He makes about $400 a month. He can't make the child support payments, let alone feed himself.

This dilemma is 'solved' because after a month washing dishes, he is incarcerated again for - you got it - not paying child support. Three more months in jail (and even worser PTSD). Oh yeah, I nearly forgot to mention - the child support payments continue to accrue while he is in jail. He could have been at least making some money washing those dishes! And of course he lost his job as dishwasher since he was jailed. 

He is so, so far behind in payments now it's ridiculous. His next court date for - that's right - failure to pay child support - is coming up again. He's knocking on every door, asking for work, but zilch. 

How do you even begin to help someone like that?

And yet, we are trying. Our darnedest.

xo Gracie

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Friday, August 31, 2012

Door-to-Door Salesmen in the USA: Unfair Advanage!

And so, I hang my head in shame, admitting that I bought a bottle of Advanage 20x Citrus Cleaner from a salesman that came knocking on my door today - a bottle that cost about five times what I would normally have paid for regular cleaner in Walmart.

I didn't stand a chance, really. Unlike in Malaysia, where the salesmen aren't trained in NLP (Natural Language Processing), US salesmen are it seems, highly trained in using NLP persuasion and influence techniques.

Apparently 'If you don't have the skills and knowledge (NLP), your interaction with the sales person is like the interaction between a primary school student and a special forces soldier intent on stealing the student's candy. You don't stand a chance' (comment by Anonymous on Jess Riley's account of her Advanage experience)

I didn't stand a chance. 

The young black gentlemen that came to my door was definitely a master at NLP persuasion. A guru, probably. He had a duffel bag full of bottles of wonder-cleaning product that he claimed could clean anything and yet was biodegradable and non-toxic. He marked up a white rag with a permanent marker and made me witness to the ink magically disappearing upon application of the Advanage wonder-cleaner dilution.

He even drank some of that stuff to show me how safe it was!

He had jokes, high-fives, and a feel-good story about how my purchase would help fund his final year in St Augustine College.

"You're helping a young fella like me, selling soap, not dope"

Those of you who know me, well, you know I'm a softie. I just am. At that point I was basically just trying to find a way to help the chap. I scrutinized the label on the bottle and the words 'non-toxic' and 'biodegradable' and 'no phosphates' meant I could actually use it.

I asked him how many he had sold today. He said 'Two', and told me that his goal for today is 20, and if he made 20, he would be on track to having his final year of college paid for.

"You're investing in me, in my future"

I asked him how many doors he had knocked on today. "23", he said. And he had only sold two? Yes, but the two were those who were home and who had opened the door. Oh. That's like, a 100% conversion rate. See, I told you he was some highly-trained NLP guru. (Watch Kenny Brook's sales pitch to get an idea of what I was up against).

I digress
My years in Malaysia have made me adept in avoiding salesmen.  I pretend I'm not home (if it's a door-to-door salesman). All houses have fences and gates to keep salesmen and other undesirables at bay. I pretend I didn't see the salesperson, or look away disinterestedly - I've had ample practice doing this, thanks to the crippled beggars found scraping along the roads in every pasar malam.

Here in the US, there are it seems, no fences or gates. The odd fence is usually just for decoration. Unfortunately, the lack of fences means I am defenseless against door-to-door salesmen.

This typical rural home has no fences. The three little picket fences are decorative and add to curb appeal.
Back to the story
I balked when he told me the cheapest thing he had was $39 for a bottle of that cleaner. He gets 8%, and 15% goes to St Augustine for his school tuition (employee matching of sorts I guess) and the rest goes to the company. I told him I would rather just give him a $10!

Well, I don't need to tell you what the ending was.

$40. It works great. 

David Anderton, your friendly travelling Advanage salesman

xo Gracie

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How to Fail a Driver's Test in PA USA

Okay, I failed. I failed for driving too slow, driving too fast, driving with one hand, hands-free driving, coasting, and etc.

Here's the entire depressing and embarrassing chronology of events. You can read this to get an idea of what will be asked of you during the driver's test.

I showed up with Dad at the scheduled 11 am time. I presented my permanent resident card, learner's permit, car insurance, car registration, and Dad's (my accompanying driver) license. I was told to drive out back behind the building (with Dad by my side), and park at the White Line just before the spot where I was to perform the Parallel Park. You get three chances. If you don't do it right, you fail immediately and will not be allowed to continue the test. I found out later that many people don't even make it out of the parking lot!

I was kinda nervous. The examiner, Dan, stood outside the car, barking instructions while I fumbled to keep up with him "Turn your left signal on"... " now your right"... "turn your windshield wipers on"... "now your headlights" ..." and highlights"...  When he asked me to turn on the hazard lights, I couldn't find them. I turned on the wrong thing. Heck I don't drive this car all that often! By the time I figured it out and got the hazard lights working, I was Miss Nervous.

Examiner Dan got into the car, buckled his seatbelt and tried to reassure me: "I can see you're nervous, just relax and drive, I'll tell you what you need to do". Thanks Examiner Dan.

He told me to perform the Parallel Park. I made it! However, I got dinged because I didn't have my turn signal on when I went to do it. In my favor, I had the turn signal on when I pulled out (after executing the Park), and, I also turned my entire head back to look behind me.

Examiner Dan gave me turn-by-turn directions for a short 10 minute drive around the residential area facing the DMV. My having driven that exact same route yesterday (when Dad flunked me 5 times) gave me a bit of confidence. In the map below I've marked the six stop signs (red circles). Some of these were four way, and some were two way where you'd have to give way to the crosswise traffic. I'll highlight the potentially tricky parts and also the yellow numbered boxes where I got dinged.

Leaving the parallel parking spot, I turned left onto S. Harrison St. I made sure to stop at the stop sign before turning. I went down that street until I came to Butler Rd (Rte 422), which would be the most intimidating part of your route if you're a new driver. He asked me to turn right then the first left onto Harrison St. To accomplish this, I had to get onto the middle of the busy highway ('the median turning lane') first. Impressive deft turn signaling was involved in this complex maneuver.

  1. Driving Too Slow. I got hit another for going 17 mph in a 25 mph on N. Crescent Ave. Erm, I didn't even know I could get dinged for going too slow. 
  2. Driving with One Hand. My hand lingered too long on the stick shift while down-shifting. Two hands must be on the wheel at all times. Driving with No Hands (for approximately 0.001 seconds) - I allowed the steering wheel to turn back by itself (both hands off the wheel) after the turn. 
  3. Driving Too Fast. Some point along Residential Ave I hit a whopping 27 mph in this 25 mph zone. Examiner Dan told me that you absolutely do not go over the speed limit during a drivers test. Yes sir.
  4. Coasting. I coasted four car lengths to the stop sign. Coasting is prohibited! One has no control over the vehicle when it is coasting like that. Stopping only one second at Stop Sign - did not stop at least two seconds at the stop sign. This counts as rolling past the stop sign. 

When we got back to the parking lot, Examiner Dan gently broke the news to me that I had made too many mistakes to be able to pass. Then he went through each one, explaining to me the error of my ways. I nodded dumbly, tears rolling down my cheeks.  Okay well, I didn't cry. I'm just exaggerating hehe. Anyway, he said I could come back to retake the test.

Thanks Dad for the company (again) :p

xo Gracie

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I Flunked My Driver's Test Five Times Today

I picked Dad up at 10 am and headed to Kittanning nice and early.  This would give me plenty of time to drive around that area and familiarize myself with the roads there, before the exam at 11 am.

Dad played the role of the Examiner. He's tough, I tell ya. I failed like, FIVE times! 'Flunk' is now my new dreaded 'F' word.

Each F episode would go something like this:

[Grace pulls up and stops at the traffic light. She overshoots a bit and stops closer to the white line than intended]

Dad: You'd flunk right there.

Grace: Oh?

Dad:  You need to stop way before the line - you can't stop on it.

[Dad opens the door to get a closer look at the line to gauge the extent of Grace's failure]

Dad: Okay well, maybe not. Your tire is not on the line, but your bumper is over it. He'd [the examiner] would probably flunk you.

Grace:  Oh okay. I'll be more careful about that.


Here's what I also flunked on:
  1. Going into a bend off the highway, at 40 mph (suggested speed 20 mph). "I'd flunk you right there. I'd flunk you."
  2. Pulling out from a residential area onto a main road and getting up to 45 mph (to match the other cars), then seeing a 35 mph sign (and promptly slowing to 35 mph). "You just flunked. It's 35 mph."
  3. Coming to a full stop at an intersection, then inching out to see if it was a two- or four-way - it was a two-way - and stopping for the passing car. "You nearly killed me! That car could have hit me. You'd flunk!"
  4. Doing 35 mph past a yellow 25 mph sign. "It says 25 mph. You'd flunk that".
There were probably other violations, but my selective amnesia is kicking in pretty good at the moment and I can't remember them. 

Oh yeah, I wanted to practise parallel parking, so we drove around till we found a spot between two cars, for me to practise at :p . Not that I don't know how to parallel park - it's just that I'm better at parallel parking on the left side of the road having done that for most of my 18 years of driving in Malaysia. Dad said I aced it!

So around 10.50 am we parked at the DMV, gathered all my stuff (car registration, insurance, green card, learner's permit), and went to take the test. 

But. It was closed. 

I messed up. The test is on Wednesday. That's tomorrow. Sorry Dad!

I bought Dad lunch.

Will I pass tomorrow's test? Or will it be Epic Fail? Stay tuned!

xo Gracie

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bridal Showers: What are they and What to do if invited to one

I'd never been to a bridal shower before and didn't really know much about it except that it was a 'Ladies Only' event held for a bride-to-be, and that the use of many rolls of toilet paper was a critical component of this hallowed rite of passage.

Now that I've actually attended one - and even helped organize some of it - I'm still not sure if I know what it's about! I was led to understand that this particular bridal shower was atypical of bridal showers because toilet-papering did not feature in any way, shape or form during the proceedings of this allegedly atypical (but in my opinion - still highly awesome) shower.

Now that the dust has settled nicely, I took the opportunity to google 'Bridal Shower' and here I proudly present to you the nuggets of internet wisdom that I gleaned:
  1. Origins of the Bridal Shower: Back in the day, if Pa was too poor (or too stingy) to give his daughter the dowry she needed to get married, her girlfriends would get together and chip in towards the dowry. 
  2. Therefore, the Purpose of a Shower is to make sure the Bride-to-be has enough to make the wedding happen for real. 
  3. Showers are supposed to be informal and spontaneous (unlike the wedding, which is a serious event requiring about a year of planning).
  4. Hold the shower about a month before the wedding.
  5. It's okay and normal to hold several showers (refer again to #2 above).
  6. Eligibility to organize a shower: Bridesmaids, maid of honor, close girlfriends or future Ma-in-law
  7. Ineligible to organize a shower: The Ma of the bride-to-be. A Big No No.
  8. Invitees: Just about anyone. No men though (with one exception, see #9 below). Said invitees MUST also be invited to the Wedding.
  9. The groom is the only man who can show up (with flowers) before his fiancee opens the gifts. This is so that the ladies can check him out.
  10. Must bring a gift! This can be conveniently picked out from her wedding gift registry (if she has one), or you can give a gift card. Anything. Just don't show up empty handed (like I nearly did!)
Curious about the important role toilet paper plays in bridal showers, I dug a little deeper and found out that many showers have games and contests, the most popular one being the 'Make a Wedding Dress out of Toilet Paper Contest'. 

Looks like we have a Winner! Photo credit:

This toilet paper wedding dress contest tradition has flourished to the extent that it's even held as a full on annual contest in some places, e.g. "Cheap Chic Wedding Contest" and "Cashmere Creations" in Canada.

Wow that's some TP dress! made entirely out of Cashmere brand toilet paper.
The grand prize:  A year's supply of toilet paper!

I kinda wish we had had a TP dress contest, cuz I know I coulda won it (see exhibit A below).

Exhibit A: Evidence of my artistic ability to create the gorgeous flapper style
frock that adorns this charming young model.

Have you attended any bridal showers? What was your experience like? Would love to hear from you!

xo Gracie

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How to Schedule a Driver's Test in PA

Now you have your learner's permit in hand (see my previous post on how to apply for a learner's permit)

The next step is scheduling the driver's exam. 

Preferably, this should be done after you are reasonably confident of actually passing it. 

You can schedule your test over the phone (call 1-800-932-4600) or online

For both, you'll need to refer to your learner's permit, so keep it handy in front of you.

For online scheduling, you'll be entering your Driver/ID number and birthdate to log in and schedule your appointment. 

Once logged in, you're given the option of selecting the Diver's License Center you wish to be tested at. To save time and gas, it's best to choose one that is near you.

In my area, there was a quite the crowd of folks all wanting to undergo a driver's test. Driver's tests are totally the 'in' thing this summer, it seems. The waiting time for all test centers within 30 miles, was about three weeks!

Oh well.

So it's all scheduled for me, and I'll let you know how it went - stay tuned!

By the way, since I have a Malaysian driver's license (which is in English), I could possibly drive myself to the testing center and take the test. You can do that with an international license. But I decided to play it safe and get Mom or Dad to chauffeur me there. They will have to show their license to the examiner too. It's all done according to procedure in these establishments. 

xo Gracie

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

How to get a drivers license in PA: Learner's Permit & Knowledge Test

My trusty Volvo, back in the day
I've been driving in Malaysia since I was 18 (nearly 20 years ago... gosh was it that long ago?). I also drove around in the US - Virginia driver's license and international drivers' license, while I was studying at Virginia Tech. Having driven on the left side of the road most of my life, switching to the right side definitely takes getting used to. Although I could drive on my Malaysian driver's license for up to 6 months from date of arrival in the US, I started the process of getting my PA driver's license once I arrived (permanently, i.e., with a Green Card).

To get a license to drive in PA, I had to first apply for a learner's permit. It wasn't too complicated:

  1. Print out the DL-180 and see a doctor/chiropractor/nurse to sign off that I'm physically fit to drive.
  2. Study the Pennsylvania Driver's Manual before taking the knowledge test. There's a lot of good stuff in there and I got a lot out of it. I thought it was very well put together. There are six chapters that cover everything you need to know about driving in PA, and about 200 multiple choice test questions with answers. If you just worked through the questions you'll ace the test. 
  3. Gather the paperwork that I'll need to submit with my completed DL-180 - Permanent Resident Card, Social Security Card (I had that from when I studied at Virginia Tech), and two proofs of PA residency. To prove I stay in PA, I used a credit card statement that stated my address. My second proof was taking along my DH (who would vouch I stay with him). My DH had to show that he stays in PA too, by showing his driver's license. If you have tax records, lease agreements, utility bills, W-2 form, etc, these could be used too. I didn't.
  4. Find a DMV center near you that does learner's permits, administers knowledge tests and driving exams. This was a wee bit confusing because the centers have unexpected off-days (Monday) and not all centers do learner's permits. Go to the center.
  5. Submit documents, take the knowledge test. I took mine on a touch-screen computer. There were only 18 questions out which I had to get at least 15 right (80% passing rate). I missed one, and accidentally skipped another, but I passed! It took 5 minutes.
  6. Having passed the test, they collected my check of $36.50 and clipped that to my other submitted documents. Then I was sent to another counter to submit the check and documents. 
  7. After a 5 minute wait, I received my learner's permit (and my other documents were returned to me).
  8. Next step is to schedule online my driver's examination...
Stay tuned!

xo Gracie

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