I've driven overseas, using only a New Zealand licence, and it's bewildering, especially in countries where they drive on the right.

Driving on the right isn't so bad when there's traffic, because you can just copy the car in front, hoping they're headed towards your destination. (And if not, you're just being extra-touristy, taking the road less travelled.)

But when there's no traffic, as often happens on scenic highways, a tourist can easily fall back on muscle memory. And that's scary, writes Raybon Kan.

As if driving on the wrong side of the road isn't confusing enough, what's really confusing is sitting in the wrong side of the car. No doubt, right-side tourists in NZ, riding shotgun, must think there's been a local crime wave, because someone's stolen the steering wheel.


I've noticed a lot of attention is directed at tourist drivers from China. I'm possibly a bit sensitive to this, because, well, do I have to spell it out? If the news talks about Chinese drivers - as opposed to drivers from China - I can't help but feel the finger's pointed at me.

Is the coverage proportionate to the share of accidents caused by Chinese-from-China drivers? Tourist drivers - not all from China - are responsible for (I think) 6 per cent of New Zealand road accidents. Yet here I am, writing a column about it. For parity, I should write 15 or 16 columns about accidents caused by Kiwis. (The actual number is zero.)

Statistically, we're still supporting the Kiwi car crash industry.

In any event, since it's the Year of the Rooster, and since we're enjoying the Lantern Festival, let me share some of my people's culture with you.

In Chinese culture, prosperity is symbolised strongly by two things: the colour red; and the number 8. For Chinese New Year, children receive cash in red envelopes; and any 8-sided shape is a winner, as indeed, any address or licence plate with the number 8 in it. Eighty-eight is even better. (It has to do with the number 8 sounding like the word for prosperity.)

However, in New Zealand culture, one object that is both red and eight-sided, is what New Zealand's road code would refer to, as a "stop sign". Let that sink in.

So, when a Chinese driver is faced with a stop sign, they are not seeing anything negative. They aren't seeing a warning or admonition of any kind. What they see is an extremely auspicious omen of good fortune - not just red, not just 8, but both! - a portent of great prosperity.

Double happiness! If anything, the stop sign is a cheerleader's sparkly pom-poms, a burst of encouragement, saying: go for it! Follow your dreams! Yay you!


For all its stopping power, the stop sign might as well be one of those golden plastic cats in a shop, waving their arm. The only thing missing from a stop sign, encouragement-wise, would be fireworks, roast pork and a ribbon dancer.

There's nothing fundamentally dreadful about drivers from China. Put it this way: Chinese drivers manage to drive, in China.

Have you seen traffic in China? Multiple lanes of lawless, dog-eat-dog, cray-cray. It's a jungle. As someone who's felt his heart-rate soar in taxis in Shanghai and Hong Kong, there's no way I'd even attempt to drive in China. The traffic - demolition derby? - is unintelligible to me.

Yet, Chinese drivers, by the hundreds of millions, can drive in China, easily, while smoking, while talking on their phone, while texting - in Chinese! - and while eating - with chopsticks. I guess driving in Asia is like eating chicken feet. You have to have grown up with it.

So, when Asian drivers come here, they not only have to swap sides, they have to find entirely new manners, etiquette and language. Coming from Asian roads to New Zealand is like coming from an iPad with every app running, to a picture book.

The simplicity of scenic highways creates its own human errors. How to teach them all that before they leave the airport, without interrupting their duty-free?

A compulsory video on the flight over here? Maybe that would be a better use of five minutes than how to stow your tray table. An electric shock from the steering wheel when you drive on the wrong side?

Maybe it's just a sign of the times. Chinese drivers are like Brexit and Trump - everyone's veering to the right.