I drive a pretty bitchin’ scooter. Kimmy wanted to get one because she hated her upward hike to work. Then scooting became a way of life. We drive to school, to parks and temples, and have even once taken it to a nearby city, though I’m not sure that’s something we’ll be doing again. There’s a stereotypical joke in America that Asians are bad drivers and now that I’ve driven in Korea, I can, at least a little, understand where this is coming from.
Korea’s driving laws are more like suggestions. Stop lights are only stop lights if other cars are around. No U-turn? There is now! And speed limits are like the serving size on potato chips — nobody notices and nobody cares. Their driving etiquette also takes some getting used to. Left turns are uncommon at many intersections because they’re considered dangerous. If you need to turn left on large city streets you must drive past your turn to a designated U-turn area, pull around, and turn right once you get back to the intersection.
Of course, Busan has tons of back streets and alleys, which, as far as I can tell, are not governed by the laws of man. People walk in the roads while scooters fly past. Old men and women pull full carts through the alleys. Children walk haphazardly on their way to school. And no matter what, there’s going to be a foul smelling something somewhere. I try not to ever breathe through my mouth (because the only thing worse than smelling a fartish fermented fishy kimchi aroma, is tasting it).
Driving in alleys and back roads leads me right back to the left turn phenomenon. Koreas have trouble making them. In the alleys, where there is no center line, cars drive through the middle of the road. This means, when it comes time to take a left turn, it looks something like this:
This has taken some getting used to. The cars just sort of slow way down and go around each other as best the can. The car making the left turn will cut off people in the adjacent lane, but that’s how they play. (And don’t hate the player, hate the game.) Alley driving is tricky, but the good thing about driving a scooter is that I can buzz around most of this nonsense. Also, I get the impression that scooters are entirely exempt from road rules, since they often drive on the sidewalk, through crosswalks, and around traffic like they’re Simba in a herd of wildebeests.
On the back streets with a center line it looks like this. With an American (read: correct) left turn provided for comparison.
I’m sorry for the shitty renderings of streets and turns. I’m not an artist and instead of using my iPad art app like I just realized I could have done, I instead chose to make it on my laptop. Deal with it.
These drivers in Korea are fine. I live in a city of more than 3.5 million people, and I’ve seen nothing more than a few minor fender benders. But take them out of what they know and drop them into America, and yeah problems are gonna happen. American roads have more rules than the internet. And the last I checked, the internet had 47 of them. Of course people from other cultures aren’t going to drive as well as you and me. We learn through observation and use what we know from where we learned it. In my case, I’ve had to adapt my American driving etiquette to Korean, and I’ve loved every minute of it. But now, with Kimmy’s and my impending return, I’m really worried that I too, will be a bad Asian driver.
While you’re at it, check out my post on Magnificent Nose about what we can learn from Indie music about self-publishing.