Street Survival in Seoul
or: Becoming a Road Scholar
By Curtis "Coitus" Desjardins
I'm sure the other former editors have gone on in detail about what a
living hell great experience being editor really was, so I don't have to repeat them in my article. Besides, nostalgia is over-rated.
Instead, for our world-travelling friends, I'd like to write this helpful Public Service Announcement in travel safety:
After living in Korea for the past 2 years, I've noticed a marked difference in the driving habits of rural and urban drivers, where urban is defined as "in Seoul or Pusan." We unmanly girly drivers of the Western world could probably handle the lackadaisical rural driving, but to truly excel in urban Korea you must "be in the Zone;" a survival state-of-mind if I ever saw one. And why not? Korea only has the largest number of auto fatalities per capita in the world, so you'd better be in a survival state-of-mind.
And with that in mind, I've culled together these following driving tips into this one short, easy-to-read compendium of driving survival on the streets of Seoul.
Tips for the Motorcycle/Scooter Driver
- It's important to wear protective clothing. T-shirts, shorts, and open-toe-sandals would be considered appropriate.
- Ride against traffic whenever possible.
- If you're not riding on the street, ride on the sidewalks like you damn well own them (pedestrians must make way for YOU; you have the "I'm a motorized vehicle and you're not" rule of right-of-way on your side).
- When leaving the sidewalk to ride on the streets (against traffic), make sure you rocket out between two parked cars.
- If there are no parked cars in your vicinity, it is perfectly lawful to run pedestrians down at the nearest crosswalk.
- Overload the back of your scooter with a heavy, unwieldy package
- ...and ride one-handed
- ...while carrying a huge box of take-out food in the other hand
- ...with your two-year-old daughter standing up in front of you, holding the speedometer to keep her balance
- ...and don't give her a helmet.
- During times of heavy traffic (read: at all times) weave in and out of stationary and slow-moving cars. Removal of any pesky side mirrors getting in your way is expected.
Tips for the Average Driver
- First thing: don't let those scooter drivers get away with any of the cheap tricks outlined above. Your car outweighs them by 20 times, so don't take any of their crap.
- Change lanes at every opportunity. Don't bother with shoulder checks, that's what mirrors are for (Duh, gee Beav, what's a blind spot?).
- Use mirrors for reversing, too.
- No parking spaces? Bah. Double park.
- Still no parking spaces? Bah. Triple park
- Still no parking spaces? Bah. Run over pedestrians on the sidewalk and park over their cooling carcasses (it's their own fault getting in your way; after all, you DO have the car).
- U-turn at every given opportunity
- ...during rush-hour gridlock
- ...with the widest turn radius you can manage
- ...and use the sidewalks if you have to.
- Keep a cellular phone in your left hand at all times, supergluing it if necessary.
- Never use your brakes; it shows weakness. Just lay on the horn and accelerate around the problem.
- Those lines on the road? Just very loose guidelines (a "two lane" highway can easily fit three, and even four abreast).
- Crosswalks? Just pretty road decorations.
- Always pass slower cars on their left side, even if doing so will bring you over the yellow divider.
- One-way streets are one-way for everyone but you.
- Red light, schmed light, just go whenever you damn well feel like it.
- And if you become lost (with Korea's lack of roadsigns and street names this is not a possibility, but an eventuality) stop in the middle of the road and gawk around until you decide that, yes, you are in fact lost
- ...then flag down another motorist to ask directions, and block up the remaining lane
- ...and ignore the honking masses behind you, as they shouldn't be in such a hurry anyway. Don't they know "Speed Kills?"
- Never wear a seatbelt. Windshields will stop you most of the time.
- If a taxi driver insists you wear a seatbelt, GET OUT immediately. Any taxi driver so unsure of his driving is sure to get you killed.
The Three Laws of Robotics
Despite the previous "rules" for safe driving in the Korean urban jungle, to become a true Road Warrior, one really only need keep in mind the following Three Laws:
The Law of the Food Chain
This law basically boils down to this: no-wheels is less than wheels, no-motor is less than motor, small is less than big. So, 18-wheel semi > Mac truck > Dodge RAM > Toyota Camri > motorcycle > scooter > bicycle > wheelchair > stroller > Hyundai > pedestrian
The Law of Right-of-Way
No one has right-of-way. Or is that, everyone has the right of way? I haven't figured out which one yet.
The Law of Courtesy And Driving Etiquette
Korea isn't the World Champion of Auto Fatalities for nothing. Follow the rules and strategies outlined in this article, and you too may become an honoured statistic.
You may be thinking, "Curtis, your article sucked. It wasn't very funny." Well, OK. But even though I'm writing this with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, this is not meant to be a humourous article. Everything above has a strong basis in truth, and is the main reason for Korea's Vehicular Homicide World Champion status for umpteen years. So, take my advice when travelling to Korea: stay off the streets (and sidewalks), and take the subway. Better yet, go to Japan. They can drive.
Curtis Desjardins is the oldest living U(W) alumnus on the planet. After finally leaving the U(W) campus after a record-setting 17 years, he snagged a teaching job in war-torn Bosnia, uh, South Korea and has lived there for the past 2 years.
"Coitus" continues to attend university (big surprise!) in Seoul, and will live in Korea until finding a woman who will actually say "yes".