Driving in Korea

When we first arrived in Seoul and had to rely completely on public transportation I would watch the drivers weave in and out of traffic and witness hundreds or near accidents. Needless to say once our car arrived I was a little nervous to get out on the roads. I made Dan drive at first, and then wouldn't drive by myself without him in the car. However he was going on a lot of tours with the band so I had to face the music and get driving in Korea.

So here's the low down. Driving here is crazy. Navigating is nearly impossible. We have a GPS with english directions and maps but often it will say "In 50 meters, keep left", which we finally gathered means DON'T exit, not that there was any sort of drastic road change that you had to keep left for. Then it will say, "in 300 meters, turn right." If you look at the top of the GPS to see which road you are to turn right on, it will either say Chu Ho Gin Ja etc etc etc until it runs off the screen, or (????) will appear. So the part of the GPS that highlights the path is vital to your success. Although that may work well in the states, check out what a Korean intersection looks like.

They often have 5 or 6 points of entry so turning right doesn't necessarily mean anything. So you look at the road sign for such an intersection for some insight and guidance only to find this. This one is on the way home from church. At this particular point we need to make a left turn, but notice how many different types of left turns you can make! So even though the GPS helps, it isn't a miracle worker. The best way to find somewhere is to follow someone.

Since I grew up in Chicago, I am used to traffic and aggressive drivers. In Seoul, a city of over 10 million people, and 24.5 million people in its outskirts, the mentality of the driver is much different. In the states people generally weave in and out of traffic and it's more of a selfish attitude of, I'm going to go faster and get to where i'm going before you. Here (most) people weave in and out of traffic because they need to get over. Almost always someone will let you over and you in turn let them over when they need to. There is kind of a hierarchy of vehicles on the road. Buses are the kings, taxis the queens and us cars are the peasants. The bus drivers are serious about keeping the route moving and will get over into your lane without hesitation. Taxis will run red lights and flip random u-turns and do almost anything if they see someone hailing a taxi. The rest of us just try and survive.

Speaking of people. Pedestrians are everywhere. Check out the typical Korean crosswalk.

Hitting a pedestrian is an automatic 2 year jail sentence, so most crosswalks are traffic light protected. This means not all crosswalks are at intersections. You can be driving down a road and see two sets of traffic lights within like 50 feet of eachother. Obviously if they're red, you have to stop. But I quickly found, by the example of the Koreans, that if there are no pedestrians crossing and you still have a red light, it is okay to run the light. I mean, everyone around me is running the light and the car behind me is honking, so I better go, right? I haven't gotten any tickets yet...

Another favorite of mine is the way the do U-turns. Just like the states there are intersections that you can't do u-turns on. If there's a long stretch of said intersections, you will see a sign like this to show you how to get yourself turned around.

But the best part is the intersections in which you can do u-turns. In the states you have to wait until you actually enter the intersection to turn around. In korea, instead of there being a solid yellow line to your left, there is a long white dotted line. So as long as traffic is clear, or once you get a green light/arrow, you can just turn around right then and there. It makes it easier and faster, just watch for all the other cars turning around with you!

Of course there are lots of other differences, but all in all I find driving here not as frightening as I thought it would be. I may even get myself in trouble back in the states by doing something I shouldn't!

However, oddly enough as I was planning on writing this blog when I got home from dropping Cade off at preschool, I was in my first accident here. I was in the left-turn lane to enter base, making my way towards the red light when a car in the next lane got over right as I passed it. We had always talked about how we might lose our mirrors here (they don't fold in), and thus we lost our mirror and have a few scratches. He was korean and since there was no damage to his car he left the scene (in on of those u-turn lanes i was just telling you about). I was flustered and didn't get his plate nor did I do the proper thing and call the police. I forgot that our SOFA cards have the police number on them. So we get to replace the mirror on our own dime. Sorry Dan!


Jarad said...

Looks like tons of fun you're all having out there. We miss you and hope all is well (and no more attacks from the NOrth). I think I would avoid driving as much as possible there.

Chelsea Cisneros said...

Oh my gosh!! Hahaha! THis gave me a laugh! That is SO crazy! YOu are brave for driving there! I know that driving in Puerto Rico is going to be crazy, but I don't think it will be THAT crazy! I guess we will find out. My favorite is the "U" turn sign. lol!

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