Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mad Max

Generally, I've tried to avoid posting about other blogs and user generated content on the Internet because I fear that it just helps towards the creation of the written equivalent of a Dyson Sphere where all blogs become comments on other blogs. Still, every now and again something comes along that is so brilliant it demands a mention even at the risk it's already been seen, so here is the video guide to staying safe as a pedestrian in Korea. While it may seem like a rather amusing aside, having lived in Korea for six months I see it as a rather biting satire since it has an alarming element of truth running through it. I say this influenced by a car missing my foot by inches on one of those wide Korean crossings the other day when the pedestrian light was green because the driver, having come out of a side road almost adjacent to the crossing, evidently felt that since he was already beyond the actual red traffic light, it didn't apply to him and he could therefore drive through the crossing area - and the people on it - at a 45 degree angle until he got to his preferred lane and sped off into the distance. Just because he was driving relatively slowly doesn't make it much less disconcerting when a car suddenly appears from behind you on a crossing.

Motorcycles of course, are even worse, and have free run of the road, the pavement (sidewalk), crossings and generally anywhere there's an open space. I'm waiting for the day one drives through my apartment building because of some perceived short-cut or convenience. And there's a good chance that said motorbike will have a large take-away box protruding from both sides, or potentially more alarmingly, an LPG canister strapped precariously to the back, because for reasons that still elude me, accident-prone motorcycles are seen as the preferred method of delivering potentially volatile LPG canisters to customers in Busan. And if it's not gas cylinders being carried on the back of a bike, often the challenge is to see just how much you can balance behind you on a small motorbike without defying the laws of gravity.

You might think that the fact that ninety-percent of bike riders here don't wear helmets of any kind would make them more cautious and therefore the whole affair safer, but based on my increasingly extensive observations I have to say otherwise. Pictures I wish I'd taken - a guy on a scooter the other day doing about 40mph (sans helmet of course) weaving in and out of slower traffic, all while using one hand to chat on his mobile phone - and the four people on one scooter seen heading towards the local university one afternoon which I'd have believed it impossible if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

Conversely, or perhaps because Korean drivers take red lights as merely an advisory rather than a hard rule, I've seen - and yes stood with - pedestrians at small crossings (occasionally people break ranks) where there have been no cars but because the light was read everyone waited patiently, perhaps for two minutes. Because, you never know where the next Korean killer car or motorcycle is going to appear from.


The exciting and talented James said...

Hi, I'm a Brit in Busan, been here 7 years, and have been following your blog for a few weeks now and really enjoying it, so I thought I'd finally say Hi and comment.

Forgive me if you already know this, but the reason I've been hit (twice) and nearly hit (countless times) at pedestrian crossings, when the green man shows, is that Korean drivers can make a free right turn at an intersection, even if the light is red, so long as they give way to oncoming traffic.

So not only do many Korean drivers ignore the lights anyway, but many are too busy turning right and thinking about other cars to slow down or even acknowledge pedestrians crossing! They have the same rule in the US, and I don't know what Americans think of the rule, but Koreans are the 5th most dangerous drivers in the world (give you a link if you like), and I think this rule plays a big part in it!

Cheers, sorry for the long first comment.

James in Gwanganli.

Mike said...

Hello James, thanks for the comment, and congratulations on surviving in Busan for this long! I'd worked out that drivers turn right freely at intersections, but I didn't realise it was actually legal. I think I've read that article on the world rankings of dangerous drivers, and in fact by coincidence there was a piece on KBS news last night talking about the huge numbers of motorcyclist deaths in Korea last year - the figures seem to be rising alarmingly.

I've worked out that the trick is to ignore any perceived rules and keep myself focussed on a 10-foot zone around me - 360 degrees - and if anything enters that zone quickly to jump out of the way. Sadly after six months I'm still looking the wrong way when I start to cross the road because we drive on the opposite side back home. Trying to break that habit.

Mosher said...

Sounds like Vietnam... Australia also has the "left turn on a red light" rule (equivalent to the Korean turning right due to left-hand-side driving here) although I think it varies from state to state.

I was kind of looking the wrong way in Vietnam, but seeing as they don't drive on the right so much as "wherever there's a sodding gap" you have to look both ways all the time anyway.

Korea sounds a lot like Vietnam as far as the traffic goes. Roads don't so much have rules as guidelines.

Mike said...

The "wherever there's a sodding gap" principle does tend to apply here - although I doubt it's as bad as Vietnam! I do think traffic rules here seem more like guidelines though.

Mosher said...

I have to confess that I loved the traffic chaos in Vietnam. The sheer delight of taking new arrivals to the hostel out for a few Bia Hoi was always a treat.

"Here's a busy intersection. This is how you cross" and then step out into it and watch as they shut their eyes and waited for the squeal of brakes and the rending of flesh. Which, of course, never happened.

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