Living outside the US creates many opportunities for us to experience new and exciting things. Sometimes these experiences are very fun, enjoyable and painless. Other times we need a little nudge to cause us to “dive in” (see exhibit stinky tofu). In Taiwan, one of my frustrations was dealing with the “culture on wheels” aspect of daily life. Learning the rules that applied to cars, trucks, buses, street carts, etc. was very confusing. The Taiwanese traffic norms would depend on the vehicle and the rules gave a clear advantage to one special group that was near and dear to my heart: scooters. As a motorcycle rider myself I can see the logic in allowing scooters to have their own lane and park wherever they can fit and filter through to the front of a traffic light to save on space. I can appreciate a culture that protects riders on 2 wheels (especially when they decide to pile their entire family of 5 on for a joy ride)! The problem was that scooter riders took their freedoms to extremes and would frequently speed down sidewalks, go the wrong way on highways and turn right into a busy intersection without even glancing to see who is coming! Drivers of other vehicles were expected to yield to these crazy scooterites because an accident involving a car and a scooter was ALWAYS the car’s fault. Needless to say I never got in the drivers seat of a car during our 2 years there and frankly I do not regret that decision one bit.
Ashley and I have already received our driving licenses here in Korea (although something tells me I will be doing all the driving). The traffic is pretty intense here in Seoul and so I must admit I try and hitch a ride with someone or take public transportation (or taxi) as much as possible. Last week, however, my duties as a licensed Korean driver were finally called upon. During our stay on Jeju island we decided to rent a car with our friends the Kasks. I found myself behind the wheel for the first time in Asia. My apologies for playing this experience up with my tales of crazy scooters and busy traffic because this would prove to be very different. Driving in Jeju is not like Taipei or Seoul at all. It is actually more like driving on the back roads in rural Alabama – only with the most advanced GPS system on the planet showing you the way (more on that later). If we ever deviated from the main road we realized very quickly that it did not take long for the road to wind and shrink to basically a large pathway. Deer crossings? Check. Horse farms? Check. Creek crossings (as in we drive through the creek)? Check! Everything was going smoothly and the only major difference at first was noticing that I reached 80 a lot quicker than I am used to….oh wait that’s kilometers! Right. OK here is the first red light…slow to a stop. No problem. Whoosh!!! What the??? Did that car just speed through the stop light? Whoosh!!! There goes another one! Apparently red lights are completely optional. Basically if there was no car waiting to enter the highway drivers would treat the light as a stop sign. Did I take advantage of this cultural difference? Every chance I got! After a few dirty looks it did not take me long to start running red lights right and left. A day on the road in Jeju is not at all scary or dangerous but rather humorous instead! On the way home we were getting close to our hotel and decided to take one more “off the highway” route that we thought would be a shorter route. Now by “we” I mean me and Ben. I think there are probably 3 people on the planet that would trust a GPS system (in a foreign language) over that of a map. One is Michael Scott from the Office. You know who the other 2 are by now – if you don’t you are special. In the scooter driver sense of the word. Anyway, back to the short cut. So Ben and I see a road on the GPS that hugs the coast and it only makes sense to take it. After about a half-mile we suddenly realize this is no more a road than a glorified bike path running parallel to the coast! I seriously thought we were going to fall into the ocean. I was working on my speech in my head explaining to Peter that the reason we arrived at Heaven’s Gate way early was because Ben and I wanted to live the dream. It’s the new scape goat, “The Korean GPS made me do it!” The GPS did redeem itself though and gave me a warning every time a speed camera was approaching and I happened to be going above the limit (which was often I admit). Needless to say my first driving experience will probably be my most memorable. It was legendary actually.
“Hugging the coast, living the dream”