May 10, 2011

same same... just korea (pt. ix)

Life is a highway
driving in Korea

I think it's funny that a few weeks ago I was drooling over cars, when I have not driven a car in over a year. Yet there I was, drooling over paintjobs. Even if I had walked out of the convention center with one of those cars I would have been lost, and confused. The streets in Seoul are insane, they are a psychotic playground.
It isn't so much the driver's in Korea that is crazy, it is the system. Don't prematurely expect this to be a rant about Asian drivers. The rules of the road in Korea are different, mostly ignored (because they aren't really enforced), and the roads themselves don't make much sense. Driving in Seoul would be a tricky, tricky thing to do. It's with that in mind that I'd say that the drivers in Seoul are pretty damn decent, It's not their fault that Seoul historically hasn't been set up great for modern driving.

While I'm not intimately familiar with most of the rules of the road. I have noticed one amazing improvement to the NA system. Most intersections (even major ones), there are U-Turn lanes. These crafty lanes are everywhere, and even divided main streets have U-Turn lanes built for them. I love this addition, and it makes cruising around super easy, especially because most vehicles utilize them. I have ridden busses who pulled a U-Turn in the middle of a 6 lane road (it was a part of it's route!).

Although the U-Turn lanes create an interest dilemma, there is no U-Turn flasher on a car. In fact turn signal indicators are rarely used in this city. This leads to the fact that horns are the most important piece of equipment in and Korean vehicle. Being cut-off is a regular occurrence, as is the fact that lanes seem to be a suggestion only. Drivers speed around the roads, swerving, swaying, and fighting for their place on the road. This system creates a highly aggressive yet highly attentive driving force. People drive around with a purpose, and fly across lanes to get where they are going. This is also important because this city wasn't built for driving.

The beautiful grid system that most North American roads are set up with don't really exist in Seoul. However, they aren't anywhere near as windy and ass backwards as some roads I've traveled on in England. Seoul has some amazing motorways, and expressways that have been thoroughly thought out and well planned. They have effectively constructed a whole highway system leaning out over top of the Han river. It is when you come to the side streets that you encounter some issues. The problem is that there isn't really any side streets. They are alleys, wide enough for single lane traffic. This leads to a mess of one way passageways.

This labyrinth is a prime reason why I would credit Korean drivers. They (the alleys, not koreans) are narrow, and often filled with obstructions. Yet, Koreans weave their way around them like nothing. I know that the cars in this country are small, but I would struggle with the precision driving required to pull off some of the turns and quick manoeuvres required here. I would go back to how attentive Korean drivers appear to be as the reason for this. I think in NA we relax too much while we are driving.

The passageway network exists because of housing. Subdivisions in NA are often tricky to navigate, and don't make much sense. Yet at least You can use an address to help you along the way. In Seoul addresses seem to be an afterthought.

Thankfully pretty much every single Korean car that I've been into has a SatNav (or GPS for those unaware of my lingo). These are great little devices, and they really allow you to navigate through the messy side roads. After being a passenger in more than my fair share of taxi's, I've bore witness to some great systems. Some of the new systems come loaded with 3D maps of Seoul! and like most things, they also second as televisions. I've had some great fun watching 3D models fly by, as well as baseball games. I'm usually entertained when I'm in cabs.

Once you are in a car, in my case I'm mostly in taxi's. Directions are super strange in this country. You can't simply get into a cab and give an address. The lack of a grid system, and a reverse address system.

Where do you live?
addresses in Korea

Finding your way around streets in Korea can be a little bit difficult. One of the reasons is that the Korean address system is backwards, well compared to the North American system it is. In North America we start with house # followed by street, then town, province, country. In generic terms you start with the specific house location then work your way out. In Korea the system is reversed. You start with the city, then the neighbourhood, then the building name. I'll write a

North America
Name of recipient
Street Address (room number, for apartments)
City, Province, Country
Postal Code.
Postal code, city
Ward, neighbourhood, building number
Building name, floor, room number
Name of recipient
As you can see (above) the system is quite different. Another thing that you may also notice is that street name is not included in the Korean example. This is because most of the small streets in Korea are not named. The European system is quite new and not fully used in the country yet. My apartments address has recently been changed, I now have an entirely new address. I got a strange letter in the mail that was later translated to inform me of the change, and I should probably tell me internet company about the change of address, anywho.

The address system in Korea creates problems when you are trying to get around in Seoul. Even though pretty much every car in the city is equipped with a SatNav, they can be useless when it comes to entering addresses into them. When I started my current job, I got into the cab with a co-worker who was giving the driver our school's business card. Normally, and in most western cultures this would work, and the cabby would be on his jolly way. Well the driver did not understand the address. He tried to enter the address numerous times before he gave up, and kicked us out. Because of tricky addresses, it is always best to simply refer to landmarks when traveling.

When driving, and you are unsure of where you are going, people will most often use landmarks to guide them. With the amount of cabs in Seoul, and the sheer size of the city, it is the best way to navigate around. These cab drivers do not possess 'The Knowledge' and are not required to pass any navigational exam, as is required in London, England (confused? read a short blurb about 'the Knowledge'). My situation with the afore mention cabbie would have been avoided if I mentioned two landmarks near my work that most are familiar with. For my journey home, I used the easiest set of landmarks in Seoul, the subway stations. I usually use these when I'm traveling around the city, and I'd advise anyone else to do the same.

I guess, in a nutshell that is my attempt to explain the complex, and chaotic roads in Korea. It really isn't a bleak post apocalyptic world. It just seems about as confusing as one might be. I made a comment the other day, perhaps one that isn't the greatest to admit. If I was really that worried I would probably wear my seatbelt more often in cabs.

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