Monday, March 28, 2011
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Nearly anything on wheels goes for street traffic in South Korea. Two-wheeled motorbikes transform into fast-food delivery trucks as they weave in an out of lanes, careening toward their next paying customers. Buses, too, crowd the streets with populations nearly as numerous as the cars, steering toward pockets of humanity patiently awaiting their arrival. These have become almost indispensable parts of local surroundings, as expected in a Korean cityscape as the stone walls of a historic palace. Yet the vehicles populating the country’s roadways these days still have the power to surprise from time to time—just like the one I witnessed last November.
At 12:15 that Saturday afternoon, I checked my watch to monitor my progress. I had been walking for ten minutes and was still two blocks from the station. I quickly brushed past two Korean girls engrossed in animated conversation at a bus stop, then passed a parka-clad woman vending bunches of fresh spinach on the sidewalk. I glanced up to read the traffic sign suspended above the thoroughfare: Highway One, it read. The arrow pointing south indicated Cheonan; the arrow north, Suwon and, eventually, teeming Seoul. Ahead of me lay one of the busiest intersections in Byeongjeom.
As I crossed a grocer’s entryway and stepped onto the red-asphalt sidewalk that propelled me toward the station, I noticed to my left an ajossi with a baby blue down jacket in a black scooter chair six inches below my height. He was sitting in the middle of the street directly behind bus number 12, poised near the exhaust pipes. Opting for a fresher air source, he gingerly crept from his hideout and maneuvered his “four-wheeler” into the sliver of space between the bus and the sidewalk’s concrete bumper.
The approaching intersection’s stoplights are on and fully functional during other days; however, its signals turn to flashing yellow caution lights on the weekends. As crosswalk signs are not lit up at this time, this leaves foot traffic fighting for the right to cross just like other kinds. Horns blare and tempers mount as vehicles and pedestrians alike push toward an opportune time to jut into the chaos and cross back over to safety. As I waited for my cautious turn, I glanced back over my left shoulder to see what might happen with the man on the scooter.
Incredulous, I watched the man pull out from his position next to the bus and float into oncoming traffic. In a matter of moments he had crossed the intersection like a car, this time with a second scooter and the bus trailing behind him. I quickened my pace to follow him, curious at his destination. Confidently he held his course in the center of the road, blocking traffic flow, while I walked along the sidewalk. We parted ways only when he turned left, rounded the corner, and winked out of sight.
I glanced to my left again as I approached the same corner and crossed the adjacent street, curious if I could still find him. The last I saw of the man with the baby blue coat, he was still in his scooter in the middle of the road, slowly leading a trail of cars down a moderate side street towards Home Plus. South Korea, let’s just say, “You might be a redneck.”