Chronicles of Reverse Culture Shock: Red Light, Green Light (The Asphalt Hierarchy)

Is he still following us?

Drive. Or walk. Or cycle. Fight your way.

“Well, when I lived in Asia…” begin so many of my sentences these days. Moving away is hard, and as it turns out, so is moving back. Chronicles of Reverse Culture Shock is a series devoted to these difficulties, and is also an outlet so that I don’t become That Guy Who Won’t Shut Up About Korea to all of his friends.

The road is a warzone, a constant battleground where every car, every bus, every streetcar and pedestrian and bicycle is a guerrilla commando. In each of their hands is their own life and the well-being and punctuality of everyone else, and people are happy to play fast and loose with both. How this war plays out differs based on location in time and space, differs based on local hierarchies of importance and cherished modes of transport.

As a kid growing up in Toronto, I grew accustomed to a certain sense of ownership, of visceral claim, upon the road. No matter my conveyance, I was always in the right. As a passenger or driver in a car, everyone else on the road was an idiot just waiting to be plowed into by everyone else in an enormous, catastrophic explosion of stupidity and organ-meat. In the back of a bus, forced to share breathing-space with the armpit stank of dozens of strangers who hate sharing seats, I felt like it was our right to burst through traffic, and sneak through lights, and be as overbearing as possible. On foot, smarmy in my commitment to being green, I was imbued with a sense of immortality, a knowledge that the laws of man and the road did not apply to me, and that every opportunity to jaywalk was as natural a human right as life and liberty and frozen yogurt.

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We Can’t Stop Here, This is Traffic Country

You're not going anywhere.

Korea is a cool place to live. It is modern, with beautiful mountains and scenic vistas, a kind and hard-working people, and a distinct and tasty cuisine. It is thus that its roadways can generate considerable confusion and dismay, as though viewing two entirely separate nations occupying the same physical space. The roads of Korea, the vehicles which thresh about in and outside of its confines, and the people who operate those vehicles, seem to actually be living in a different country – if not, perhaps, another dimension, possibly one eternally racked with hellfire and sadness and ironic punishments handed down from unholy Eldritch abominations. To live in Korea is to experience adventure, and grow as a person. To interact in any way with its roads is to know the taste of eternal damnation.

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