Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Calm Cool Collected Chaos of Crossing the Street

In the United States it’s simple: Wait for the green "walking man" to flash and then cross while all the cars are stopped. In our first few weeks in Korea, we have learned that things on the street work a little differently. There is a great understanding and flow in the driver/walker relationship. Some of the major intersections do have the rotating “walk/don’t walk” flashing signs, but the rest of them just leave it to the people to decide when to go forth. And it works! If cars have an open intersection, they go for it. If people crossing have an open moment to cross, they take it. What is really interesting is the fact that there is little (if any) hesitation between people in the cars and people on the streets. If you start to cross just as a car approaches the intersection, they may not stop, but rather slow down and make a turn while you breeze past the side of them. They sense that you are crossing so they make a wide turn and you see them turning so you take an extra step to the left which allows you to brush by within inches of their car. Swoosh! It all happens in a split second; You go with your gut instinct and just cross. And it always seems to work out. It may sometimes seem like a crossing car just misses you by a few feet, but no matter how chaotic and fast the traffic is moving, you rarely feel any danger. We have yet to witness any kind of traffic accident or even a close call, and there is noticeably less road rage (at least from our point of view as pedestrians).

So the next time you are stuck trying to walk across that darn intersection with the authoritatively demanding red hand telling you "NOT SO FAST, BUD", take a moment and think about Korea. And while you are stopped thinking about it, we will already be across the street and halfway home, because that is just the way things flow here. Just another day on the calmly chaotic streets of Suncheon.

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