So as foreign students there are some important tips to share regarding the ways of Koreans, as observed in Busan. This post focuses on driving in Busan, although it is apparently no different from other locations.
An Australians observations
Indicators are for weaklings
Often you will be walking and you’ll see a car approaching but it has no indicator on so your natural assumption is that you can proceed crossing the street. This might see you receive a toot or worse if you’re unlucky. I have noticed that very few drivers in Korea indicate their intention to turn corners, pull over or pull into traffic.
Taxis can be hit and miss… I rode in many taxis in Korea, they’re not super expensive and are usually quite safe and when it’s getting close to curfew they’re your only way to get back to dorms from Seomeyeon because the trains have likely stopped running. I did have a few crap cab rides and one where I was sure I was going to die… I know now that I could probably use “hajima juseo” or something to that effect. However all I could think when my cab driver was going over 160 km an hour through the tunnel was “I don’t want to end up like princess Diana” so all I could whisper was “pali pali oppsoyo and anjohiyo” but he didn’t hear me! we got back to dorms in record time and I didn’t take another taxi after dark alone again. One thing I learned was it’s important to know how to communicate with your driver so make sure you get some phrases down pat and you know how to say where you are going.
Creative Parking Award
Koreans deserve an award for their creative parking and use of space. I have noted cars with hazard lights going, parked in what looks like a standard lane of traffic on the road. Cars park on footpaths, bicycle lanes and squeeze into the smallest of spaces.
The painted lanes on the road are like street art right?
I have taken two taxis in Korea and in neither case did I feel inherently unsafe, and my cabs had seat belts in the back seat so #winning. However, the drivers rarely come to a complete stop and traffic seems to have a continual flow, albeit a crawl at times.
Cars, for the most part, do not merge by indicating and waiting; they simply duck in and out of lanes as they are able to and it can be confronting, especially if you are a driver yourself. They also don’t stay to their lane and often meander across the 3 lanes to find the most advantageous route. This isn’t limited to taxis or delivery vehicles either.
Now I know I am certainly used to indicating first from one lane and then pulling into the new lane. This said… the above appears to work. Other drivers assume that this is going to occur and seem to anticipate it and there has certainly been no road rage that I’ve observed so far. (will update this if this changes)
Laneways and the Backstreets
Around Korea, and especially noted around the PKNU Campus in Busan, there are some very cramped and compact backstreets that contain some of the best food you will eat, soju/somak, norubangs and clubs, roadside traders and convenience stores – all open until very late at night.
These streets also contain cars and motorbikes and you need to be aware of your surroundings and be careful when approaching a crossroad or crossing the street. The delivery bikes can fly past you quickly and as mentioned above the cars will not always indicate where they are going.
Depending on the night, the streets can get quite crowded with people and the cars will come through regardless. You may even see the dancing soju women handing out stickers with the in tow.
Finally 2 VERY important things to note for pedestrians in Korea:
- If you are from a country that drives on the left side of the road, practice looking right THEN left before stepping out. Otherwise you may be looking to the right while the taxi hits you from behind. Cars drive on the Right side of the road in Korea (as they do in America and parts of Europe) which means that they will not be where you are used to them being.
Remember: If YOU drive on the LEFT then LOOK LEFT before stepping out.
- The white lines on the road that usually represent pedestrian crossing/crosswalk/zebra crossing and usually require the car to yield to the walker… well take note of the point above this one; then remember that ‘indicators are for weaklings’ and then note that these crossings are a guide for where to cross WHEN SAFE. You will more often than not have to yield to the cars. Seriously: the cars MAY NOT EVEN SLOW DOWN when approaching these crossings so please be very careful and only step out when it is safe.
A final note: there’s a very big drinking culture in Korea and although there are stringent efforts now to curb the drunk driving incidents with stricter penalties and punishments it can be dangerous especially later at night; I have already observed a rather wobbly gent stepping out of his car at the lights and then getting back in before heading off.