Saturday, October 28, 2006

Culture Shock: Why I'm afraid to cross the street

In my 24 years, I have never come so close to being hit by a moving vehicle than I did today--twice!

It was a crisp fall day today. I left my apartment in the afternoon bound for Mpark 8, the "old" movie theater (it opened in June of 2006.) I have traveled this path many times. I wasn't sure what was playing, since I have yet to find an English movie listing for my area. Along the way, I had to duck between a couple parked cars to avoid being run over by a guy driving in reverse along my alley/street. He was turned around and looking out his back window, but I guess he thought I'd either get out of the way, or he'd slam on the breaks before he got too much closer. This is not my "near miss."

I get to the movie theater, end up watching World Trade Center. It wasn't the best movie, but it was moving and I enjoyed it. Well, I get home safely, only to realize I didn't have my phone. I realize it must have fallen out of my pocket at the theater. So, I decided to head back: big mistake.

By this time it was dusk and most of the cars had headlights on. I say most, because probably about twenty percent of cars don't drive with their headlights on. I know that when driving on a well-lit street they can be forgotten accidentally, but when driving down a dark alley that is lit only by the moon and the light from apartment windows, I don't understand it. I saw one of these cars on my alley-street on my way to the theater for the second. A couple blocks later, I come to a legitimate street.

The streets is four lanes and is one of the two main east-west streets in Gohyeon. However, the two outer lanes are normally taken by people parking illegally, which means for the most part, people just drive down the center two lanes. Where I normally cross, there is a crosswalk with no light. It generally isn't hard to cross--just simply wait until the traffic is stopped because of the light a couple blocks down the road. There is a van parked in the outer lane, in the crosswalk zone.

The van makes it impossible for me to see traffic coming from my right, but that's not a big deal because its on the other side of the street. So, I look to my left and see no cars coming that way. So, I begin to walk into the street from behind the back of the van only to almost be hit by this motorcycles going the wrong way! He saw that no traffic was coming too, so he decided to zip down the wrong way to cut into one of the alleys. I came within inches of being clipped by him. This was my first near-miss.

The traffic going the other way was stopped because of a traffic light a few blocks down. So, I begin my way across the street, in my crosswalk. I get to that center lane and walk between the two cars waiting for the light to change. I glance to my right and see that there is no car coming in that outer lane--or so I thought. I get half-way across that last lane--only feet away from the curb--when I see something coming in my peripheral vision. I look up and see this truck barreling toward me, no headlights, and the driver isn't paying attention.

For a split second, I was a deer in the headlights. I see him tap his brake, but then he lets up. I run a couple steps and jump onto the curb. I turn around to find that he had stopped passed the point where I was standing. If I hadn't jumped, I would have been hit. The truck was one of those big-box trucks like a small U-haul or delivery truck. It would have done some major damage on me. I looked at the driver. I couldn't tell exactly what his face was saying. I turned around and yelled loudly, "That was a crosswalk!" I took a deep breath and turned to resume my trip. I saw that the incident had attracted the attention of the passing pedestrians.

My hear was pounding and I was so angry. Not only is the crosswalk painted on to the pavement, but there are also signs posted before it. I continued to the theater only to come to another of these crosswalks with no light signal. This time, the street was much more visible with no vans blocking my view. Again, traffic was stopped because of a light a block down the road. So I decide to cross between two cars. I look at the car to my left and make eye contact with the driver so she doesn't accidentally go forward. Then, I look to the right to make sure that red light isn't changing and that there are still no cars coming form that direction. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see the car on my left nudging foward. I turn quickly to look at the driver. She is looking square at me and still nudging forward. I look at her and yell, "What the hell are you doing!?"

I doubt she understood, but she stopped at least. This one couldn't have caused me much damage--unless she slammed on the gas. Still, I can't imagine what she was doing. She saw me in front of the car, plus, there was a red light with another car in front of her. She couldn't move anywhere. I seriously considered looking for a cab, having him drive me safely to my apartment building and locking myself inside. No joke. However, I decided that since I was only two blocks from the theater and I would need my phone if I was going to call in to work and quit or something, I decided to continue.

I found my phone--it was turned in to the box office. On the way home, I looked both ways about ten times before crossing the street. Luckily, the walk was uneventful. I stepped into a variety store. As I looked for some random things I needed. The floor looked uneven and felt a little wobbly. Then, I realized that I was shaking.

Here's what I have to say to the drivers of South Korea. It looks like you like drive with white gloves. Fine, okay. Drive with your gloves. You like to park illegally, double park, triple park, and even quadruple park. Whatever, as long as you don't block my bus. All I ask is that you turn your headlights on at night, drive on the correct side of the road, and QUIT TRYING TO RUN ME OVER!

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