Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Tight Squeeze

I've mentioned before that I love driving. I always knew I would. I didn't get my license until I was 21, and up until that point I was sure of two things: 1) I would be a great driver; and 2) I would love driving.

And I was right on both counts.

I don't mean to brag, but I'm a good driver. I'm one of those guys who is naturally good at navigation. I love back roads, short cuts, driving fast and weaving through traffic. Note, however, I am also a safe driver. I don't take unnecessary risks, I don't race and I wouldn't purposefully do anything to endanger my life, the lives of my passengers or those around me.

One of the things I missed most after moving to Korea was driving. I love the public transportation here. The ease, availability and comfort of the intricate network of buses, trains and taxis is fantastic. However, I missed driving. That is, until last Spring, when someone offered to give us a car. I've heard many foreigners here say "Oh, I would never want to drive in this country." My internal response has always been "I could do it."

I've now been to China, Korea and Japan, and I can say from experience that Asians have a completely different system of rules, etiquette and philosophy of driving than we do in the West. Back home, the general belief is that Asians are bad drivers. I've discovered since moving to Asia that they are actually amazing drivers! It's just that they drive using a different system, and when an Asian person moves from their context, within their system, governed by their rules into ours...there is a conflict of cultures that takes place. The same thing happens here. If you take a good, safe, defensive driver from the West, drop them in an Asian country, and tell them to make their way from point A to point B...they will arrive angry, exhausted and having irritated dozens of people on their way...that is, if they make it at all. The point is, a good driver from the West would likely be considered a bad driver here...and a good driver here, is usually considered a bad driver on Western highways.

Thankfully, I'd been on the streets in Korea for almost 3 years by the time I got behind the wheel. I had a pretty good idea of how the system worked. Even still, I made quite a few errors in courtesy for the first couple of weeks. Now, I've been driving for nearly 9 months. I've had flat tires, low oil emergencies, near accidents and paid for more gas than I'd care to share. We don't drive much...2 or three times / week, but it's always inter-city. Every week I look forward to Thursday nights and Sunday mornings, when we drive out to church.

Recently, we were driving down a one lane back road. It's a great short cut between our church and a friends apartment. My wife doesn't like this road, because even though it's one lane, it's not one way. On this occasion, there was a truck approaching from the other way,  and there was a fence directly to our right. I didn't slow at all. Neither did the truck. We deftly maneuvered our vehicles, just slightly missing one another. Yet neither of us considered this a close call. We knew what we were doing.

Afterward, Ferial asked me about what seemed to her to be a near miss. I replied that since I started driving in Korea, I realized that Americans think they need a lot more space than they actually do.

She responded that this is true for more than just driving.

Deep. Like the Mariana Trench.

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