Taxi ride gives clues to Korea psyche

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Taxi ride gives clues to Korea psyche

People always seem in a rush to get somewhere in Seoul, whether they’re walking, in the subway or on the road. “Fear-inducing due to traveling at unimaginable speeds” seems to be a fitting description of my latest rides. What’s it all for? Does this reflect on the Korean people’s personality?
One of the key differences I’ve noticed upon my arrival from London, after leaving Korea a decade ago, is that no matter what part of town you’re in or what time it is, getting from point A to point B is a much-rushed affair.
I suppose times have changed and I’ve gotten used to London’s pace, where everyone’s pretty relaxed and even if they don’t have time, they make time. Here, there are always people to meet, money to make, business to attend to. But really, there’s no excuse for drivers who change lanes at every conceivable opportunity without looking at their blind spot; their tendency to drive on the lane instead of in the lane is baffling.
My taxi ride to Lotte World, with the speedometer hitting 120 kilometers an hour in Saturday traffic, with stomach-turning lane changes and emergency stops, was going to be my last!
The British road system, with its infinite number of roundabouts, helps create traffic that’s more fluid in its running, much like the British, who are mostly easygoing and sometimes frustratingly relaxed about things that they should be more up in arms about ― like the transport system. Narrow roads, often with parked cars on either side, and moms driving 4-by-4s with temperamental toddlers in the backseat provide for difficult driving, and you’re in luck if buses or trains come on time.
Much like the big cars on narrow roads, Londoners have high hopes that may never be fulfilled. London recently made the shortlist for hosting the Olympics in 2012. Right now, London doesn’t have the stadiums to hold such events, but the mayor is convinced that we can extend the Underground and build all those stadiums in time for the Games. Yet without the sense of hurry with which the Koreans work, how will we ever achieve that goal?
Like Britons’ love of queues and general courtesy on (and off) the roads, the drive around the labyrinth that is Seoul does, on some level, reflect on the personality of Koreans. They are always on the go, always wanting to achieve more within the day, and sometimes impatient. It’s amazing how looking at how traffic moves around a city can shed light on a national identity.


by Jenny Jee-yeon Kim
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