|Flooding at Gangnam subway station, about 20 minutes away from us.|
When I last posted, I was
|River overflowing onto the highway.|
If you are interested, more photos and links can be found here at the Seoul Searching blog, which - for those of you who are interested more in reading hard facts about Seoul and less in navel-gazing from me - also provides some nice links, reviews, and general information about Seoul.
According to those in the know, this is the heaviest rain and the worst flooding Seoul has seen in the last 100 years, which (I like to think) justifies at least some of my whining. Since the boys and I sensibly stayed inside and therefore out of the maelstrom, our participation was limited to looking at the traffic nightmare from the windows of our apartment and a canceled subway expedition to Sadang (which turned out to be underwater and therefore a poor choice for shopping.) Mr. Logical, however, was not quite as lucky, and had the alarming experience of having to rescue his car from the parking lot at work as it was overtaken by flood waters. He was able to reach the car just before the water started seeping into the interior. At least, at the time he thought that he had reached the car just before the water seeped in, but - as has been made patently obvious in the past few days - he was not quite in time to prevent at least a portion of the Han River from entering the vehicle and soaking into the carpet. Needless to say, we've been riding about mostly with the windows down lately, trying to dissipate the 'Asian River Funk' that assaults one's nose immediately upon opening the door.
However, we are all so delighted to have a car again, that no one is really complaining about the smell. After weeks of trudging through the city in every imaginable weather condition, wrestling with umbrellas in high winds, sloshing through puddles, or arriving at restaurants drenched in perspiration, even an odiferous vehicle seems like a godsend, and no one's complaining.
In fact, I am so grateful to have a car right now, I am almost able to relax and chat quite naturally even as Mr. Logical takes (what to me seem like) enormous risks to life and limb navigating through the city. Because - as anyone who has ever driven in Asia knows - driving here is not like driving anywhere else in the world. And the sooner that you accept this and dispense with all of your preconcieved notions about safety and conventionally accepted driving etiquette, the more quickly you will adjust to the reality that is driving in Seoul
Since most of my readers are sophisticated and well-traveled, I know you will all be sagely nodding your heads and murmuring, "Of course, of course. Driving in Seoul....madness." And of course, we were warned well in advance. In fact, one of the most frequent comments I got when mentioning that we were moving to Seoul was, "I hear the driving's crazy over there." Now, having grown up in Asia, Mr. Logical and I were not unaware of the differences between Western and Eastern driving habits. However, being aware of and actually participating in, are two very different things, as we have been learning in the past month or two. Keep in mind that - as yet - I have still not taken the plunge of actually driving myself. No, sitting in the passenger seat
- Forget what you have previously learned about where cars (and trucks and motorcycles and scooters) can go. In urban and suburban America, we tend to be very old-fashioned and somewhat unimaginative about where we drive our vehicles. For the most part, we drive them on prepared surfaces, such as streets, driveways, and parking lots. In suburbia, you will, of course, find people parked in dirt lots or grassy fields, especially when softball and/or carnivals are involved. However, Seoul drivers are not such slaves to convention, which calls for somewhat more caution on the part of the average pedestrian. As a rule, you should not be surprised if you are walking along, minding your own business and find that you need to move out of the way for a car that has just driven up onto the sidewalk next to you, whether it is planning to park there or simply passing through. The same goes for having a motorcycle nudge past you as you are window-shopping. Furthermore, you should in no way indicate that you find this behavior unusual by yelling, gesticulating, or jumping out of the way, which would simply alert everyone to the fact that you are new in town.
- Understand that lane markings (those painted lines, dashes, and other meaningless symbols) on the streets are more of a general guideline than an actual hard-and-fast rule. Seoul drivers have an almost uncanny sense of the exact size of their vehicles, and can accurately judge - within millimeters - precisely where their cars will fit. Whether or not there is a lane indicated in that space is not important. If you are in one lane and the car next to you is in another lane, and there is space in between two of you that another car can fit in, it will. This allows, for example, four lanes of cars to fit in the space designated for only two lanes. Continuing with this space-saving theme, you will find motorcycles, bicycles, and scooters darting in and out of all these de facto lanes of traffic using any available space, including the sidewalk, as mentioned in my first point.
- Given that the lanes themselves are subject to change at any time, moving between these lanes is not accomplished in the same straightforward way as it is in other countries. Instead, moving from place to place in heavy traffic is accomplished by pointing your car in the direction you would like to proceed, and slowly - but resolutely - 'oozing' into your intended location. It is best that you do not make eye contact with other drivers while performing this maneuver. This is also useful for right turns on red.
- The bus will always win. If you are in the way of a bus, move. If a bus wants to be where you are, it will be there, whether or not this is accomplished with your cooperation.
- Like the lane markings, most traffic rules should not be taken too seriously. If, for example, you expect all cars to stop at a red light and wait until the light turns green to proceed, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you have no expectations whatsoever that this will happen, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.