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The roads in Korea aren’t laid out in anything I’d recognize as a rational plan. They loop and weave crazily between each other, as if there had been a huge surplus of highway construction funds divided evenly between a number of firms contractually bound not to connect to each others’ roads except at a stoplight intersection.

Yesterday I was stuck in traffic on a two-lane highway on the north edge of the Han river, going eastbound. Above me were two more lanes of traffic moving in the other direction. To my right, separated by maybe ten meters, was another highway: three lanes per direction, moving swiftly. It would have done me no good to have teleported my car onto that highway, though; it had no access at all to the bridge I wanted to use.

Traffic really isn’t helped by all these roads. Having a ton of mid-capacity highways linked by low-capacity onramps turns out not to be nearly so good as having a few high-capacity highways with high-capacity ramps.

In consequence of all this, I’ve become a much more aggressive driver than I’d normally be. Partly, it’s just adaptation to the local driving culture: it feels like every time I drive harder and closer to the edge than ever before, ten minutes later I see a Korean attempting some feat of driving insanity that leaves me breathless. Another part is that I’m driving a gas-guzzling sports car in a country of underpowered microvans: I thrill to perform maneuvers that nobody on the road around me can duplicate. Finally, there’s the fact that between the traffic and the stoplights, it’s a lucky day when it’s possible to approach the minimum speed limit. It’s hard to get truly worried about losing control when I’ve spun out on a go-kart track at nearly the same speed with no ill consequences at all.

My car is starting to pick up some evidence of all this. The right mirror has a teal spot on it where someone tried a little too hard to crowd ahead of me merging into my lane; that guy ended up with a four foot long scratch along the side of his van and didn’t get the lane. The brakes shudder when I engage them at speed, and it’s pretty common for it to cough out a huge cloud of black smoke when I first start it in the morning.

I’d worry about pollution except for the fact that I burn less fuel in a week in this car than I do in an hour in the helicopter.

Driving here is stressful, dangerous, and the best incubator for rage that I’ve ever encountered. It’s my pure good luck, then, that this week after my breakup I’ve been attending a class that requires an hour’s commute in each direction.

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Comment by Tina Windows XP Internet Explorer 6.0 Subscribed to comments via email
2009-09-06 15:39:22

Try driving on the autobahn!!

Comment by coriolinus Windows XP Mozilla Firefox 3.5.3
2009-09-18 05:11:08

I hope to!


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