Safety on the sidewalk
I’ll just start by saying that I like the alliteration in the title, but as I am English I shall be referring to the sidewalk as pavement from now on.
Living in Korea you need to be aware at all times of your surroundings. For instance, an unlikely place for unforeseen danger is the pavement. It is not uncommon in Korea to be dodging people, objects and even vehicles whilst using it.
My initial introduction to the perilous pavements here was my foot colliding with the curb. It took several weeks before my body and mind became accustomed to the marginally higher pavements and I stopped tripping up at just about every encounter.
Something else you find is that regardless of the season, you can expect to be swerving to avoid hand-held shields against the weather. During the rainy season the streets are clogged with people rushing from place to place under the cover of an umbrella. It’s during these times that what would normally be an easy journey from A to B .becomes a case of weaving in and out, while ducking and diving between people. Even on bright summer days there is no break from the obstacle course. It’s then that women attempt to prevent the sunlight tarnishing their pale skin by promenading with parasols held aloft. Unfortunately, at just about eye-level for taller pedestrians.
Not only does the weather play a part in the disorder on the Korean pavements, but vehicles also join in the free-for-all. Aside from the random child riding a bike, the main problem is scooters. Do not be surprised when a scooter comes up behind you, beeping its horn commanding you to move. Most of the time the scooter drivers are just going about their business of delivering food by the quickest route. But no matter if they don’t mean to be threatening, it is always a nasty shock to have the front wheel of a scooter nipping at your heels. It can be frustrating coming from a country where all vehicles are expected to be on roads and failure to do so can equal a fine or at least a stern telling off. I try to deter people from driving on the pedestrian’s path by letting out a short high-pitched scream or yelp as they pass. So far I have yet to notice any easing in the amount of traffic seemingly aimed towards me, but it works well as a vent for my irritation.
Parking in Korea is conducted in a similar unregulated fashion. It is very much like a young child throwing down his toys when he’s finished with them. So it’s no surprise to see cars strewn across the pavements. On occasion the owner will be sleeping in the car, with the seat pushed back into the recline position. And, quite possibly, the recumbent driver’s foot will be sticking out of the window cooling in the breeze. The cars, like most stationary objects, do not pose too much of a problem, as you can simply walk around them. It is only when the cars burst into life and start moving down the pavement looking for a chance to be unleashed onto the roads. It’s then that you begin to feel that you are in some surreal dream with a demon car chasing after you.
As with everything, you begin to adapt to your surroundings. Those who don’t simply become a statistic. As you would suppose of such a forward- looking country as Korea, steps have been taken to combat some of these pitfalls and dangers. A constructive move in this direction is making the pavements much wider than those in the UK and many other countries. This thoughtfully makes maneuvering between people with umbrellas or parasols, a child on a bike, a car and a scooter much easier. But the most glaring question still remains: why not avoid the most dangerous feature of all by not allowing vehicles on the pavements?
© John Brownlie 2010