Monday, February 1, 2010

Car Nation

One of my students, whose English name is Harry, has become quite the little chatterbox. I can't really boast that camp has improved his English that much, but his confidence is through the roof.

He was complaining today that his father is taking a one-week business trip to America, and taking his mother along with him, but leaving Harry and his little brother at home. His father, he said, is quite respected in his company, but treats him like a soldier. This means he orders him around.

One the one hand, Harry admits he doesn't like being treated as a child, but on the other, he is afraid of becoming an adult. (Remember he faces two years mandatory military duty.) That is, I think, the essential nature of adolescence worldwide.

Then he goes and says his father has promised him a new car on his 20th birthday. He doesn't have a license, and has little prospect of acquiring one in the next year, since--as he is entering his senior year--he is booked into school or hagwons every waking hour from now to November.

Me you couldn't give a car over here. It's just not worth it. The traffic is terrifying, the laws of the road are different, and there is an odd-even day system according to your plate number, so you are only supposed to drive it half the time. And the public transportation is nothing short of awesome.

There are around six million cars in Seoul, but it's interesting that you hardly ever see a beater--cars always seem to be shiny and new. Exception is the ubiquitous one-ton and two-ton work pick-ups in the KIA Bongo and Hyundai Porter lines.

Are there times I miss my S-10? Yes. Absolutely. But I always get over it: I don't have to carry insurance, I don't worry about gas prices, or the idiot in the other lane, or finding a good parking spot. I can't go for a drive in the countryside, but how often did I do that anyway?

But I have to admit, one of my favorite shows, not that I watch much TV, has become "Top Gear" on the BBC Knowledge channel. Pop open a beer and watch these three British chaps test new model cars--and they are relentlessly negative about US-made vehicles--clock celebrity guests on their test track and generally have a dry witty time.

I guess I'm driving vicariously through them. Without insurance. And occasionally, under the influence.


조안나 said...

I know how you feel. Not having a car, in some ways is very liberating... in a way. Until I started dating my boyfriend I was quite content not to be driving. Then, when I started dating him, I felt I was driving everywhere in his car. It is really nice sometimes, that we can drive to the ski resort or the airport or wherever we need to go. But I don't envy the cost of driving. We calculated between gas and tolls he pays about 80,000 won to go to yongpyong resort, about 2.5 hours away.

Foreigner Joy said...

come down to Gyeonggi do and you can see beaters.

I have driven a lot in Seoul and around other parts. It's not all that bad and really typical for a highly populated area. Makes grocery shopping so much easier on the weekends. But heck I wish Korea pumped out more hybrid cars.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a Top Gear fan! Love that show. I don't care so much about the expensive cars that I'll never be able to afford, but it's more about the interesting and funny stuff that the guys do on the show, and the interactions between them. People think Top Gear is just a car show, but it's really more than that IMO.

There's been some talk of Top Gear ending soon, and I can kind of see how they'd be running out of ideas for stuff to do now. It will be sad when they stop making the show, but all good things must come to an end.

Anonymous said...


I was wondering what your opinion of the Deungchon-dong neighborhood (around Deungchon-dong station)?

I have a chance to live there and was looking for a pedestrian-friendly area (I know this is difficult in Seoul) with lots of great, affordable restaurants, some cafes to hang out in, entertainment/cinema/outdoorsy activities for family/kids, and just an overall positive/friendly environment.

I saw that you made a trip to this area and would love to get your thoughts/impressions.


Tuttle said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody.
To Anon: I live in Deungchon-dong, but 1 stop north at Jeungmi. At Deungchon sageori there are dozens of Korean-style restaurants, including beef, fish, pork, chicken, soup, you name it. You also have the Deungchon outdoor market right nearby. Not much Western-style, though it's a short walk to E-Mart whose food court has Popeye's, BK and Baskin-Robbins.
The nearest cinema is in Mok-dong, a fifteen minute bus ride. There are loads of small parks in the area and the really big Hangang Park about a 20 min. walk.
I think it's a nice area. Good luck.

The Sanity Inspector said...

In America, we can turn right on red. In Korea, they go straight on red. Glad I never tried to drive while I was there, except on Jeju Island!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your help.

I think I'll be staying in Deungchon-dong for at least a month or two while exploring the rest of Seoul -- near the fish restaurants right off Deungchon-dong train station if you know where that is.

Have you discovered any favorite neighborhoods during your stay in Seoul? It seems like you enjoy Korean food, which I do as well, so a place filled with homey, tasty restaurants and a good atmosphere is always a nice place to be in.