I’ve been reflecting lately on the notion of public safety in Korea, which is largely conspicuous by its absence. I’m not saying Korea is a dangerous place; I’ve never felt safer in another foreign country. But that may be because I never go to nice places.
Like elsewhere in Asia, streets, traffic and construction are the problem. Thirty-something percent of traffic accidents here – of which there are a lot – involve pedestrians, and it’s easy to see why. Just cross a busy road at any time of the day and notice how the green pedestrian light doesn’t mean walk, it simply indicates that the cars will be driving faster. You actually have to wait a good four or five seconds more for the bus or taxi to speed past, check, then cross in relative safety. Motorbikes, mostly of the electric scooter variety (OK, it’s not a real motorbike, but it is a bike and it has a motor) also use pedestrian crossings to perform u-turns, threading through the foot traffic to turn around and speed off into the neon sunset.
Actually, motorbikes – ‘autobikes’ in Korean – are quite a hazard for pedestrians, as most riders seem to think that God made footpaths as a way for them to get through traffic faster. They regard non-wheeled folk as plebeians that have no place on their paved expressways, and they actually look at you in surprise when you glare at them for cutting in front of you and forcing you to stop. On the plus side though, it is remarkable how much stuff can be carried on a crappy electric-start scooter. Last week two wooden chairs and a four-seater table were delivered by an old man on a bike – he was struggling.
A new danger in the form of superbly well-organised demolition began yesterday at a YBM building – the major rival school next door to mine. They parked a bulldozer on a small side street and ripped apart the whole building while hosing it down. I’m not sure why the hose was used; I guess to minimise dust in the air and possibly asbestos (really hope not). One of my co-workers said something about electricity, because apparently they can’t shut the power off without plunging the whole block into a blackout.
Anyway, it was great watching a bathroom get smashed apart by a giant metal claw, the toilet shattering as the tiled floor fell several floors to the ground. It wasn’t so funny when I had to leave by the back door and pass about a meter from the bulldozer’s blind spot. The only safety was a few witches’ hats (traffic cones in non-Australian English) and an old man waving his arm vaguely in an ‘exercise caution’ motion, while all around concrete and porcelain were falling within spitting distance. It’s kind of fun but you really have to watch your step here, you’re not likely to get bashed, robbed or scammed, but the chances of getting taken out by a pizza delivery bike or a broken toilet are high. Three floors high and falling, in this case.
No pictures – Korea ‘world’s fastest internet’ can’t handle it at the moment.