Navigating the Streets

While living abroad, I’ve wanted to write a story or some poetry that captures my time here. My every attempt has failed, but I’ve not given up. I often ponder ideas while on the bus or taxi stuck in a traffic. And traffic in Korea is a chaotic ballet, where red lights mean “stop” only if no other cars are around. I’ve driven my scooter on the sidewalk, through people-filled alleys, and between busses. Once I did all three, in full view of two idle police officers, yet they were probably more surprised by the scruffy white dude driving down the street than by my erratic driving. I live in Busan, home to over three and a half million people, and sometimes it feels like each one of them is driving right now.

Right now, I’m sitting in the back of a taxi, heading to a bar for some Settlers of Catan and mulled wine (it’s a really kick ass bar). Cars, trucks, and buses are everywhere and they’re all moving at a walking pace. Our driver slams on the accelerator the moment there’s room in front of him and jams the brakes if he needs to slow down. We stop and go, stop and go, and finally we’re in the tunnel and out of the traffic jam.

In my youth I dreamed of living in the city. Growing up in a town of under ten thousand people always seemed sort of restricting. Sure, I’m not now in the type of city that most Americans live in, but I’m in the city, surrounded everyday by it, a part of it. Vehicles cruise down the roads, spewing out gas and smoke and all us humans are there to absorb it. Earlier in our taxi ride I leaned over to my wife and said, “I think Korea has aged me.” Sure, I’m getting older naturally, but the rate of aging has increased. I’ve got old man baggy eyes and some gray hairs popping up in my facial hair like little beacons of geezerhood.

Driving a scooter in Busan was scary the first time I did it. I took off onto a busy four lane road. I drove slowly, checking my mirrors often. I made it hope safely and braved the streets again the next day. It took a couple weeks to truly get comfortable. I’m a confident driver now, but on occasion I get nervous, like when I approach an area of town I’ve never been to. But I push through it and make it out with more experience, and the next time it’s not nearly as difficult.

I don’t know why, but it’s been difficult for me to capture life in Korea. I’ve started and stopped a number of poems, short stories, and blog posts. I have essentially pushed through traffic, swerved around people in crowded alleys, and navigated places I’ve never been before. I’ve not conquered the roads, yet, but I carry on. Korea hasn’t just left me with a few wrinkles and gray hairs, it’s left with a life experience that has and will continue to mold how I see the world. I need to keep my hand on the accelerator and twist and feel the rev of the motor so that someday I can cruise that highway with more confidence and direction.


Photo credit: View of Namtaeryoung Bus Station, by Doo Ho Kim.

Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.

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