You NEED to know about: THE TRAFFIC LIGHTS

Category : Korean Cultures / Surviving in Korea
Nov 26, 2014

During my first few weeks in Korea I noticed something I didn’t like, which is shocking because I am the most positive person in the world, except for AO. I was upset because I hate waiting and I was doing an awfully large amount of waiting…. at TRAFFIC LIGHTS. My patience for Korean traffic lights was wearing thin. On average it takes over 5 minutes to cross the road at a double intersection. I kid you not: OVER 5 MINUTES! Not only do I hate waiting, but I am also always late, so this little traffic light issue was certainly not helping my life out. 

Suddenly I was feeling nostalgic. But I wasn’t missing my friends, my family or lasagna from back home. I was missing the crosswalks. I was missing a quick jaunt across the street. I was missing the lights changing from red, to green, to yellow and back to red again all in less than 1 minute. Oh to long for the days of carefree walking! How I miss you!
I quickly realized that I was going to need to curb my frustration with the lights. I wasn’t going to let this pet peeve bog me down on a daily basis. So I started doing 2 things: jaywalking, even if it meant into four lanes of speedily moving traffic and running to make lights.

The jaywalking was proving to be fairly successful although not wholly. I hadn’t gotten hit yet, which was a plus, but I was receiving death stares from everyone around me. I was curious so I asked my Korean co-teacher, “Why does everyone stare at me like I am crazy when I walk into the middle of busy oncoming traffic?”

“Oh yes, that’s because it is illegal to jaywalk in Korea”, She replied.

“Okay”, I thought, “Illegal….hummm…just like in the rest of the world? That’s fine.” I knew I could safely risk getting a fine-at this point in my Korean life I had figured out that Korean police don’t bother anyone much less a giant English speaking white girl- and a few thousand death stares for peace of mind. So I continued to jaywalk.

I also continued running to make the green lights. One day, I was walking down the street and I saw the light change green up ahead. I thought, "Oh fudge, I don't want to miss that thing", so I started sprinting, which was probably more like a slow jog. I was in a daze, focused only on making the darn light, when I looked up and saw a fat (obese by Korean standards or averagely chubby by western standards) foreign man. As I looked up and saw him, he also looked up and saw the light. He was a few meters ahead of me and he suddenly started to jog as well. So here we were two foreigners - one overly tall white girl and one overly fat white guy- awkwardly jogging down the sidewalk hoping to catch the light. I chuckled to myself and thought, "He knows. He knows how long he has to wait if he misses that light." I felt like we should be friends. In fact, I felt like we are already friends. We had SO much in common. We both hate to wait. We both knew the lights take an eternity. We both had the same qualm! Luckily my feeling of kinship dulled quickly because I realized that everyone in Korea runs to catch lights, including tall girls and fat guys.

Even now, years after I first experienced long Korean traffic lights, I notice myself running to catch the light at least once a day and so is everyone around me. When you look around the streets, you see people swiftly bolt into a run. They are running to catch the lights. They are running to catch the subway. They are running to catch the bus; everyone is always running and scrambling and pushing. But trust me, you would run too.
Tags : Seoul. Traffic. Car.

Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.