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I Drive Like a What?

October 18, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Would you think that someone who was born and raised in America but lived oversees for only four years would experience culture shock upon return? I wouldn’t have. I guess I was expecting a little adjustment time, but nothing as complex as it has been. I’m not sure if it’s just being back in America that’s making me experience this. It could be that I moved to Texas, my first time in this state other than passing through for a conference once in Austin,  and maybe I am simply figuring out what it means to live in this big, steak-eating, gun-carrying, truck-driving Lone-star state. Truthfully, I like it here so far. It’s not much different from anywhere else in America from a big picture perspective. The stores and restaurants are mostly the same, the interstates feel familiar — for the most part, America is America. It’s the details that really stand out. For one thing, there are a lot more Mexican restaurants here than in other states I’ve visited.

Coming from the fast-paced, high-rise, densely populated, reserved culture of Asia, my strongest, first impression of South Texas is, “Where are all the people?” There are no people! All I see are cars. The little people are all insulated in their glass bubbles. In some places I don’t even see many cars. It’s almost like there’s a city-wide party and everyone is attending but me. I often ask my husband, “Is there some event going on that I don’t know about?” We’re just so used to seeing a whole lot of people everywhere, at all hours, every day. The lack of people is really noticeable to me. Then, when I do see a car, it’s usually a giant, larger-than-life truck barreling towards me in the rear view mirror. Living in a country with small cars and narrow roads has really altered my view of what a “normal” sized car looks like. I never felt afraid to drive in Tokyo or Seoul, but Texas scares me to death.

Today I dropped my husband off at work and drove back to the hotel on a minimally utilized highway to avoid the interstate. (I never would have avoided the Interstate before.) Because this road I chose is not busy, pick-up trucks usually go about 80mph in this 60mph zone. This morning I found myself alone on a stretch of the highway with one other car. The driver was going at a slower pace than most. I thought to myself, “Now this is my speed. I am totally comfortable driving alongside this person who is going a reasonable speed.” I felt happy. “Maybe not everyone has to barrel down the highway here. Some people are, thankfully, more sensible.”

I wasn’t always such a slow driver. I used to drive fast all the time on the highways of Nashville, but this is one thing that I guess really rubbed off on me in Asia. The speed limit rarely exceeds 80 kilometers at its highest, which is about 50 mph. On open interstate roadways, it sometimes goes up to 100 km, that’s about 62mph. In most places we drive 25 to 40 kilometers, that’s 15mph and 25mph respectively. That probably sounds unbearably slow, but with the narrow roads, daredevil motorcyclists, and fearless pedestrians, it never seemed slow, and sometimes 40 km was even too fast. Plus, everything is so densely packed that things are very close to one another distance-wise. Here it feels like I drive f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get somewhere. In the same amount of time, 15 minutes, I drive around 25 miles. In 15 minutes in Seoul I could drive about 6 miles.

So, today, I had a shocking revelation. I’m still sorting out how I feel about this. As I drove alongside my peaceful roadway companion, feeling happy, I turned my head, eager to give a nod to convey my approval and a wink as if to say, “Hey, we’ve both got the right idea.” To my utter shock, the driver was an 80-year-old woman with an oxygen mask. I did a double take to make sure.

I guess living in Asia has changed me in many ways. One is that now I drive like an old lady, literally.

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From → Seoul, Texas

7 Comments
  1. Tina Cho permalink

    I enjoyed your post and all the info you give about Halloween and play places! Hope you continue to adjust to life in TX!
    ~Tina Cho

    • jenonymously permalink

      Thanks Tina! I’m adjusting — sort of. Look for more posts coming soon about crazy things they do here in Texas. It’s like living in a whole new country and now I’m going to try my hand at learning some Spanish. It should be easier after studying Korean!

  2. Lilly Guillot permalink

    Ha ha! I hated driving in TX too. I could get you anywhere in DFW by going the back roads. I lived there for 5 years and never got used to it. But, Nashville is a different story. People are much calmer here.

  3. sandra permalink

    Hahaha! This is a very funny post! My name is Sandra and i am so happy to have stumbled upon your blog. I have been living in Ilsan for three years now and was searching for a place to host my son’s fifth birthday party (considering something at heyri). “One More Last Time” was very touching for me to read… esp. since i find myself missing home (Canada) a lot lately and needed the insipration to appreciate where i am. Thank you also for the “Go and Explore” post. It reminded me to get out more ~ also with three kids in tow! I’m sure your blog is full of golden nuggets for me ~ i look forward to reading more!

    • Hi Sandra,
      Your comment made my day. So nice to meet a new “friend!” Ilsan is such a great little city with so much to offer for kids. I know how challenging it is to get out with the kids, but I can promise you that it’s worth all the struggle once you do it. Korea is such an incredible country. It’s easy to miss “home” when you are away from your own country, but now that I’m back home, I miss Korea. I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel that. It took me two full years to truly appreciate its wonder and depth, but I finally got there. I’m so honored that you enjoyed some of my posts. I have many more that I want to get posted, but time is never on my side. I’m holding out hope that I will make the time to write more regularly — perhaps after I feel more settled here in Texas. I find myself doubting that I will ever feel that! Ha!
      Thank you so much for stopping by and saying hello. If you need anything or have questions about Korea, feel free to send me an email anytime.
      Cheers, Jenny

  4. Dara Rookard permalink

    Jenny, I’m from Texas. I’ve lived allover the world. I learned to drive in DFW traffic, the German Autobahn and even Sub-Saharan Africa but, driving in Seoul scares me! Have some Texmex for me! Its a cold one here in Seoul.
    Dara Rookard

    • Hi Dara! Yes, Seoul driving means risking death every time you turn on the engine. Ok, well, it’s not exactly that bad, but it took me months to feel like I could hold my own on the roads in Seoul. I still never got used to the free-for-all that takes place at every intersection. Cars veer and swerve in every direction and no one stays in their lane from one side of the light to the other. Crazy! It was extremely different from driving in Japan where people bow and give preference to other cars while driving. In Seoul, if you let someone cross the street, 5 cars behind you will beep their horns like mad. In Seoul, I learned to be aggressive, to take my spot without hesitation, and finally, I felt like I could drive anywhere, anytime. Apparently, what I unlearned was how to drive fast, which is what everyone does in Texas in their giant 4×4 trucks! ha ha! Good luck and hang in there. Thanks for sharing your comment!

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