While some believe the leading cause of death in South Korea is sudden fan death, the truth of the matter is that deaths involving car accidents are far more common. I have not actual seen evidence of this (for which I am thankful) but the sheer numbers of vehicles on the road at any given time make the point inevitable.
Taxis here drive faster and more chaotically than I have experienced before. To be fair in my judgment, I have never been a regular taxi patron. A few times in Germany, Chicago, and the collectivos in Chile wrap up my global taxi time quite neatly. I have never had to close my eyes in those places.
When I am in a taxi here, I often have to cover my eyes. I never plan on doing this, but it occurs as an involuntary reaction to the things I see around me. Drivers drive too fast for my comfort, so when another vehicle merges in front of us, all I see are visions of broad siding. This has happened at such a basic level that I have literally felt us being broadsided. My nerves jumped and my heart sank. My mind went directly to that place it goes when it knows all anyone can do is wait and see what is meant to come next... and it sometimes threw my hands over my eyes. All in all, the taxis in Seoul have challenged my abilities to put the future and the past aside and to simply exist in the now. Meditation has never come so readily.
Thus far I have adapted quite well, I think. I don't pay as much attention to the traffic around us and I actually enjoy some of the scenery the city offers. What I have come to realize is that ALL of the traffic drives too fast for my comfort, which is good because it ensures fewer accidents. If Portlanders were driving in Seoul, they would surely cause more accidents than Seoulites cause on their own. It is simply a matter of understanding the space around you and respecting the unwritten rules of how things work.
In fact, many taxi drivers are so comfortable maneuvering through their element that they watch their favorite soap operas as they drive. I have seen this in the last few taxis I have been in. The satellite navigation system can be used to help you find your way or it can be used to watch the latest in daytime/prime time love stories. Apparently, I live in a common enough area that the navigation system is not necessary. I, too, am drawn to the screen when scenes grow heated: women scream and men cry. Who could turn away from such raw human emotion?
**The phone rings** The taxi driver picks up--and now we have a taxi driver chatting on the phone, while watching soaps, while driving. Aah, the safety of the back seat. Perhaps I will take the subway next time.