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After-Pool Thoughts on the Psychology of (My) Cycling in Korea

Well, then.

The day at the pool passed nicely, meaning nobody got seriously hurt and nothing big got broken. For 120 kids, that’s not a half-bad achievement.

Another big achievement: somehow, last night, we pulled off haunted house with almost no injuries, and no serious ones. I did damage a door in a disused part of the building, but it’s likely to be renovated sometime so I’m not overly worried about it.

So now it’s time for a shower and dinner, and while we’re stuck on campus, so after report cards I think I’ll join some teachers to play a few rounds of Settlers of Catan, a game I only ever play at Summer camp… It’s going to be a quiet night, which is what we ALL need.

One funny thing came up on the bus, though: Mike pointed out to me that, regardless of how badly Koreans drive, I am an aggressive cyclist and pedestrian. The thing that was funny was how strongly I reacted to this. I had a very defensive reaction of denial. I was willing to admit at the time that I am a very aggressive pedestrian—aggressive meaning cutting cars off when they are trying to run red lights, yes, well, at least if it looks like a survivable tactic. But I was not at all willing to entertain the idea in terms of my cycling.

I am not sure whether there’s any truth to the idea or not, actually. I know I used to be a somewhat aggressive cyclist, and that kind of halted once I had a few accidents. They weren’t really my fault—people refused to give me what was lawfully my own right-of-way, because many people seem not to think cyclists can ever have such a thing in traffic—but if I’d been more timid then of course I could have evaded the idiocies of other drivers; I was not, I admit, riding defensively.

But I think now, I exercise a fair bit of caution in my cycling. Thats what I think, anyway; Mike said sometimes he sees me “just bookin’ it,” which is something I really can only do on a hill! I’m not really in shape enough, or daring enough anymore, to do it anywhere else. There are stretches of hill where I do sail at high speed, mainly because there are no roads when anyone can pull out of nowhere and kill me. When there’s even a remote chance of that, I think I slow down to reasonable speeds. I think I do.

But do I, really? I can’t say I’m 100% sure. Everyone who cycles in Korea must have a little bit of a daredevil in him or her, because so many people here really do drive like psychopaths on the hunt, or worse, just like ignorant, incosiderate egotists. I know for a fact I don’t cycle that way; I make great efforts not to put anyone else in danger. I tend to give busy roads a wide berth as long as there is an alternate route for me to use. But when there’s no such option, I can’t say for sure that I’m not aggressive.

Maybe I am. I’m not sure. I certainly feel aggressive, when I am cycling, but I don’t think I seek out confrontations in the way Mike suggested I do. It’s interesting. I haven’t been cycling much these days, but when I start again, I’ll have to try take more notice of whether I am riding aggressively, and try to ease off a bit, if indeed I am.

The thing that embarrasses me, though, is that it certainly does fit with a pattern I’ve noticed in Korea: the guy who complains about bad experiences often seems to be subconsciously seeking them out. The guy I knew who complained about how violent Koreans are, and how he got into fights a lot: well, he always thumped his way around town with a kind of ^#%@$!-you look on his face, insulting the country and going into small country bars with his Korean girlfriend. He seemed very obviously to be courting trouble, to the rest of us who knew him.

The thing is, when I say I’ve been “almost killed”, I am probably exaggerating a bit: what I mean to say is, if I had asserted my rights as a cyclist or pedestrian, to cross on a green light or have right of way on this stretch of road, I would have been killed. If I’d failed to stop and check the cross-street at a time when, in a sensible driving culture, I would have no reason to do so, I would have been seriously injured. This might give the impression of more near-misses of the “five inches from the other guy’s bumper” type. I rarely have those anymore, because I’m extremely careful in most areas when on my bike. But I still consider those gaffes to have presented me with unnecessary risk of serious harm. That’s why I say I was “almost killed”.

And I’m willing to admit there’s perhaps a degree of frustrated dismissal of Korea inherent in such complaints: life as a foreigner can be frustrating for all kinds of intangible reasons, so when something so palpable as a crazy driving culture irks you, it can become a very easy subject through which to vent unrelated, or semi-related, emotions.

All of which is somewhat interesting. And still more interesting to me is how quick I was to “defend myself” against the (inferred) idea that I’m not a careful cyclist.

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