I’ve driven a car for many years in America, but my first time driving overseas happened in Korea while on Jeju Island. A friend of mine had strongly recommended that I rent a car on Jeju because the public transit there isn’t as good as much of the rest of Korea, so I made a reservation in advance. My car was a little white Chevy Spark. I didn’t name it Sparky—that seemed too obvious—but I wanted to stick with an electrical theme, so I named it Lightning. Thus, every time I got in that car I could say that it was time to ride the lightning.
Koreans drive on the same side of the road as Americans and road conditions there are good. Gas is definitely more expense on the island and thankfully I got through my time on Jeju needing only to refuel just before returning my car to the rental office. While I didn’t have any issues with Korean drivers I do think they are slightly more aggressive than we are. This is best seen at the myriad number of intersections on Jeju that just have flashing yellow lights for all incoming directions, so drivers have to figure out among themselves who has the right of way.
There are almost no cops on patrol on Jeju’s roads, and the ones that are there drive around with their police lights constantly on. I found this really weird and at one point I thought a motorcycle cop was stopping me but he just drove past after I pulled over. Perhaps to make up for its scarcity of police officers, Jeju has radar cameras in plentiful abundance. Thankfully my car’s GPS warned me whenever I was approaching one so I avoided getting any speeding tickets. Locals tend to go well over the speed limit on Jeju’s roads, slowing down just before hitting a radar camera and then speeding back up once they’ve cleared it.
Jeju Island isn’t that big, but it still can take some time to drive to various places and while driving along I sampled some Korean radio. I found quite a mix of stations while on the island, though some of the stations could only be received in certain regions. Among others, I came across an English language station, a hip-hop station, talk-radio station, a classical music station, and even a station whose offerings I can only describe as the Korean version of American country music.
I can’t really say I have any really crazy stories from driving on Jeju, but I do have one really embarrassing one. After picking up my rental car I started driving towards my hostel, which was on the south side of the island. It was getting late and at first I wasn’t sure if my car’s lights were on, but as it got darker it became clear that they were not. Somehow, someway, my idiot gaijin self couldn’t figure out how to turn on the headlights of my car. Thanks to my good vision I could still make out the road as I was going down the highway, but I knew it was really dangerous to be driving at night with only the parking lights on. Along the side of the road were these concrete barriers with gaps between them that I kept missing as I passed. Eventually I caught one of the gaps and safely pulled over. A minute later I found the headlight dial, slapped myself in the forehead for being so stupid, and then drove for another 30 minutes to the hostel. Please don’t tell any Jeju cops (or my rental car company) about this incident.