I was talking with Jieun’s mom about how stressful it is getting food in Korea and she mentioned that the same thing is stressful for immigrants in the U.S. I totally recognize that now. I frequently see people struggling to communicate at restaurants in America, and I remember that happening a lot when I worked in food service (Great America Farmer’s Market food court). There’s something particularly difficult about communication in regard to getting food in a foreign place. Maybe it’s the fact that there are so many options? I’m not sure. But it’s something.

In contrast, I’ve been driving a decent amount in Korea, and driving in Korea is completely stressless for me. Almost entirely because of Gini, the best GPS software I’ve ever used.

First an aside. I can’t remember the details, but I think several of my ancestors visited America decades ago. One’s visit is the reason we spell our name “Chai”. Our last name is usually translated “Choi” in English, but when he visited, there was no standard spelling, so when asked how it should be spelled, he wrote “Chai”, because in Korean, the name is pronounced like the English word “chair,” but without the ‘r’. As his descendants, we followed his lead (except for my uncle. When he was passing through immigration, the person there looked at the spelling of “Chai,” thought it was wrong, and changed it to “Choi”). But we gave up on the “chair without the ‘r'” pronunciation thing since no one does it.

Anyway, one of these descendants, not sure if it’s the Chai one or someone else, wrote a book that included his experience visiting America. Years ago, my cousin who had a copy translated some excerpts from it for me. Really interesting. Like, during his visit he went to a Yankees game to see Babe Ruth play. But he writes that he was just as impressed by another player on the team, a fellow by the name of Lou Gehrig. That my great-grand-something-or-other saw Ruth and Gehrig play blows my mind.

One other thing he wrote stuck with me. He wrote about how much more civil American society is. As an example, he wrote how in America, people consistently follow the traffic lights, even when there aren’t other cars around. That impressed him, because Korea was decidedly unlike that.

Ever since reading that, and based on my experiences elsewhere, I’ve had a working theory that how people drive somewhat reflects how advanced a society is. I have no idea what my criteria for “advanced” is, and it’s probably a really small correlation, but I’m sticking with it. For example, looking at videos of driving in India, it seems like it’s absolutely nuts there, no rules whatsoever. This says to me that it’s got a ways to go in terms of development. China has more organization, but the rules (e.g. traffic lights) still feel largely optional there. Must like the country itself. Korea is interesting to me, because I feel like the driving has changed since I first visited in ’95. Back then, it was crazier; cars regularly ran red lights, and the lane markings seemed extraneous; I’d regularly see 6 cars driving side by side on a 4-lane road. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Cars stay in their lanes. I don’t see cars just blatantly disregarding lights (except for jumping the gun on red lights that are about to turn green, which I think is weird, but everyone seems to do it). Korea’s developed as a society.

Anyway, like I said, driving in Korea is stress-free because of Gini, this incredible GPS software that everyone seems to have. It uses a huge screen, probably twice the diagonal length of typical GPS devices in the U.S, and the detail on it is incredible, probably because Korea is so small and they can fit a lot of info on it. Like, it reports the speed limits everywhere, has diagrams of every on/off-ramp, and even indicates where speed bumps are. Amazing detail.

So it’s an interesting experience driving here. I never know where I am. I don’t know in what direction I’m traveling. I don’t know the name of the street I’m on. I don’t know the name of the street I need to take next. I never know exactly where I’m going. I don’t think I could even if I wanted to, because I read Korean so slowly; by the time I’ve fully decoded a sign, it’s passed. But it’s totally fine. Gini’s so good, all I need to do is see the zoomed map that says the next turn I need to make, and I get to where I need to go. I don’t feel stressed about it at all.

Interestingly, this is in contrast to Jieun’s mom. She usually only drives from her place in Yangpyeong to Giwoong’s apartment in Suseo when she comes to Seoul, taking the subway from there to anywhere else she needs to go. We’ve been driving to all these other places she’s not familiar with, and it’s stressed her out a little. She’s constantly trying to get her bearings, figure out where we are, where we’re going, reading all the signs to figure things out. It’s taxing.

There’s a spiritual lesson there, I think. When you know you can trust what’s guiding you, not knowing where you are and where you’re going doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, it’s harder when you try to figure out where you’re going. When you just trust that consistently following the next turn you’ve been shown will get you where you’re supposed to go, it can be a peaceful experience.

And that’s what driving in Korea is like.

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