In the U.S. we are used to organized, orderly parking. In fact, we are near obsessed with it. We have meter maids whose sole job is to make sure no one’s car has overstayed its welcome in a particular parking space or even a particular block. Nearly everyone has a story about themselves or someone they know who has parked temporarily in a place they shouldn’t have, gone inside for “just a second” only to find their car gone (towed and impounded) when they return.
In Moscow parking seemed to be a competitive, nerve-racking sport. Who can be the most creative with their parking? Who can squeeze into that last little bit of curb, even if it is on the corner of an intersection. Who can take up just the right amount of the sidewalk? How long can you double park? Multiple times I had students tell me at the beginning of class that they may have to leave to go move their car if they get a phone call. And when a car accident was heard outside, my students would jump to the window and look down to see if their car had survived. Aside from accidents which are unpredictable and a part of everyday life in Moscow, the policy was, if you don’t want a dent or worse in your car from double parking, leave your number on the windshield of your car. That way you can easily be contacted. What did people do before cell phones?!
So far in Ulsan, parking has impressed me. Not only are people fairly courteous to drivers who are waiting for a parking place, but even “scary” drivers seem to be able to squeeze into the smallest parking places. Parking spaces in parking lots are smaller than in Russia and the U.S. and maybe they have to be. Korea does have a relatively small landmass. It makes me wonder how the parking section of driver’s ed goes in Korea … if there even is driver’s ed! While there seem to be slight differences between parking in Moscow and in Ulsan, the surprising thing is that leaving a phone number is fairly common practice … only Koreas have come up with a twist on leaving a phone number.
When I got picked up from the airport, I noticed a funny little cross-stitched pillow on the driver’s side of the dash board. It was visible from the road and all around, and I thought, “Huh, that’s sort of a silly little pillow.” It reminded me of cars in the U.S. that are decorated with all sorts of things inside, from fuzzy dice to dancing hoola ladies to expensive, collectable stickers. Only, this pillow stood out because it was the only kitschy thing inside this van. Other than the pillow, there wasn’t any collection of things or junk on the dashboard or elsewhere in the van. I took a small mental note, and didn’t consider it again until I went out to find the bus the next morning. That’s when I saw another car with a small pillow on the driver’s side of the dashboard. When I got closer, I noticed it had a phone number. I thought, “Brilliant! Rather than leaving a crumby handwritten note that could be washed away by the rain or easily dismissed as an advertisement, Korean drivers have embroidered pillows with their phone number.” Wow. While the presentation isn’t something I would prefer, the idea is fabulous. After that, I kept noticing these “contact pillows” everyone’s was unique and some had “Sorry”, yes, written in English on them.
Perhaps we should adapt this practice of double parking and leaving a number in the U.S. Of course you would have to convince the government that there may be a better way to spend public funds than meter maids, and you definitely would have to be in a larger city than Blackfoot … but it’s an idea ;)