Sunday, March 06, 2005

thinking big, thinking small

"Jangui-dong," I said again to the taxi driver. "It's near Korea University."

The driver turned to me, "No, it's not!"

I had this same exchange with two different taxi drivers, neither of whom had the same understanding of "near" that I did. As an American, I find that it's no big thing to hop in a car and drive 30 minutes to go shopping, or to visit a hiking spot two hours away. To me, a drive seems long only after it's been more than three or four hours. The route from DC to Cleveland, for example, is long for me, being about seven hours-- or six if you're in the mood to speed (my brothers can tell you about my bizarrely truthful reaction after being pulled over for speeding en route to Cleveland* once).

Jangui-dong, specifically Dolgoji Station and Seok-gwan Intersection, is only about 5-7 minutes away from Korea University's main gate by car at night. The streets are rarely a problem, so I felt safe saying that Jangui-dong is "near" KU. The taxi drivers, though, probably thought that "near" meant something more like "one or two blocks away at most."

A co-worker of mine sagely noted that "geography affects psychology," which is very true. It certainly affects how we big-sky Americans see the world. If you drive three or four hours in South Korea, you'll have crossed most of the peninsula's north-south axis. For crowds-and-mountains Koreans, three hours is a long-ass drive.

Next time, I'm going to try an experiment. Instead of saying that Jangui-dong is "near" KU, I'm going to venture that it's "not far" from KU. We'll see if that elicits another argument.

*My brother Sean was an undergrad at the #3-ranked Cleveland Institute of Music (Juilliard in NYC and Curtis Institute in Philly being #1 and #2). We'd visit him there every semester. I'm sorry, Clevelanders, but CIM, Severance Hall, and maybe the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame seem to be about the only redeeming features Cleveland has. Overall, I found the city almost as depressing as Birmingham, Alabama, though for different reasons, of course. Birmingham bears scars I'm not about to mock. Cleveland, on the other hand, will never live down the humorous fact that its river once caught on fire because of the pollution content. And we make fun of fish for swimming in their own toilet?


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