The past few weeks have finally brought some fine spring weather to Jeju Island and I’ve been taking advantage of it to enjoy a friend’s motorcycle that I’m borrowing until I teach her to ride. (Many thanks, Mars!) And I’m being reminded almost daily that Jeju is the perfect place to explore by motorbike, especially at this time of the year. A rider gets a sense of truly being part of one’s surroundings while on a bike, rather than viewing them through glass or out an open window as when in a car. (Many bikers refer to cars as “cages” to illustrate the comparative lack of freedom.)
A motorcycle can get its rider places much more quickly and efficiently than a car, as you can usually thread through traffic stopped at a red light and be the first vehicle to move forward on green, thus staying ahead of the gridlocks. (Though on a bike, you must be extra careful that no one is running the red light against you, as you lack the protection given by a car.) There’s also the sheer enjoyment of riding a bike, as leaning the machine and your body as one into corners can feel almost like flying.
Jeju’s roads are also ideal for bikes, with excellent highways on which you can ride, unlike elsewhere in Korea, gorgeous curving coastal roads and great bends on the roads up and down Mount Halla, and narrow, winding village lanes that wend their way past unimagined and undiscovered treasures. In spring, you get the constant sweet scent of the bright yellow rape flowers as you ride, and can enjoy the sight of the new produce growing green and lush in fields divided up by Jeju’s stone walls. I’ve enjoyed stopping by to photograph of cherry trees in bloom near the stadium in Jeju City and up near the university, or riding on a carpet of flowers on my way home from City Hall to Nohyeongdong, as the wind shakes the blossoms from the trees, making them look like soft, pink snowflakes.
But I’ve also been reminded each time I ride of how bad Korean drivers can be, and of a Korean friend’s comment that Jeju’s drivers are the worst in the country. (He’s a professor at Yonsei University at Seoul and rates Busan drivers as the next worse.) Perhaps it’s the fact that many Jeju residents live in rural settings so don’t drive highway and city streets as much as their own village lanes, and I’m sure it’s not helped by the many visitors to the island who rent cars and don’t know where they’re going. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve watched vehicles change three lanes of traffic abruptly without indicating, or stop suddenly in the far left lane because they’ve just realized they actually want to turn right. I love to ride, especially on Jeju, and have ridden for many years and in many countries, but I worry about teaching my friend to do so. It’s a pleasure that I want her to share, but with that pleasure comes an inordinate amount of danger.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer
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