Thursday, May 29, 2008

Shaky foundations

[Update, June 4 - at bottom]

At 2:00 on Tuesday I heard the sirens of a civil defense drill and looked out to see the 'beige guards' occupying one of the main intersections in Banghwa-dong. I found this odd, as they usually don't stop traffic at that intersection and also because it was May 27. Usually such drills take place on the 15th of the month.

These drills strike me as interesting because it's one of the few times that this society intentionally stops the flow of traffic and people - not just slow down, but actually stop. It's also interesting to see people generally obey the rules (though I have seen the guards in their vehicles swerve and block traffic from moving).

When the drill was over one of these flags was left behind. I couldn't help but think it'd be handy for crossing the street when you're late and don't want to wait for the traffic signal.

It wasn't until I read Brian's post that I realized this was an earthquake drill. The Chosun Ilbo "Apartment Republic" cartoon he posted sums up one of the possible problems that could befall Korea in an earthquake: apartments tumbling down like dominoes. When things like this happen without earthquakes, there's good cause for worry:

The collapse of the Seongsu Bridge on October 21, 1994.

The collapse of the Sampoong Department Store on June 29, 1995.

While I'm sure these events led to new laws regarding the construction of buildings, whether these laws were enforced would be a good question.

I couldn't help but note Korean-Japanese director Sai Yoichi's choice of words in an interview (via Korea Pop Wars) when he described Korea's film industry:
As a result of the government’s unified effort to take things to new level, films became eligible for corporate investment. Because they built film into a huge entertainment industry in an unduly short period, it’s come to resemble a structurally unsound building. Its foundations are wobbly.
I've looked before at how not only revisionist history but also the need to recoup larger and larger budgets when making movies has affected the quality of those movies, particularly movies about 20th century history. Though Korean films are struggling against American films at the box office right now (apparently American beef imports are the only American import than is of import at the moment), Kim Ji-woon's The Good, The Bad, The Weird looks amazing and should do well.

Back to Brian's post, he finishes by mentioning that traffic safety drills might be of more importance to students than earthquake drills, as traffic accidents kill so many young people, especially vehicles hitting pedestrians. One such case from last year comes to mind. It was mentioned in passing in the Korea Times as one of the top searches on Naver that week. More information can be found in this ohmynews article.

At 3:24 pm on October 23, 2007, in Anyang, three female 3rd year high school students, Ms. Lee, Ms. Mun, and Ms. Park, were killed when 42 year-old Mr. Yun plowed into them with his minivan.

The Pyeongchon Technical High school students, who had been preparing for the school festival, died on the spot as other students looked on.

Yun had consumed soju at lunch, and had a blood alcohol level of 0.056%.

Yes, Ajeossi's ruin everything. Especially when they're drunk. And nobody chooses to respond to them.

Of course, if you were going to teach children about traffic safety, say in school, the message would have to be reinforced fairly frequently - the once a year 'crackdown' approach would be rather insufficient. Just yesterday I saw some of the students in one of my classes holding the door closed against the efforts of the other students to get in. I decided to show them what could happen to their fingers if they played with doors (a lesson I learned when I held a door closed as a kid and tore a fingernail off my neighbour). I took them out into the hallway, showed them a pencil, and then placed it beneath one of the hinges and closed the door. Crunch. When I saw the look on their faces I hoped I'd gotten through to them. About 30 seconds after I left class I looked back to see that they had pinned a boy's foot between the door and frame trying to force it closed.

[Update - From this Chosun Ilbo article:
According to the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs on Tuesday, an average of 3.34 people died in traffic accidents per every 10,000 cars in Korea in 2006, more than double the OECD average of 1.53. Korea's figure dropped slightly to 3.08 last year, but it still remains high.

In 2007, 6,166 people died in 211,662 traffic accidents in Korea, for an average of 16.9 deaths everyday on the roads. The accidents happened most frequently in the evening, between 6 and 10 p.m., when 24.4 percent of the total number of accidents, or 1,505 cases, took place. Weekends were especially hazardous, with 14.8 percent, or 913, of the fatal accidents happening on Fridays, and 16 percent, or 989, on Saturdays.]


Sonagi said...

While I'm sure these events led to new laws regarding the construction of buildings, whether these laws were enforced would be a good question.

A friend of mine taught at Samsung for a couple of years and was housed in a newish apartment in Bundang. Her businessmen students told her with a chuckle that they would never live in those apartments because they'd probably fall down within twenty years. This conversation took place just prior to the collapse of Sampoong.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of traffic safety... somebody must be doing something right.

Some Korean traffic stats from the Korea Statistics Office ...

1991: 13,429 traffic deaths, 4,247, 816 registered vehicles

2005: 6,376 traffic deaths, 15,396, 715 registered vehicles

That's roughly 3x more cars but half the fatalities.


I like your blog so much I got a hard-on. You tell it like it is and staight forward. I wonder home many of your readers (or if you) have ever seen anyone hit. I have seen two men hit(murdered) by drivers and one woman who literally ran into the side of a bus while trying to run across the street.
And to add to the Sampoong deparment store story, management of the store convened a meeting before the store opened as there was a crack that had developed going from the basement up to the top floor. The decided to leave the store open, but they would all take the day off. Class act.