Jaywalking and the Revolution
No one jay walks. Even when the roads are empty, even when everyone is drunk and stumbling home from the bars, they will not, under any circumstances, cross that road until the light changes. There are even sensors on the edge of the sidewalk that, when they detect you creeping forward, will warn you—in an insistently polite, chipper and feminine voice—to back up and wait for the light to change. The wait takes forever too, at least 2-3 minutes, which maybe doesn’t seem that long but absolutely is.
So of course I jay walk whenever I get the chance. I’ll wait casually at first, blending in—as much as it’s possible for a 6 foot tall white person to blend in here, anyway—while I look for an opening. If I spoke enough Korean, maybe I’d even make some banal, grating small talk. “Overcast again, huh folks?” or, “So Daegu FC lost again? The bums.” Then, when the cars stop coming, I make my move. I don’t run; it would be beneath my dignity. I just give a quick nod to whatever little old lady is standing beside me, then stride across all four lanes with what I imagine to be confidence and style.
The long wait means that some decent sized crowds tend to congregate, sometimes as many as a couple dozen people end up standing on either side, facing each other down like rival posses. When I break ranks, all those pairs of eyes end up squarely on me. Half burn a whole in my back, while the other half stare with expressions ranging from preoccupied indifference to stern disapproval. I like to think that a lesser man would hurry himself up at this point, whether out of shame or embarrassment or self-conscious insecurity. Not me though, I just keep the same measured pace, and try to make as much eye contact as possible with the people waiting across the street.
I just don’t understand why they wait. These people are busy. Presumably they have someplace to be; otherwise they wouldn’t be out walking in the first place. And yet they wait. They bow to that most callously impersonal of all government regulation: the street sign. I hope one day to lead an exodus, to inspire everyone by my brave example. Sometimes, while waiting, I feel the urge to make an argument in that direction, but my Korean is hardly good enough to order a drink, never mind incite an act of civil disobedience, however mild and innocuous it might seem.
But one day, maybe, when the roads are particularly deserted, and my fellow pedestrians are in a particular hurry, we will all gather at the edge of the sidewalk, and there, we will make a collective decision. First, we will look at the DO NOT CROSS sign, preferably with an expression of casual, roguish indifference. Then we will look at each other, and although no words will be spoken, an agreement will be made, a tacit understanding. No longer will we bow to the petty tyranny of Korean traffic laws, our looks will say. And then with a comradely nod, together, we will cross the street. Hand in hand—or not hand in hand, I’m flexible on this point—with grandmothers in puffy, shapeless coats, young businessmen in painfully earnest sweater-vests, and whoever else is there, I will march with my new Asian brethren like an army heading to war, confident and eager for victory. Word of our deed will spread, down to Busan and up to Seoul, to the Hagweons and Army bases, even across the DMZ and into Pyongyang, where millions of oppressed North Koreans will suddenly look upon their dear leader with newly opened eyes, and rush the streets in a frenzied jaywalking orgy, toppling the regime one crosswalk at a time. One peninsula, one land, no more waiting for the fucking light to change.