Thor's Korea Diary

The Accident

@1 April 2001

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A while back I tore a leg muscle, so I've been forced to quit running for a while. It is too hard to stay completely grounded, and today I went walking, a wending way down through the market stalls, then up precipitously steep, very long laneways that lead all the way to the top of town, where the mountains have not yet been concreted under.

"Laneway" is really a misnomer because although that is their width (emphasized by the three to four story buildings on each side), they have the life of sometimes busy roads. Blue, one-ton trucks are forever squeezing in and out of them and coming to sudden confrontations with each other, for there is rarely room to pass. Pedestrians are in constant danger of collision with aggressive motor bikes, and small boys make harum-scarum roller blade runs of a half kilometer or more (never with crash helmets).

It was coming on dark, and I was climbing steadily up past the local school when a motor scooter shot past. Nothing unusual about that, although I don't know if I'd have the nerve myself to accelerate a bike down an incline as long and steep as this one. You could not be in full control. Almost immediately I heard a thump and cruel grating of metal on tarmac. He'd braked suddenly, the little wheels of the motor scooter had hit a slippery patch and gone every which way. Now he was lying motionless on the roadway with the machine on top of him. Its motor was still revving.

As I approached, the rider experimentally moved a leg and an arm. Well at least he wasn't dead. Then he began to talk in rhythmical, even cadences. I'll swear he was declaiming blank verse. He was a heavy man, roughly dressed, perhaps sixty years old. His solid face was deeply flushed, and blood was running freely from a cut on his forehead. He didn't give me a glance.

Another middle aged man in glasses, waspishly thin, clerks in spectacles had also noticed the accident. His first gesture was not to see, and walk away, but perhaps because a foreigner had approached the scene he checked himself and slowly walked over. While I picked up the motor scooter and switched off the engine, he helped the old man up and quietly spoke to him.

Hobbling, the old fellow found a box to sit on under an awning, and kept declaiming in cadences. He did not appear to speak to the waspish man, who eventually moved away. A badly scuffed baseball cap was still lying in the centre of the lane, so I retrieved that and hung it on the scooter's handlebar. There seemed to be nothing else to be done. Still with blood streaming down his face, the old man sat stolidly on his box, looking into space, declaiming his verses. He was either very drunk or very religious.

Most curious of all though, the three actors in this little drama had not managed to make even the most minimal personal contact. The old man had remained apparently oblivious of his compatriot's help. Neither Korean made the slightest acknowledgment of my presence. No eye contact, no voice contact, not a twitch of recognition. Truly, I am a ghost.

* Note on personal names: all names in this Diary have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals,
unless stated otherwise.

"The Accident"... copyrighted to Thor May 2001; all rights reserved
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