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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Be Aware of Very Different Things

Coming to a new country and culture can be daunting. There are so many new things to learn, whether they are customs, manners, food, clothes and yes, even laws.

For most things, the laws here in Korea are no different than laws in any other country.  No one needs to tell you that stealing is bad, killing someone will land you in jail (or worse) or that illicit drugs might get you thrown out of the country. But there are several areas of Korean law to be aware of that are vastly different from most other places.

One the biggest, and perhaps costliest, mistakes one might make in Korea is in the area of self defense.  You DO NOT have the right lay the smack down on someone in self defense. You have a right to defend yourself, but only to the extent that you prevent someone from physically harming you. In other words,

Defend yourself, but don’t fight back

you can physically restrain someone, but if they hit you, you are not allowed to hit back. That’s called fighting. And fighting, regardless of who started it or why, both parties are at fault.  Worse, the one who wins in the street loses in court.  So, for example, imagine you are attacked in the street by a gang of thugs who mean to do you bodily harm. You decide to take matters into your hands (no pun intended) and offer the best defense you were taught – the best defense is a good offense. So, you strike the leader of the gang and hope his followers lose the will to continue. The result: the leader is down and out with a broken nose, but you are saddled with a large cost assigned to you by the court to cover the leader’s medical costs.  This really happened here in Ulsan. And it could happen to you.  According to the Police, you should merely hold or restrain your attacker with one hand while frantically calling the police (call 119)  with the other.  Good luck with that. Koreans seem to know that foreigners are apt to fight rather than restrain and sometimes they appear to egg a foreigner on in the hopes that a fight will ensue. Whoever loses the fight, i.e. whoever has  more medical costs or stays in the hospital longer, wins what is called “Blood money.”  Since most of us don’t like staying in the hospital for long (bad food, loss of job, etc), we’ll get out more quickly, be judged the winner of the fight and therefore the real loser: the one who pays the blood money. They’ll antagonize you to fight and even fake injury or self inflict injury so they can  report you to the police and you’ll be forced to pay blood money.  This, too, has actually happened in Ulsan. It could happen to you.

Be the bystander. Let the EMTs be the heroes

Another area where foreigners can get into difficulty is in helping someone.  In some countries, if you are involved in an accident and fail to render help to an injured person, you can be held responsible. Not so here in Korea. You can be charged with interfering by the very person you are trying to help. Police say that in this situation you should call for help (call 112) but not do anything else.  Many of us have had CPR training or 1st Aid training, but unless you want to pay blood money to the injured person, your best course of action is to  call emergency responders and calmly watch as the injured party continues their death rattle, inspires their own vomit and gasps for air. Be sure to take some video for posting on the gore sites on the internet, but don’t help the injured person.

Finally, traffic laws are something to be aware of.  Although nearly all traffic markings, traffic signs and instructions are either in the international form or even in English, they mean nothing. Absolutely nothing. Those white markings on the street that in other countries means “cross walk”, a space that is considered safe to cross the street without fear of being run over, are not that at all.  Those are marks are similar in nature to the cross-hairs on a telescopic rifle sight, enabling Koreans to better aim their vehicle at you. A red/green traffic light does NOT mean its OK to go when it’s green.  A green light means it’s OK to proceed forward IF and ONLY IF  a Korean on the cross avenue has not decided he wishes to continue through his red light. Never go when its green simply because it’s green. Go when no other cars are coming, including when it’s a red light. If it’s red and no one else is coming, it’s safe to go through.  That goes for just about any other traffic law as well. If it says don’t do X, you can be sure it’s perfectly OK to do X. Parking is a perfect example of this.  Blue and red no-parking signs with the Korean markings  주차금지 (no parking) or solid yellow lines on the right hand side of the road means it’s perfectly OK to park there. Walk down any street in Ulsan and see for yourself that this is true and there are plenty of cars parking there.

There is an exception to the traffic non-laws, however.  That is where the laws are enforced with CCTV and, in some cases Radar-enabled CCTV.  Since the police rarely do much of anything in traffic except push traffic buttons and check their hand phones, Koreans have long relied on CCTV cameras combined with high tech computer systems to handle violators.  If it says “no parking” and there’s a CCTV camera nearby, you can bet you’ll get a ticket if you park there. If there’s a traffic light with a CCTV camera mounted on it, you can bet its safe to go on green and very unsafe to go on red or you’ll get a ticket. If there’s a speed limit sign and a radar speed-camera sign, it’s wise to stay under limit – or you’ll get a ticket. Sure enough, within a few days of violating a law in the presence of CCTV a ticket will arrive in the mail  announcing the violation and the need to pay. But don’t worry about paying the ticket.  The ticket goes to the car owner and not necessarily the driver. So only if you sell your car or you need major repairs will you have to pay those traffic fines. Your best bet is to wait until you’re ready to leave Korea. Then sell your car to an unsuspecting foreigner who will then be saddled with all of your tickets. Problem solved.

We hope you’ve learned something about Korean laws here and hope you’ll keep safe during your stay here.  For more information regarding Korean laws, rules and regulations for which our tongue is planted far less firmly in our cheek, please visit The Official Word section of