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South Korea: Government says to walk on the right side

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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

After generations of doing the opposite, South Koreans will be directed to walk, go up and down stairs, and use escalators on the right-hand side beginning Oct. 1. Entrance signs will be flipped at airports and transit stations; newly installed arrows will guide the wayward.

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South Korea has been a right-hand-drive nation since its first president, Syngman Rhee, ordered his people to do the opposite of their former colonizers, the Japanese.

But walking on the left is something that Koreans have done since before they can remember – for the simple reason it was what they were taught. The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs says it’s trying to bring the country in line with “global walking culture” as Korea endeavors to become an international business hub. But not all residents are so sure about the decision.

“It won’t be easy,” says Lee Pil-young, a parking lot attendant, adding that people will probably go up and down stairs whichever way they please. “I don’t think it’s helpful.”

The ministry is confident that walking on the right will bring an estimated increase in walking speed of 1.2- to 1.7-fold (in a land where “quickly, quickly!” is a mantra), and a 13 to 18 percent reduction of walkers’ “mental burdens.”