|Way less scary than it looks. Plus digital maps will plan trips for you!|
Despite having arrived in Korea only a mere 48 hours before, I decided to join my friend Julia on Saturday and venture into Seoul proper. The funny thing is, I feel like I can’t even begin to discuss Seoul without first discussing the subway system. While some of you might be snoring already, after having grown up next to New York City, which has one of the world’s least tourist-friendly subway systems, my jaw nearly dropped when I saw the pristine, mind bogglingly efficient complex that is the Seoul subway.
Riding the subway in New York during the summer time is like riding through a filthy sauna. By contrast, though it was still a bit warm once you reached the Seoul underground, the stations themselves are spotless. While waiting you can watch the television screens, which not only count down the time until the next train, but even have a cute little image at the bottom of the screen that shows you where the approaching train is on the map.
|See the little train at the bottom?! I'm easily amused...|
The railway itself is blocked by a glass wall with sliding doors, much you like see when getting on an airport tram. Though the walls are in place under depressing circumstances (to prevent suicides), they make it so that the train doors always stop in the same spot, so you can line up accordingly before the train arrives. This may not mean much to anyone who doesn’t live in a big city, but to anyone who has ever played the where-is-the-train-going-to-stop-so-I-don’t-have-to-awkwardly-push-to-the-nearest-door-game would highly appreciate this convenience.
|What efficiency looks like.|
It's hard to get truly lost. There are digital “foreigner maps” that will determine your route and tell you which trains to take if you can't find your way. As you navigate the long corridors, signs for each subway line don’t just give you arbitrary directions (*cough*Boston*cough*), it gives the end destination for each train and the next stop along that route. Most signs also list major (read: tourist) destinations along that route. Once in the car, the station names are clearly displayed in English and Korean on television screens as you arrive; it even tells you which side to get out on!
|Digital map with advertisement for Spiderman, which you can see in 4D here!!! I'll get to that later.|
Of course, my favorite thing about the train interiors is the fact that I can actually reach the bars you’re supposed to hold onto while riding. No more standing on the tops of my toes to avoid falling over every time the train stops! Once you get out, a lot of the major station stops also have great places to shop (if you’re looking for cheap stuff that is). Ten-dollar shoes that don’t just look like something my grandma would wear? Don’t mind if I do!
One comical aspect about the subway however is the emergency videos. As you walk through the stations you’ll see containers holding gas or smoke masks that one is supposed to use in case of a fire or other emergency…though with thousands of people riding the subway at a time I don’t think a cupboard full of masks will do much. The videos are super dramatic and filled with shoddy special effects showing cartoon-esque explosions and even wounded riders. I guess they make good in-ride entertainment.
|Cause ya know...if there's a fire or major disaster you'll just stop to grab a mask...|
Though Americans are known to work hard, I feel that the transportation here reflects the insanely driven Korean work ethic. They need efficient transportation, cause they don’t have time to deal with late buses and taxis that never show. As my friend here pointed out, even though Korea only established a modern economy about 60 years ago, they built up Samsung, now the second largest electronics maker in the world, in addition to many other internationally renowned companies. This is certainly a product of their work ethic and efficiency.
In other news, I started doing some teaching today, though I’m still in the training phase. I’m still not sure how well a lot of the students understand me but I really enjoy interacting with them. My co-teacher loves to dance and is clearly very popular with his students, so I think I’m becoming popular by association (in addition to the foreigner thing). During lunch they blast K-Pop over the loud speakers, and I mean blast it. You can hear it all over the campus, even outdoors. I don’t know how the students refrain from breaking into spontaneous dance parties.