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Posts tagged ‘Seoul subway’

The Subway

The Seoul subway is efficient, cheap, and clean. There is a remarkable lack of any odor whatsoever, with the exception of Thursday (and I’m told Friday) evenings, where there is a definite pickled aroma in the air. Everyone looks completely sober, if a little more cheerful than during the rest of week. Oh, and the subway is safe. So safe that I once watched a woman put down her belongings, including shopping bags from high end stores, walk a few meters away and out of direct line of vision with them, and make a phone call. As a former New Yorker, I was amazed that no one stole them; as a current Israeli, I was amazed that no one called the bomb squad. The woman’s belongings were completely undisturbed when she returned.

Volucris and I have both described how crowded the subway can get during rush hour, but it’s not just the trains, but the stairs and escalators as well. It’s just a sea of humanity, and it involved a learning curve and sense of adventure to navigate that sea. I will admit to claiming enthusiasm in uncomfortable situations so that my little ones don’t get alarmed, and the first time we faced a staircase up from the subway that made me eerily aware of how ants must feel, I made sure to project extra enthusiasm. With the baby on my back in a carrier, one girl holding one hand and the second the other, I made sure that Volucris was close behind and we plunged in. It turns out, it’s sort of fun, and coming from Israel I don’t mind bumping into people and being bumped into, and once we got a feel for the movement of the crowd it was actually very simple to navigate.

And speaking of navigation, the entire subway system is set up to maximize the information that a passenger might need.

At the platforms, there are signs that tell you how far away the next train is.

You can see that the little red rectangle is just one and one half stations away, and you can watch the news, too.

In the cars, there are displays over the doors informing you of what stop you are approaching.

We are leaving the green dot and traveling toward the orange dot.

Everything is in Korean and English, so that foreigners have some hope of getting around.

There are even monitors that not only point the way out of the car, but they show public service announcements. One very common one is a graphic video on what to do in case of fire. Honestly, at first it freaked me out, but now I hardly even notice it anymore, just like everyone else.

The trains themselves are even color-coded according to the line they travel on.

And I didn’t get a picture of the giant interactive maps in subway stations, but with a simple touch of the screen you can plot a route or see a satellite view of the neighborhood you’re in.

In other words, if the Seoul subway system were any more civilized, there would be individual masseuses and hot drinks. South Korea has the best service of anywhere I have ever been, and this sort of consideration of weary travelers is outstanding.

I’ve fallen in love with this city a thousand different ways, and the subway is one of the reasons. Honestly, if I could fit the Seoul subway system in my carry-on alongside Cloud Man’s Kindle, it would be coming home with me.


Last one out, turn off the lights.

Remember how I told you that Seoul would empty out for the Lunar New Year holiday? Remember how I couldn’t believe it?

Seoul is very crowded. The Seoul subway is insanely crowded. And during rush hour, it’s pardon-me-is-that-my-elbow-or-yours? crowded. It’s so crowded that the girls can stand in the middle of train car and I’m not worried about them falling because the other hundred people in the aisle will prop them up.

This photo was taken today, during rush hour. (The number two train, green line toward Jamsil, if you must know).

The mass transit culture here is much like it is in Israel. You give up your seat for the old, the infirm, and pregnant women and women with babies. It is very unusual for me to travel even a full subway stop with Sagitta strapped to my back before someone gives me their seat, no matter how crowded the train. Young healthy people do not expect to sit on the subway. As a result, we coined the expression “when Volucris gets a seat on the subway” to mean roughly the same thing as “when pigs fly”.

Today, he got his own row. Seoul really is emptying out.

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