Sunday, February 6, 2011
The Seoul train
Clean, timely, and expansive, Seoul’s subway system is said to be one of the most modern in the world. I would also argue that it’s also one of the world’s most orderly. After spending the first few weeks appreciating the efficiency of Seoul public transport, I began to notice some curious facets of Korean subway etiquette. For one, any visit to a subway platform in Seoul will present commuters patiently lined up for the oncoming train to the right and left of the train doors; a sight that would send many a-New Yorker reeling. Even in rush hour when literally hundreds of Koreans are pouring in and out of every train, there seems to be some method to the madness (even though the sheer number of people squeezing into each train car can make you feel like sardines have it pretty nice). And regardless of the time of day, volume of passengers, or subway line, it’s never hard to notice the cleanliness of the subways – graffiti, hardened gum, and trash conspicuous only by their absence – and the quietness of the passengers – most of whom are simply dozing or watching TV and playing games on their phones (yes, there’s perfect service even several stories down).
In addition to it being a rather pleasant experience to ride the subways here, it can also be rather entertaining. The ajashis selling their wares never fail to surprise, vending everything from knee braces and razors plated in fake gold, to drain cleaners and exercise bands. The videos demonstrating how to react in emergency subway situations are often less informational and more humorous, showing re-enactments of bomb blasts and crashes that wouldn’t even earn a spot on daytime. Of course there are also always the people who fall asleep and can’t help but bob on their neighbor’s shoulder for the whole 45-minute ride. And then there are the sights you just can’t be prepared for: an awkward teenager surreptitiously sketching you on a scrap of paper, a young woman robotically chewing up pepero sticks and spitting them back into their box, or a lone tween taking dozens of pictures of herself on her iPhone. Needless to say, whether passing the time by reading or people watching, commuting by Seoul subway is hardly boring.