Monday, December 26, 2005

This Train is Bound for Crazy

When I moved back to Korea in October, I was blessed to quickly find a job at a private English academy (hagkwon). I teach English (speaking, listening and writing) to Korean kids. It's fun and I've learned so much about ESL issues by being in the classroom everyday and finding what works and what doesn't.

One perk of getting this job was that it came with an apartment nearby. My school is across from Olympic Park, which is a really amazing park. Out of my classroom window I can see this gigantic thumb sticking up in the air, encouraging me to keep trying to teach this confusing language to kids who see me for only 40 minutes that day.

This would be all be ideal if I were able to walk 5 minutes to my apartment after I finish work. However, because the apartment the school furnished me with is a studio (meaning a room with a bed and a bathroom), AnTaek and I have chosen to live in a two-bedroom that his niece vacated when she got married. It's a great place, rent-free. The only problem is that our home is in the Hongik University area in northeast Seoul and my job (see previous paragraph) is in southwest Seoul.

This requires me to make two 45-minute trips each day on the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit (in otherwords, the subway). Because I am a planner (and a Virgo) I have carefully worked out the most efficient system which I will now reveal to you at the risk of exposing my crazy side.

As I start my day, I walk to the Hongik University subway stop. I won't go into the traffic light patterns but suffice to say there are methods. Once I get to the actual subway, I use my traffic card to get through the turnstiles. The card saves valuable time because you don't have to buy a ticket and I always keep a balance on the card so I don't have add money to it at the last minute. There are 10 cars, each with four doors. I head for the last car, next to last door (Car 10-3). This is key because when I arrive at Jamsil for my transfer from Green Line #2 to Pink Line #8, I will be lined up perfectly with the stairs to the other line!

As I enter the subway car, I instantly look for any seat on the end. This means you only have to sit next to one other person and you have more room to put your arm out the other side or lean up against it. If I can't find this immediately, I look for a seat next to someone in that seat so when they get off, I can just scoot on over and be set in the prime seat. If all seats are full, then it's a crap shoot. I usually stand in the middle and look for body language that says they are leaving at the next stop. When I see this I position myself to take their seat.

Subway seats in Seoul are heated which is WONDERFUL. As soon as I sit down, I get out what I'm reading at the moment. Books are best because you don't need much arm space. I've given up reading newspapers because you really need to hold your arms out or refold a bijillion times. After reading for a bit, I usually enjoy a nap. I love sleeping on the subway. I'm always jolted awake just a bit when it stops and the doors open. I crack open my eyes to check on my stop and gauge when I'm getting close to my transfer at Jamsil.

My favorite part of the ride is when we cross the Han River one stop before Jamsil. The view is so refreshing! This is an amazing city of 10 million and I am privileged to be a part of it!

When I get out at Jamsil I walk quickly down the stairs and down the long hallway. One interesting thing about Korea is that we walk on the left hand side here, as opposed to the right hand side like we do in North America. They drive on the right hand side just like we do but when it comes to walking, it's on the left for some reason!

If I hear the bell that sounds when the subway is approaching, I usually jog/run to catch the train on Line 8. If I have time, I stand where the 3rd door of car 4 will stop. (In Korea the doors actually line up everytime in the exact same place. These places are marked with numbers and places to line stand if you are entering and where to leave a space for those getting off the train.) When I get on, I don't sit down as I'm only going one stop to the Mongchontoseong station. When the train stops, I'm right in line for the stairs and it's a quick 3 minute walk straight to my school across from the Oympic Park!

When I come home at night, it's basically the same thing reversed. I get on at the front of the Line 8 train on the way back so I'm lined up with the stairs at Jamsil that I bound up (two at a time). I dash down the other hall to Line 2 where I get in at the 2nd door of car number 2. (appropriately marked 2-2). I see the great view again, this time at night! After 20 stops, I get out at Hongik University again and I'm lined up at the stairs that are closest to our exit #1 which is nearest to our apartment.

I'm so thankful that Seoul has this great system! It's fast (I never wait more than 5-8 minutes for the trains, usually it's much less.), efficient, clean and pretty quiet. And best of all, it's CHEAP! For a 45 minute trip, I only pay 1,100 won which is equivalent to $1.08 US or $1.26 Canadian. This system makes it possible for me to work there and come home to a hot meal, lovingly prepared by my equally hot boyfriend! Life is good!

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Today I was writing my grandmother wishing her a Merry Christmas. I wrote I would miss being around the table with my family, enjoying an amazingly cooked meal (no one can make custard or pumpkin pie like my mom) and clever conversation. One of my favorite memories from my childhood Christmases were the angel chime candles. They were magic the way the brass angels spun around and around- seemingly on their own. Even when I grew old enough to understand why it worked, I kind of liked to pretend that I didn't know and that it actually was magic. I don't mean magic like wizards might do or tricks that a magician can perform. Rather it was the magic like the mystery of how God could come down from on high, become a man and walk among us, His children.

I know many people in this crazy world have to know answers to questions like this mystery. They argue, fight and spend enormous amounts of energy over Christmas. Or whether God created the earth. Or whether God created a gay person. I truly don't understand how these things are possible, but for me, I don't need that understanding to believe that they actually happened.

In some small way I suppose I'm still that kid I was at Christmastime in Kansas, assemblying those angel candles and then stepping back to watch in awe over the music, magic and mystery of heaven on earth.

Merry Christmas to all my family and friends out there. You are my treasures.