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!


Anonymous said...

This was a great post. I miss riding the train! I love these glimpses into your life in Korea. And I love how your mind works.

Aaron and I were just talking about the lack of decent public transportation in the U.S. (And who is Aaron, you might ask? Check your e-mail - I sent you a really long, boring, drawn out explanation!)


abogado-david said...

Oh stop it! You're an American! Stop pretending and admit that all you want to do it jump in your car and fly into a freeway that's backed up to a standstill. You miss having to cross three lanes of traffic in one mile to make your exit! You miss having to watch the gas tank and scope every single gas station to see if (a) their gas is less than USD $2.25 a gallon (fat chance), (b) there are any open gas pumps (rollin' the dice), or (c) if you do get off at this gas station, will you be able to get back on to the road in the direction you were going, or will you have to go in the wrong direction for a few blocks just so you can turn around and wait to make a left-hand turn onto the busy divided four-lane street. You long for that satisfying jolt of energy you feel when your car begins to fishtail on snowy and icy roads! You covet using gallons of windshield wiper fluid to keep the subsequent salty brine off the windshield when the sun hits it in the morning, or the paniced headlights blare into your windows at night (which is pretty much when you head to work and leave work this time of year). Where's the excitement of doging the occasional dropped furniture on the freeway? How can you not miss the sudden bottleneck and rubbernecking around a highway trooper giving some other idiot a ticket? And parking! It's Seoul, dude! Finding parking has to be WAY more fun than in Kansas City! Think of all the opportunities to contribute to municipal government that you are missing by not feeding meters or paying tickets when the meters run out! If that doesn't make you cry out to feel a steering wheel in your hands again, CONSTRUCTION will! Uneven lanes! Orange cones and barrels! Randomly placed one-way streets! Drunk drivers! Stupid drivers! Drivers using hand-held cell phones! Slow senior citizens who are terrified to go to the grocery store! Children running into the streets after their dodge ball! The low winter sun in your eyes everywhere you go! Glare from headlights when the street is wet! Talk radio! Public radio! Commercialized music radio! The radio of the guy stopped next to you! Remembering to renew your license plates! Paying for insurance! Liability, collision, or full coverage--what'll it be? Higher rates if you live further into the city! High deductible and low premiums, or low premiums and high deductibles? Watch the speed limit! Watch for cars abandoned by the side of the road! Watch for deer standing by the side of the road! Don't tell me you don't want it all back. You're and American! You love freedom still, don't you! Don't tell me you've gone completely native to forget that a gasoline powered internal combustion engine is in our blood! No, by gum, it powers our very hearts! Say it! Just say it! You miss cars!!!

Jolie said...

I, too, have had great experiences while riding mass transit. Luckily, Portland's mass transit is very good...for America. Nothing compares to the precision of the Korean subway system. I was blown away by how quickly trains arrive. A long wait in Korea is 5 minutes. A short wait in Portland is 15-20 minutes. Throw a little snow into the mix and the buses come to a halt.

I don't know how you can sleep on the train. I guess that just means I have to worry about you, since you don't seem to mind.

I think abogado-david misunderstood the definition of comment. His is more like a novel. Maybe he could comment less on your blog and actually write his cousin every once and a again. He obviously has time to spare. :)

This is going to sound like a broken record, but again your post is amazing. I love the thought you put into all of your posts. I just slap stuff together and call it good. Yours is great!