My overdue ode to Seoul’s Metropolitan System

by ninameetscafe

Once upon a time, I could go nowhere on my own efficiently or conveniently. That is, before learning any useful Korean, even getting into a taxi involved the lengthy and horrible process of calling someone after getting in so that they could be my mouthpiece to the driver.

And then, about a year and a half ago – yes! – I became acquainted with the subway.

This card represents my relationship with Seoul’s subway system. It also represents my love of people-watching. It represents my love of discovering this city. It represents my mobility. It represents a high, high number of missing my stop and going the wrong way and sometimes getting caught in the train doors and getting a grimy dust-stripe on my shirt. Oh, T-Money card! How I do so love my weird Adam-and-Eve T-Money card.

Considering how consistently I’ve come to Seoul, it’s shocking how long it took for me to discover the beauty of its public transportation system. (Okay, no, I haven’t figured out the buses yet. Later. I definitely will. Soon.) But I can’t help it. My Dad hasn’t even used the subway before. (Maybe once or twice, actually?)

Look. What a bright and shiny picture, right? The maps make so much sense, the announcements are in English, Japanese and sometimes Chinese… trains come in, the trains go out, and there you are, right on your speedy little way.

This is Gwanghwamun, the center of the city where Seoul’s historic main palace and center plaza is. Six months ago, this was an ice-skating rink. Six months before that, it was all green and garden. Now it’s beautiful summer fountain fun (behind me, not pictured), where kids run around screaming and laughing. Other members of the population can be found sweating on the stone benches all around. (It’s monsoon season now, in case you didn’t already know.) The Gwanghwamun subway station absolutely sprawls beneath this intersection.

This is one of the Gwanghwamun station’s exits, and down this ramp…

… is a little interactive arena complete with a gift store. It’s all certainly a piece of Korea’s enormous domestic and international cultural awareness campaign. The elevators on the top left corner lead to the subway.

Obviously, this being Seoul, many stations are also technology hubs with massive computer screens where people play games, figure out where they’re going, get transportation questions answered… oh, and be advertised at, of course. For example, the one I currently hear the most is for an orange juice brand that keeps singing to viewers, “Where is the pulp? Where is the pulp?” (It’s in the juice, of course. Tee hee. In Korea they call it “Pulpy.” LOL. That tune is so catchy! Now I’m singing it in my head.)

Almost all of the stations also have traditional Korean poetry printed on the walls and the glass subway doors. This one station has a long photography exhibition on display. I passed it as I made a train connection.

“Reading Court.” Hehehehe. I SO would have sat with this grandpa to read, but I swear I was late for a coffee date…

But I think one of the funniest things to see in action is the city’s campaign to get everyone to start walking on the right side. OHMYGOSH I really, really wish you could see it. People are so, so confused. I guess traditionally Korean people have walked on the left side. Now they’re being encouraged via posters, signs and changed escalator directions to operate a wee bit differently. The wonderful result is huge masses of people walking on both the left and right sides of the stairs, and crowds weaving intricate mazes past each other. It’s confusing, thus super funny. There are even news reports about the general confusion.

But the Ewha station on Line Number 2 is the one I frequent the most, as I’m on the subway almost every day. You know, just getting around. =) Today I basically spent an hour on the subway, making my way to the neighborhood of the children’s foundation where I volunteer, tutoring a middle school student who is just embarking on his English-learning journey. (It’s so much fun – more on that later.)

I’m in love with the subway. It’s the common denominator for so much of this population, and you wouldn’t believe how many random people I’ve met on it. The subway is kind of a lifeline – the blood vessels of an undeniably lively city.

Oh, and I know this one girl who completely loves public transportation. Right now, she’s in New York, working on improving the city she lives in and loves. So I dedicate this post to my soulroommate Ms. Edie! There’s no way I couldn’t. I’ve never talked about transportation more than with this girl. 😉

I hope you guys are all faring fabulously, by the way. I have a 4-hour part 1 of my 2-day midterm tomorrow! Yup. Hopefully you yourself will spend 4 hours doing something way more fun tomorrow. Hee hee.

Yours truly,


P.S. Coming up: the cafescafescafes…!