Today’s Korean Phrase: Susong= transportation
Living in Paju is very nice. It is green with a lush forest, our campus is quite lovely, and there is a great art village just down the road (which I will blog about at a later date). The problem is, if you want to go into town to eat at a non-Korean restaurant, see a movie, get a drink or basically just get out of GEV, Seoul is about a 45 minute bus ride away. As I’ve grown more accustomed to living here in Korea I’ve been going out with friends and using Seoul Metro quite often, so I thought I would share with you some fun facts about how I get around here.
We’ll start at the very beginning: After the amazing week spent in Virginia at Amanda’s wedding, my parents drove me to Washington DC for my Korean Air flight to Seoul. I arrived at the airport with 2 huge suitcases, a rolling carry-on, and a backpack. Well, unbeknownst to me there was not only a weight limit for your checked baggage, but for your carry-on items as well. They made me weigh my backpack and rolling bag, and I was WAY overweight. Luckily, Expert Packer Mom was still with me and helped me shift things around, paid $200 in overweight fees, and I was off through security.
**Soapbox moment** If they are going to limit our carry on weight, shouldn’t they weigh the person along with the baggage? I feel at my 135lbs I should be allowed to bring more stuff than the person weighing 300lbs if it is a question of weight allotment in the cabin…
Anyway, I was off and away on my direct 14 hour flight to Seoul International Airport. Korean Air is a wonderful airline. I had such a great time on the flight I didn’t even need to use my sleeping pills I had brought just in case I started to get cabin fever. They fed us two more than decent meals, there were movies and television to watch, video games to play, and even Korean Language lessons to take. I got some reading and knitting done and before I knew it I was passing through customs looking for the driver who was sent to pick me up and take me to GEV. After the initial panic of not having a phone and not having a clue who or what I was supposed to be looking for, I felt like a rock star when I saw the driver waiting for me with my name on his sign.
After that I enjoyed the seatbelt-less, 45 minute taxi ride to Paju, where I learned that taxi drivers in Seoul take rules of the road more like suggestions. Red light running, nearly 90 miles an hour on the freeway, and whipping around corners like a bat out of hell. After living in New York you’d think you’d have had the worst of the taxi rides, but just wait until you get to SK. Luckily I arrived at English Village safely, but we still take taxis to Costco and movies and such, so the horror continues…
The best way to get into Seoul from Paju is to take the 2200 bus. Sadly, the busses here are not only driven by the same kind of maniacs that drive the taxis, but they are all manual transmission, so they jerk back and forth so much that even I start to get car sick. However, they do have little TV’s on the bus that play the most delightful cartoons! They only play a couple times per ride and they don’t get new ones very often, but they make the queasy bus ride just a little more bearable. Do yourself a favor and watch this little cartoon, you’ll thank me later 🙂
Once you get to to Hapjong station, its time to transfer to the subway. Where the busses lack, the subways here are top notch. Always on time, you’re never waiting for more than 10 minutes for a train, clean as a whistle and hardly ever a bump or a jerk. They have information in both English and Korean so you never feel lost, and every entrance/exit portal is numbered so it is very easy to give directions on how to get somewhere. All the stations are like little mini malls with clothing stores, electronics and other kiosks as well as coffee shops and food stands for busy Koreans on the go!
Another way the subway system here is superior to New York is in the fare transactions. I believe the method is similar to Washington DC, but it keeps track of how far you have gone and charges you accordingly. You scan the same card on the bus as you do for the subway, and if you take the bus to get to the subway station (like we do) it gives you your subway ride at a discount. The place you scan your card is so sensitive that you don’t even have to take your card out of your wallet as you pass through, and they actually have different gates for in and out so you don’t have a stare down with someone trying to come out the path you are trying to go in like you do in Manhattan. The stations here are also ridiculously clean, with is odd because it can often be almost impossible to find a trash can. However the subway tracks are closed off by glass doors so you can’t throw your garbage down in a sewery pit like NYC…
There is also a darker reason why the subways tracks are all shut out: sadly, because of the pressure put on young adults here to succeed academically, South Korea has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world. About two years ago the glass doors were installed along most subway lines to prevent people from jumping to their death in front of an oncoming train. To aid in this fight, the Seoul Metro waiting areas are filled with “happy music” like Fur Elise and Stand by Me to keep spirits high and try to ward off the desire to suddenly end it all on the windshield of the subway. There is a very interesting article about this subject here.
Getting around Seoul is incredibly easy and actually pretty darn pleasant. It helps also that there is cell phone service throughout every inch of the subway tunnels, so you are free to catch up on work, emails, or enjoy a classy youtube clip of a cat while you use the susong of the city.
PS. About a month ago, all the edutainers got to be a part of something very special: the marriage proposal of Matt to our head teacher Stephanie. His proposal was beautiful and he recruted all us theatrical types to recreate moments of their love story as she walked through English Village while their song played on the loud speakers overhead. Check out the video footage here! (I make a very small cameo in a brown dress with a gold piggy bank)