Trainspotting

Erin and I traveled to Seoul last week to go Everland. It was pretty fun and Korean, even though (because?) we froze our balls off most of the day. We donned ridiculous headwear (a must if you want to fit in at all) and ate silly Koreanified snacks. At Everland we rode a rollercoaster and some other fucking crazy ass human rotisserie ride that left us both ready to ralph up our buttered potatoes. But the coolest ride I went on this weekend was the one I always go on in Seoul, The Subway!

Now I know that’s weird, but hear me out. A huge part of the reason I moved to Chicago after college was that I wanted to live in a city with good (read: available) public transportation. I mostly hate driving (I was in a bad car accident when I was 19, blahblahblah); it makes me super anxious and when I have road rage (which is always) I behave not unlike a rabid gorilla with a coke problem. It seemed the wise choice to eliminate driving from my everyday.

Anyway, I got a job and got a Chicago Transit (CTA) pass and began the chapter in my life where not a single day passed that I didn’t have something to say about riding the train or bus. And by ‘something to say’ I pretty much mean something to bitch about. Sure the CTA had its happy moments…the super friendly Trekkie conductor who bids everyone a good morning with a “Live long and prosper”…and the um…the……

Mostly you can count on the CTA trains and buses to be at least a few minutes delayed, to always smell like piss and, if you ride the Red Line, to frequently be filled with the most obnoxious specimen of train passengers ever to exist: The Suburban Cubs Fan.

Gchat conversations post-CTA rides look like this (this portion of the post is rated “Sorry, Parents” for language):

EXHIBIT A – May 5, 2010
Erin: dude.
poor fucking form on that train today
Megan: yes
Erin: it should be illegal to bring your baby-tank on the fucking train
Megan: at rush hour!
i’m like..plan better bitch
she was still on the train when i got off
which wasn’t until well after 9
because we sat between chicago and grand for 10 minutes
because of ‘equipment problems’
i
hate
the
fucking
train

EXHIBIT B – August 9, 2009
Erin: the train ride was hellish
so i was pissed off when i got home
Megan: oh no! sorry it was so bad
was it super crowded??
Erin: yeah
lots of fat people kept trying to stand on me
and i was like “god you smell like fried food”
in my head

EXHIBIT C – May 15, 2010
Erin: so was the train soul shredding?
Megan: jesus fucking christ dude
Erin: nooooooo
Megan: i got on that train at fucking 8:15
and didn’t get to monroe until 9:02
Erin: fuck that
Megan: it was 8:50 when we just passed fullerton
and it was all jerky
and shitty
and making me sick
soul. raped.

EXHIBIT D – February 9, 2010
Erin: so that train didn’t suck at all
i feel like i’m being lulled into a false sense of security
Megan: um me too
i’m like, wow, that was totally okay
and i think it’s an ugly lie
Erin: it is
soon, it will fuck me and i’ll need internal stitches
fucking cta

All that said, I became incredibly familiar with Chicago public transportation and I still regard Chicago fondly. I know the CTA is doing the best it can considering the jerkwads who are in charge of it. Still, Seoul subway wins hands down because pretty much ALL of the problems I have with the CTA have been conquered Asian-style.

When I first saw the map of the Seoul subway, I nearly shit myself. It is a tangly looking rainbow knot of subway lines that cross and recross a dozen different times. It makes the Chicago El look like a raggedy strand of hair and I was immediately intimidated.  (And don’t get the wrong impression, Americans, that the stops must be very close together and each line must be pretty short. No no. It takes a solid 45 minutes to go halfway around that green inner circle line. Halfway.)

I quickly discovered, however, that the Seoul subway is a cinch to use. Everything is written out in Roman alphabet as well as Korean, and just about all the announcements are translated into English. There are eighty gazillion places to transfer to other lines, which is sometimes too many because it gives you a couple of different route options if you are switching lines and then you have to choose. But choosing is better than being trapped on one line forever or going a million miles out of your way to transfer. To help you with transfers, there is a special little soothing song that plays when you come to a transfer stop and all the information is written on the TV monitors located in each car. In some cars there are also little maps that have light up dots for reach station, showing where the train is and what direction it’s heading. Helpful right?

For the Paying-Attention-Impaired

The Seoul Subway trains are spacious and well designed, with a single row of seats facing inward on each side and many, many straps/handles available for those stuck standing.  Plus there are overhead racks for people their larger bags and whatnot. Convenient no?

Alerts via TV. As well as handy (if not dramatic) instructions on what to do if there's a gas attack!

Most importantly, from what I’ve seen, the Seoul trains are clean. CLEAN. If Korea gets a big fat F- for bathroom hygiene, they get an A+ for train cleanliness. This past weekend was the first time I saw anyone eating on the train, before that I would’ve assumed it was very strictly prohibited and if someone were to bring, say, a bag of dried fish onto the train and just start munching, they would be promptly mauled by their fellow Koreans for breaking the rules. There is rarely trash or food or bodily fluids of any kind on these trains. It’s magnificent.

And on top of all its tidy and convenient glory, the Seoul subway is just kind of neat to ride. Like I said, the train cars are really large, so it feels like you are in a room not a sardine can. Sometimes, at the right angle, you can see alllllllll the way down through all of the cars, so it’s like one really looooong room. And the ride is eerily smooth and quiet, furthering the pleasantness of the experience.

See way down there? And hey look, nobody is peeing off the walkway between cars!

To be totally fair, the Seoul Metro is closed for a few hours during the middle of the night, giving workers a chance to clean and maintain each line. If I lived in Seoul, I don’t know if that would be inconvenient for me or not, as I did a good deal of late night train riding in Chicago. But perhaps I would find the awesomeness of the Seoul Metro outweighs the annoyance of it being shutdown after midnight; we’ll never know.

10 responses to “Trainspotting

  1. The transfer song is also different for each line. I want the one in my city for my cell phone ringtone.

    Also, the TVs on the Incheon line do not provide actual information. They exist solely to show people eating food at a restaurant in low angle shots, and then to interview those people and force them to communicate, mid-mastication, that the food they are enjoying is massiseoyo. My one goal in Korea is to one day be filmed eating a thing and appear on the subway TVs.

    • I only pretend to be an expert 😉
      Your aspirations to be on Korean subway tv lead me to believe we would be good drinking buddies in real life

      • That’s what the internet is for, really.

        I believed this fact when I noticed you and Erin were running one of the only (it seems) humour blogs about living in Korea. Do other expats not find living here funny? I don’t get it. Anyway, next time you’re in Seoul, page me. (Or, if you ever feel the uncontrollable urge to visit Incheon. Incheon: Gateway to the Airport.)

  2. I was born and raised in Chicago. I must say, I agree with you 100%. I was planning on writing about the same topic for a while, but you described it perfectly. You are also right about the Seoul subway awesomeness outweighs the annoyance nonaccessible transportation at night. If Chicago trains shut down at night maybe, there would be less of many things especially crime, but there would be a civil war if that was to ever happen! ^^

  3. I read this blog because of the snarkiness. All Hail TWD!

  4. I. fell. out. of. my. chair. laughing. at. your. gchats. AND I’m at work. Then I had to explain why to my coworkers.

  5. I also need to give props to the cheapest cabs in the world within Seoul. A late night run from Hongdae to Gangnam will only cost about 20,000 won. Back home in the states that same cab ride would cost closer to $100. And, of course, no need to tip – maybe the greatest perk of all!

  6. This is really informative and calms a lot of my anxieties about a potential Seoul trip in the near future. Gonna take the bullet train up! BTW, I laugh constantly when I read your blog. So sad you’re leaving b/c it means no more Wanderlust blog… unless you’re moving somewhere else awesome to write about?? 😀

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