Monday, December 14, 2009

 Subways in Korea.

The Seoul Metropolitan Subway is a thing of beauty. It's quick, efficient, and cheap. The subway itself also divided into three separate but similar entities: Seoul Metro, Korail, and SMRT (Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit corporation). Where have I heard of SMRT before?

Our diligent 현우 has posted a nice introduction to to Seoul's subways in this forum post. Note the loudspeaker - each stop is announced in both English and Korean. It is very foreigner friendly in that regard. The air conditioning doesn't hurt, either.

1000 원 buys you up to 6 miles worth of track and 100 원 for every additional 3 miles. Not bad. Actually that's more than not bad - that's a great deal. Remember the post about the size of Korea? We're not talking more than a little more than 230 square miles for the whole city with the majority of stops located nearby each other. So we're talking a cheap ride no doubt. Buy a 10 dollar card and call it a day.

The card that I am referring to is non other than the T money card. These nifty little guys really make you feel like you're paying for your subway ticket electronically...wait...well that's exactly what they do. Okay so their novelty wears off quick. But not for me. In my case, I almost was so excited by the convenience of them that I was tempted to swipe them twice.

Hey what do you want from me? Texas has a lot of limestone so it's not like they're going to build any subways in the Lone Star State anytime soon so just let me swipe my card twice in peace.

Oh and T Money almost begs to be scanned twice - Seoul Metro gives you a 100원 discount if you use the card instead of a paper ticket. I especially like the T Money card's tap n' go way of paying. Just tap your wallet or purse on the magnetic reader located on thew top of the turnstile machine, wait for the beep, read your remaining balance, and you're goo to go. Except I always end up losing my card or have another card already in my wallet that interferes with the subway card in the first place. But that's just me.

Speaking of which, there are ticket booths available for paper ticket purchases, card refills, and for general directions. Not that you'll need them - all signs are in English and Korean. But fear not - you will find Seoulites sometimes even checking the subway map prior to swiping their card. I also like how the ticket booth guys will let elderly people  and those who are down on their luck through a special entrance gate for no charge from time to time (like a rain-soaked, broke American who slaughters Korean pronunciation and who also just happen to have left his T Money card on the bench at the last stop where he got lost and frustrated but not frustrated enough to not buy two rolls of 김밥 and then wonder how much it would cost to buy some fruit from that lady but he couldn't remember the word for the specific type of fruit she was selling so he just asked 과자 얼마예요? but then later realized that 과일 is fruit and 과자 is cookie so then he felt kind of validated when the vendor giggled at him).

But unfortunately, it's not all bells and whistles for the operators of the trains. Several news articles and TV specials will make you wonder why don't they raise the fee so as to support these hard-working employees.
As far as being punctual, I don't have any numbers to support this claim but here goes anyway: Seoul's subway is the best subway in the whole universe and way better than anyone else's subway. Bam.

Now as far as the scary aspect - let me explain. Drinking and driving isn't as big of a concern in Korea compared to America. But don't let that fool you into thinking that Korea has safer streets - because they don't. But as far as traveling to and from the bar, the majority of people use public transportation be it bus, taxi, or subway. So, the scary aspect isn't the same as someone stalking you - it's more like a creepy drunk person within arms length of you. I mean, drunk people got to get home somehow, you know?

Although it can get cramped as all get out, there are several times when it's also creepily empty at times. Either way, all things considered, it is clean and quite useful. Foreigners need not fear the subway - it's well-lit, heavily used, and moderately well-maintained with minimal breakdowns.
The Green Line Mile
Now, subway social culture - who should stand and who should sit - that's a whole nother can of worms.