Highs and Lows of Public Transportation in Seoul

August 6, 2014

foreign-correspondent badge final After almost six months of using the public transportation in Seoul, I’ve almost got it figured out. Almost. There are still occasions when I take the wrong line or miss my stop. This is a huge feat for me considering I used to get lost every single time I attempted to use the subway in my first few weeks.

I really should be a pro at using the subway by now since I spent a crazy two months commuting clear across the city for work. For a short time I was spending almost five hours a day commuting a couple days a week. I used a mix of the subway and public buses, and even a taxi once or twice. A lot of people asked me how I could stand spending so much time having to sit on a bus or subway, but I actually didn’t mind it most of the time. It gave me a chance to finally catch up on my reading. Sometimes it felt as if I was the only one holding a book. Everyone else held a smart phone and was engrossed in some drama or Kakao Talk conversation (a popular messenger in Korea). It’s moments like these that reinforce my decision to not buy a smart phone.

However, there are times when I can’t stand being on the subway or bus and desperately miss having my own car to drive. These times are almost always when it’s rush hour, especially on the subway. I remember the days where I had to commute at 7 AM and at about the third station or so, the train would fill up like a sardine can.

Highs and Lows of Public Transportation in Seoul.

I’m talking so full that your face is inches away from a stranger’s. While usually it’s just uncomfortable and a little annoying, sometimes it can be a little scary. I’ve never had a full blown panic attack, but I’ve come pretty close on those mornings on the train. I felt like I would scream or faint if I didn’t get off or at least some space. This is about the time when I started using the subway less and the bus more.

Most of my friends seem to prefer the subway, but given the choice I will opt for the bus any and every time. I find it to be more convenient and I almost always get a seat, which rarely happened for me on the subway. I like that I don’t have to go underground or deal with annoying and sometimes very long transfers. I’m getting better at learning how to use the bus system and anytime I have to go somewhere new, I research the bus routes.

However, taking the bus can also be stressful at times. Usually it’s when the bus is full and the driver thinks it’s a good idea to go drive like he’s playing Grand Theft Auto when taking turns. It can definitely be dangerous. I’ve almost lost my balance a few times and I’ve seen people fall as they try to walk to their seat and the bus starts moving. Sometimes when the bus goes around bends, I feel like I am getting a full body work out. Arms up clutching the bar for dear life, abdomen tight in order to keep some kind of balance, and leg muscles locked. Thank you Seoul public buses for making sure I’m getting some sort of exercise.

Despite some of the annoyances and scary moments that can come along with taking public transportation in Seoul, overall it is the most convenient and economical way to get around the city. It’s fun getting to take a subway or bus since it’s not something I grew up with and I am glad for the experience.

About Meghan King

Meghan King is currently teaching English in South Korea.

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