I live in Seoul, home of over 10 million people (about a quarter of the entire population of Korea). This isn’t where I was born, but when I say home, I mean here.
My friends think I love Seoul. To be honest, Seoul and I go way back, but the love affair started quite recently. I used to think Seoul was just another Asian megacity. Some Seoulites and tourists might agree. I began to appreciate Seoul only after I came back from other great cities like Vancouver and New York. Not because they sucked (I really love both those cities too but that’s another story for another blog), but because through them I learned how to appreciate a city.
What I admire the most about Seoul is the public transportation. I’m one of those people who have a driver’s license but never had a car. And because Seoul has one of the best public transportation systems in the world, I don’t feel the need to. With 16 subway lines and about 9,000 buses, there is almost no place in the city you cannot reach. In fact, the Seoul subway system is so awesome that it inspired Michael, a fellow ex-New Yorker, to write a song about how wonderful it is: Seoul Subway Song
All you need is T-money and you’re ready to hop on. Just like the Metrocard of New York and the Octopus card of Hong Kong, T-money is Seoul’s rechargeable transit fare card. But it comes in different sizes and shapes in case you want to match it with your cell phone. The fare is pretty affordable, which is cheaper than 1 USD for the first 10km. This includes easy transfers from bus to bus, subway to subway, bus to subway, and vice versa.
Inside subways and buses, the announcements are made in English, Chinese, and Japanese for those who don’t speak Korean. Also because subway lines are color-coded and numbered clearly, as long as you’re not colorblind and/or can count up to ten, you can transfer between different lines without too much trouble.
All the bus and subway stations have monitors that display when the next bus or train is coming so you don’t have to wonder whether you’ll be able to meet your friend in a half an hour. If you want, you can download applications that provide you with that information on your smartphones too.
Talking about phones, when my New Yorker friend came to visit he was surprised to see cell phones work in the subway. I told him to look around—people are using free wifi to chat and DMB to watch live TV shows on their phones. Working cell phones? Not a big deal here.
But I do miss 24-hour service of New York subways. Okay, hardly any train comes by after 3 in the morning, but at least there is that option. Seoul subways and buses stop the service around midnight on weekdays and even earlier on weekends if that makes any sense.
All this aside, I have to say the best thing about Seoul subways during winter is the heated seats. Knowing that I can go anywhere while my butt is being heated is truly an amazing feeling. And those little moments are when I appreciate myself for living here.