Tuesday, July 03, 2007


You know how some people say they think better when they run? I personally can't imagine any reason why a person would think of anything while running but stopping the self-inflicted torture, but I guess if you think clearly while running, it might be worth it. I would still try everything else I could before I resigned myself to THAT deal though. Having to run to get some mental lucidity. However, I like walking and have had some good thinks while I'm on my evening or late night fitness walks. I go in the evening or late night when it's cooler and there are fewer people although lately it hasn't been very cool at night. I've done my walk in the rain a few times and enjoyed that immensely but even though it is officially Monsoon season here, I need to exercise a bit more often than when it rains. I guess if I ran only in the rain it might suffice but that's out of the question.

I absolutely hate running, but I DO see the value of a setting where thought comes effortlessly. I have started a new summer course that requires me to ride the Seoul Subway System for a couple hours every day. In the beginning it was similar to running in that the thought of making it stop tended to pervade. But I have started getting used to the ride. In fact I am almost to the point where I can enjoy it. Well, maybe that's an overstatement but I DO have some good thinks on the subway. And that almost makes it worth it.

I live in what Koreans refer to as the "country". There are high rise apartment buildings, deparment stores, and a subway here but there are also rice fields and farms. I smell cow shit almost every morning because we have a Seoul Milk cow farm across the street from us. Right above the beginning of the walking track.

I suppose this might be the reason I like the subway more than expected. "Country" folk are sometimes quite interesting to observe. And when I have something entertaining to watch, I forget how badly I want to get off the germ infested, sweaty, cramped, cattle car I'm in. But it's not just the country folk I'm watching. It's everyone.

The Yangju stop on the subway is called Deok Jeong, as you may know if you read about my pizza delivery adventures. It is almost the beginning, (or end), of Seoul Subway System line 1. Line 1 is the longest and probably the most used line of the S.S.S. I am quite pleased to tell you that Yangju is far enough outside the city of Seoul that when I get on at Yangju there is usually a seat where I can sit. Except at rush hour, (like 7-9 in the morning). Unfortunately, I work far enough into the city that I usually have to stand at the beginning of my commute home. However, about half way home I usually get a seat.

The subway is quite a miraculous device really. It should not, but is, be taken for granted. I often find myself thinking that the rapid starts and stops it makes HAVE to involve rubber or some sticky material but it's metal wheels on metal tracks. Almost miraculous. And I am quite thankful for the rapid starts and stops because they are responsible for the left and rights of what I call the Seoul Subway System somnambulant sway. It's the ballet performed by my fellow passengers every day that is one of the great sources of my entertainment.

I am sure it's possible in cities around the world where they have subways to board a car and find everyone awake. I will give you my first born child if you can do this in any subway in Korea. Or any bus for that matter. Public transit is just nap time to Koreans.

I started writing this in the morning before work. But I'll just tell you what happened today on the subway. Just today. Today's commute provided more than enough to show what I mean when I say the subway is entertaining.

Deok Jeong Station has only been in operation since the beginning of this year. Around the time when it opened Yangju city planners rerouted all local buses to coincide with subways. Exactly. So if I want to catch the best subway for me, (at 10:51), I can take a bus that will get me to the Deok Jeong station bus stop at 10:51. Of course it takes 3-5 minutes to get from the bus stop to the platform. This leaves bus passengers just enough time to reach the platform and see the shrinking tail lights of their train. So every morning I take the bus that comes just in time for me to see the shrinking tail lights of the subway before mine at 10:30. Many people have not caught on to this trick and it is always a source of sinister pleasure for me to see 20 or 30 people, who can see their train pulling into the station from the road below, panic and shift into survival of the fittest mode pushing, shoving, yelling, running, cutting in front of the old, very young and the slow, waving arms, screaming "Ajashee! Ajashee!" in hopes the subway driver will hear them as he starts leaving the station and stop the train for them. But he never does. And the 20 or 30 people have to wait for the next train. With me. Only my dignity remains intact. Heh heh heh.

This morning I got off the bus and leisurely walked to the station as people cursed me for being one of the slow. An obstacle that shaved seconds off their sprint to catch the uncatchable train. Then as I got to the top of the escalator to the platform I could see their dejected looks as they checked their watches and realized they would have to wait another 21 minutes for the next subway. They sometimes glare at me as I casually walk by them. Perhaps blaming me, not the city planners, bus drivers, subway driver, people who pushed them out of the way, for their sorrows. But it's worth it.

When I got on the subway today I was surprised to see three short-haired white guys sitting at the opposite end of my car. They were quite obviously U.S. soldiers and judging by their conversation and accents, they were from the south. They were talking a bit loudly but since none of the Koreans were talking at all it made it seem louder than it actually was. Their conversation topic was quite technical. They talked about two stroke and four stroke engines, engine parts, muscle cars, NASCAR, pit crews, helicopter mechanics, retirement plans, how much time they had left in the service, and things like that. Toward the end their conversation deteriorated. They made fun of the subway stop called Shinimoon, which sounds a lot like "shitty moon" when it's announced. Then the guy who was chewing tobacco and spitting it into a bottle, (no kidding), gave the guy beside him a purple nurple and they started play fighting a bit and then started questioning each other's sexual preferences.

Long before the subject degenerated so, a Korean sitting about 5 seats down from me got up quickly and rattled off a long, angry string of Korean while storming past the soldiers and throught the doors into the next car. I only recognized a few words he said. A couple times he said "Korea", once or twice "Virginia" (?), and one or two of his words were bad words. Perhaps his midmorning nap was spoiled by the soldiers' talking? Although there are usually plenty of loud talking Koreans on the subway and they wake up exactly nobody. Perhaps he was envious of the soldiers' English proficiency? Maybe he had spent lots of time and money trying to become fluent in English but couldn't? I just can't imagine why he stormed out! ????

The REALLY entertaining part was after the angry guy's exit. All the people in my car, except the soldiers, got out their expressionless masks and slapped them on. It was like an invisible emotion thief had hit our car. Nobody felt confused, shocked, surprised, angry, apologetic, empathetic, the only thing close to an emotion I could see was fatigue. But I wasn't really surprised. I'll explain why.

If you get on the subway at 8 am or 6 pm just about anywhere in Seoul you will see entire carloads of people practicing this apathetic expression. Because the subways are PACKED! People who are sitting down have their faces pretty much at crotch level of the people who are standing directly in front of them. People who are standing are rubbing pubic areas and asses with each other. Sometimes face to face! You don't ride the train together, you have a relationship with the person closest to you. There are a few remedies to the crippling awkwardness that results from a jam packed subway car: 1. Read the paper. Or at least make it look like you are more concerned with what the most popular K-pop singers are wearing these days than who is below you nuzzling your goodies. There are a few free "papers" that are like entertainment news here in Korea. You can always find some on the subway or in stands at subway stations. 2. Sleep. Or at least make it look like you are more interested in catching some Z's than whose hand that was ever-so-slowly brushing against your tit. 3. The good old 1000 mile stare. Why make it look like you are not feeling any emotions when you can make it look like you HAVE no emotions? 4. Think. This can be done with or without an mp3 player. I usually only use my mp3 player on my walks. Except the rain walks. But I am glad for the ability to just lose myself in thought on the subway. Particularly when it gets a bit too crowded.

Often though, my thinking tends to be about what happens on the subway. For instance I saw the usual complement of salespeople today. I saw a lady selling the head/wristbands I wrote about in a previous entry to this blog. That blog entry was brought on by a subway think. I saw a guy selling cellphone holders. I saw a lady selling pleather bound plan booklets, (one of which I already purchased). I saw umbrellas, beachmats, and my favourite, the lady selling the camouflage raincoats. Since it was rainy today she probably did brisk business. The reason I like these ladies so much is because they all have the identical sales pitch and right near the end they grasp the coat by two corners and snap it not once, not twice but thrice. I've seen the pitch so often I look forward to the BAM BAM BAM! I think I may start giving them a round of applause at the snapping part. You know like when we used to wait for Arnold to say, "Whatchutalkinaboutwillis?" Or at the theater when the intermission weiner finally jumps into the bun. That kind of applause.

I also like the fact that the coats are "freesize". They say that in the spiel too. Now I used to think that something either fit, was too big or was too small, but these ladies have opened my eyes to "freesize". I'll show them "freesize" Let me try one of those babies on. I guaran damn tee the hood will rip before it'll fit over my huge melon and snap the coat as much as you want but if the bottom button will fasten over my beer gut I WILL buy one! If I could speak Korean I'd say, "Okay, if it's not my size is it free?" But then I'd never see them again and I'd miss that BAM BAM BAM!

I followed a girl out of the University subway station today and couldn't help having a think about what she was wearing. She had on a pretty stylish miniskirt and top. Even her leapard umbrella was very shique. But she was wearing heels without the heelstrap fastened. Later in the day I noticed this on a few more girls. A new fashion statement perhaps. But I watched her wobbling down the street in front of me. I guess I should point out that there is no such thing as a level walking surface in Korea. How girls can wear heels at the best of times here baffles me. But she did have rather attractively polka dotted bottoms on her shoes. When I say "bottom" I don't mean the part that hits the ground, I mean the part that comes in contact with the foot. Maybe she wanted to show these off. I don't know. She's probably in the hospital with a broken ankle now.

I saw a girl this morning decked out in a beautiful array of expensive looking knockoff shoes, handbag, skirt, top, jewelry etc. Her hair was permed and perfect. She was very good looking. She had an anorexically attractive body. Her make-up was just ever so! She had probably just put it on. I almost always see girls applying make-up on the subway. Very common. Anyway this girl is probably the super high maintainence, conservative, prim and proper until you give me a rock kind of girl who has her boyfriend(s) jumping through hoops for her. The envy of all her girlfriends. And she was doing the somnambulant sway. Her mouth was wide open. Flies could have flown in and out. In fact, (and I'm not lying, I saw this today), she was forming words in her sleep. No sound was escaping her mouth but it was moving up and down. And she was oscillating left and right according to the stops and starts of the train. She had the end seat so when she went to her left she was okay but the person to her right, a lady I'd guess in her mid 40's was getting a facefull of perfectly poodle permed hair on every stop and trying her best to maintain the thousand mile stare while surreptitiously nudging this babe back into an upright position. It was priceless!

I saw an old Korean guy speaking English to a trio of Filipinas and asking the questions I was thankful he didn't ask me: Where are you from. Where are you going. How old are you? Are you married? Do you have any kids? Why only one kid? etc.

This was all in ONE day folks! I haven't even told you about people spitting on each other, calling security, drunks leaving bodily fluids behind, girlfriends popping boyfriends' zits, ridiculous, (and sometmes sexually suggestive), English on bags and t-shirts, religious zealots, beggars... I have so many stories! And I've probably missed even more while I was deep in thought.

That's the good old S.S.S. One of the solid pleasures of my day. It rarely disappoints.


Caroline said...

Found your blog via Heather's - really enjoying reading it.

Tell me, what are your thoughts on kimchi? My alltime favourite!!!

Dave said...

Hey Caroline. Welcome. I really like kimchi. It's to the point where I actually BUY it when I'm not in Korea. I didn't like it the first time I tried it. It's an acquired taste. Like Korea. And it's grown on me. There are many kinds of kimchi. I like cucumber best. I even went to a kimchi museum in Suwon, Korea.

Caroline said...


Fantastic!! My experience of kimchi is limited to the standard cabbage version along with all the other yummy little dishes of beanshoots, dreid fish etc that comes with a Korean BBQ.

That said, I've always wondered whether Korean BBQs in Korea have said little side dishes or whether they are something that only appear in foreign ones!

They sell kimchi in some supermarkets here in Dubai, a fairly poor standard but CERTAINLY better than NO kimchi.

Looking forward to reading more of Dave's Adventures in Korea.