My friend asked if I was visiting Seoul ‘free and easy’. It must be a Singaporean term because I’ve never heard it before. It means visiting a country outside of a tour group. Truth be told, I never visit inside of a tour group. Instead I get lost with my own itinerary and I use the local transit.
In places like Seoul it’s easy. The subway is complex and widespread. With eighteen lines and hundreds of stations it will take you anywhere. The map is so dense it is impossible to read. Instead I use a phone app to locate the nearest line and interchange.
Asian subways are remarkably clean and safe. Although no one’s allowed to eat or drink on the trains, there are always eating and drinking places along the tunnels. It makes for excellent viewing. As everyday people rush along with their everyday lives, it feels surreal to just observe. You capture movement and moments that are at once strange and familiar. Like an 80’s style pay phone, slightly battered, mounted against a steel green wall. It could be home, except for the hangul scribbling on the side.
Or uniquely Seoul, the cabinets of ‘Relief Goods Storage’ with emergency supplies of gas masks, in case of North Korean attack.
The threat of North Korea is ever present. Felt but never dominant in the city’s hustle bustle. Seoul teems with energy and youthful anticipation. The sad gray colors of M*A*S*H and the Korean War are washed away, the city rebuilt and sparkling new. The kids (and everyone below 40 looks like a kid) preen and prep themselves. The bill board “HERE I AM” says everything.
Seoul, South Korea. May 2016