For this week’s Friendly Friday Challenge, Amanda’s topic is Trains, Tales and Tall Stories.
Whenever I travel abroad, I like taking the train. Trains are efficient, speedy (if you’re not in a rush) and allow for excellent people watching.
At home in Canada, I don’t use the train much. Rail travel here is not as developed as in Europe, US or even parts of Asia. Maybe it’s because of the vast distances between cities or maybe it’s our predisposition to travel by car and air. For whatever reason, long distance travel is rarely done by train. Instead, it’s used as public transit and even then, only for the larger cities.
This is a recollection of thoughts and photos from a trip to Seoul, South Korea in 2016.
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. Usually, I get lost with my own itinerary and use 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. No one is allowed to eat or drink on the trains but there are many places to eat and drink in the station itself. The rest stops make for excellent viewing. As everyday people rush along with their everyday lives, it feels surreal to just sit and observe. My camera’s eye captures scenes that are both strange and familiar.
Like travelling clusters of school girls, huddled in groups, conferring on destinations, homework, lunch … they stand close knit, in uniformly short skirts and uniformly non-standard shoes.
Like an old style pay phone, slightly battered, well used, mounted against a steel green wall. It could be a pay phone from my home thirty years ago except for the hangul scribblings on the side.
Like illuminated picture frames, scenes from across the tracks, snapshots of strangers waiting on the train. I see you. Do you see me.
But this scene is unique to Seoul. Blue cabinets of ‘Relief Goods Storage’ filled with emergency supplies of gas masks, oxygen tanks and food. In the city, subway stations double as bomb shelters should North Korea attack. The threat is ever present, an underlying thrum that is felt but not heard 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 says “HERE I AM” and that means everything.
Seoul, South Korea. May 2016