FFC: Trains, Tales and Tall Stories

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.

School girls in uniform

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.

Pay phone

Like illuminated picture frames, scenes from across the tracks, snapshots of strangers waiting on the train. I see you. Do you see me.

Subway-145621
Scenes from a train

But this scene is unique to Seoul. Blue cabinets of ‘Relief Goods Storage’ filledย 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.

IamHere-151012

Seoul, South Korea. May 2016

17 Comments

  1. Fascinating glimpse into this aspect of life in Seoul! More and more I feel I’d like to visit South Korea, to compare it with the North and see both sides of the story. Those Relief Goods Storage cabinets are a slightly chilling sight!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoyed Seoul. I expected it to be similar to Tokyo and was surprised by its differences. Clearly, it has its own culture but it’s had to rebuild itself in modern times and hence feels ‘younger’. That’s my impression anyways. If I lived there, I’d probably have a different sense of the place.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating, Sandy. South Korea occupies a unique position in the world living on the edge of a potentially aggressive neighbour and slowly appearing to be more Americanized but keeping Korean culture. The androgenous figure in the billboard is poignant. My son has travelled there several times and he really liked it. His girlfriend lived there for 6 months and from all accounts, they don’t particularly like or fraternise with foreigners yet do absorb some of the western culture. The english wording on the billboard for example.
    Thanks for sharing some great street photography for this week’s prompt.

    Like

    1. I found Seoul fascinating. Rich in history and culture but vibrant with modernity.

      I was always surprised to see European faces there, people who were not tourists but students and businessmen. I met a Slovenian who owned a cafe and served a Czech-style funnel cake called trudlo. He said it was unusual but not uncommon for Eastern Europeans to end up Korea. I write about that encounter here:

      If we were having coffee … in Seoul

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Think of a hot donut, covered with melting chocoolate chips and peanut butter. Very messy but delicious. I believe a more traditional serving is dipped in butter and rolled in sugar.

          Liked by 1 person

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