Posts Tagged ‘seoul’

Adventures in the Seoul Metropolitan Subway

I take the Seoul Metropolitan Subway system to work everyday, compacted like sardines in a can. I was in no rush to get to work the other day and as I took my time through the system, I started to notice the signage around me. I found some interesting ones.

(My personal favorite) In case you find yourself in the possession of a shopping cart in the middle of the subway system, we won’t ask you how you managed to get it down the steps and through the turnstile, but you absolutely cannot take it with you on the moving walkway. You probably won’t know what floor you are on since it doesn’t really matter underground and we don’t tell you, but the restrooms, should you find yourself in need of one, are located somewhere between B4 and B3.
Just follow the blue line into the wall to transfer to the Blue Line. Make sure you fully decipher the meaning of these random signs before you get on the escalator. And btw, falling down the escalator is not permitted.
Please make sure your feet are in a good mood before attempting to negotiate these steps. This is where you call to “S.ave O.ur S.ubway”
These seats are reserved for the people who did not listen and fell down the escalator, or have back issues, or (we understand it happens sometimes) just had too much kimchi and rice for dinner. However these seat are reserved for those in wheelchairs, should they want to get out of their wheelchair and want to sit on these really comfy seats, or those who can magically balance a cane without any hands, or are hiding something under their dress, or are being attacked by tiny aliens.

The Morning Commute #3

Commuting as an experience.

It’s about a 10 minute walk from the subway station to my office. The simplest way is to take the main streets around the outside of the block, populated by office and retail buildings, as indicated by the red line.

Map of walk from subway station to work

The more interesting path

The walk from subway station to work The walk from subway station to work

The more interesting way is to take the green line, through the block, into the housing, and the urban fabric. If I hadn’t taken this route, I would not have discovered that there is a bakery at the first turn. You can smell the freshly baked bread as you approach it. It’s a point in the trip that is anchored by smell. I pick up a croissant for breakfast there.

Another reason I prefer this route is because there is less noise. I can hear my iPod better. There is also less people, and feels less like a rat race to get to work. I can take my time.

What’s interesting is that there are quite a few others seem to share my preference and have found this route through the block. So the lesson here may be that optimal is not the necessarily the best for all. There will be others that will seek a more rich, different, or in this case peaceful experience over the simple, optimal but noisy experience.

As for me, I just like the smelling fresh pastry in the morning.

The Morning Commute #2

Spells E-Z Ham

As I noted in an earlier post, Korea has no lack of ugly signage, adding to the urban cacophony. This one I found hilarious. It’s a sign for a cosmetics company: “LJH Cosmetics”. They were wise to go with the acronym: I assume that the company was set up by 3 partners, whose last names are: Lee, Jee and Hamm, which are common Korean last names. But when you phonetically read the Korea name for the company it sounds like: ee-zee-ham Cosmetics :-)

The Morning Commute #1

Seoul’s eclectic architecture

Now that I have fully embraced my role as the tourist, I intend to have fun.

Let’s start with today. Since everything is new to me (the tourist) and in part because of my architectural education, I actually look at buildings. I read them, measure them and place them in a style. Most building in Seoul doesn’t have much of a vernacular to follow, so on top of the corbusian domino system of columns and slabs, people slap on the style (or more correctly ornamentation) that makes most sense with the image they are trying to project, especially if you are retail store. Over the course of time the ownership retail space change hands and whomever comes in afterwards is forced to deal with the what was there before.

This is the case for this store that sells Simmons beds and furniture. My guess is that the store was originally built to house a store that catered to the wedding business (how else would you explain this architectural style?).

This makes for a strange clash of ornamentation. Now it has a modern floating, translucent glass box growing like an alien entity which is obsessed with battling the baroque armed with simplicity and order.

Living in Korea: A Tourist at Home

I’ve been here in Seoul for about a month now. I have an apartment and a job, and my family is here also. I know the language, and speak Korean like a local. I know my way around, can take the subway without referring to a map, and transition seamlessly from one transportation infrastructure to another. It’s my home.

My wife put into words a nagging sensation that I’ve had in the back of my mind. We are tourists. Everyone has that feeling when they move to a new place for work or some other reason. It takes you a while to know where the grocery store is, where to rent a video, how to get to work. It takes you a while to call it home. In my case, this used to be my home. I used to work in this exact neighborhood before I left for the States, 13 years ago. However, it has changed so much that it’s really disorienting. It’s like returning to your childhood home and the new owners have painted the whole house another color and added a 2 port garage and built a whole new floor.

All the landmarks are gone. Well, not quite. They are now dwarfed and shadowed by bigger, shinier ones. As an information architect I know that people navigate using landmarks – that’s why you don’t change navigation buttons, or prominent layout element on a page, since that what people remember and related to during their wayfinding. Just the other day, I came out a subway station to a place I visited countless times, the same exitI used to take, and I couldn’t tell which way was North, let alone get to where I was going. The mind goes crazy trying to reconcile the old map of places to the new. There are little remnants of the past I recognize scattered here and there, but they have been disembodied, now floating without context, no longer in a relationship to a whole that used to exist in my mind.

What makes it worse is, I walk around with my iPod listening to NPR’s Marketplace or This American Life, which I used to do in the States. It’s like walking around in a bubble.

I always say, when you can’t fight it, embrace it: I am a tourist.

Now that I have signed my rights away and accepted my status, the next question is, what kind of touristy things can I do? I can stop in the middle of the road and take photos and not feel embarrassed. I can ask stupid questions. I can marvel at the progress this country has made since the last time I was here. I can get lost and feel ok about it. I can poke fun at the local culture.

This last point, I intend to do a lot of :-)