Writing this from Seoul, South Korea! This is my first post from the Land of the Morning Calm.
I arrived in Incheon International Airport last Sunday afternoon, and now it’s another Sunday afternoon and I have a little bit of time before I go to 광화문광장 (Gwanghwamun Plaza) and 동대문 (Dongdaemun). I intend to use the coming week to share some things that I’ve seen or learned this past week. Today I’m going to talk about getting around the city.
Public transportation isn’t actually terrifying. In fact it is a blessedly easy thing once you get the hang of it and I love using it. And I’m saying this as someone who spent all summer conditioning herself to take a single bus route to work (my hometown doesn’t have subways). It does look terrifying when you see the masses of people pouring into the subways or waiting at a bus stop here though. It looks most frightening when you look at the map and see this monster of a network.
It’s quite simple after you do it a couple times. Each line is coded with a color and a number; I take the light green #2 line usually because Yonsei University’s subway entrance is Sinchon Station, and Sinchon Station is on the green line. If I need to get somewhere that isn’t on the green line, then I take the green line to the closest station where I can transfer to a different colored line. Stations with a swirl of red, blue, and yellow (Korean colors) are transfer stations. You don’t pay for transferring, and you only swipe your T-money card once on the way into the subway station and on the way out of your destination station. T-money cards are valid for use on subways, buses, and I believe taxis also accept them (I haven’t used a taxi yet).
Advice #1: Get a T-money card from a vending machine or from a convenience store. If you walk into a convenience store and simply ask “T-money” or “T-money ka-deu juseyo,” you’ll pay a few thousand won for the card. You can then ask to put money on it at the register (where you can pay with debit/credit card or cash) or you can take it to one of the many machine-kiosks to refill it. You must use cash if you purchase the card at a kiosk or refill at a kiosk. I recommend adding about 5 or 10 thousand won; it will last about a week or less if you travel as much as I do (I use the subway at least once a day if not several times). If you don’t plan on using public transportation much, put 5,000 won on it just to be safe.
Advice #2: The names of subway stations and directions are also written in English, but I really recommend that you learn to read Korean. It will only take 3 days of 20 minutes each, I promise. This will save you in situations when you ask directions to 신촌 (Sinchon) but get directions to 신천 (Sincheon). It’s the tiniest difference in spelling and pronunciation but they are on opposite sides of a very long subway line. You also might be tempted to get out when you hear 시청 (Sicheong, or City Hall) because it sounds similar. Keep an eye on the blinking signs in Korean, English, and Chinese, and you will be just fine.
I still recommend learning to read hangeul, though. There’s poetry written in the subways 😉
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