Transportation Ups & Downs, Ins & Outs

I've been on various transportation systems all over the place - The NYC Subways, the Metro in Washington DC, the T in Boston, the LA Subways, NJ Transit, etc etc. I find them fascinating and I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe its because I grew up in small town america where public transportation just wasn't really prevalent or something anyone ever did... and if you did use it there was a stigma that you were of a poorer background (that being said, I did use it when needed).

But I have never been more impressed and confused by a subway system than the subways in Seoul. A few of us went into Seoul last night via bus and got dropped off in Insadong. We walked around a bit, and got into the subway station to find a payphone to figure out the plans for the evening. We then needed to go from Insadong to Itaewan which is foreigner central (which will have its own blogpost at some other time, that is for sure). But there's no inbound/outbound, or uptown/downtown cues to help you navigate where you're going. Not even so much as a N,S,E,W, directional guide really... so you just kind of have to know where you need to go. Luckily its written in Hangul & English:

There are multiple ways to get yourself onto the subway. First off the subway stops are virtually underground malls. Obviously some are bigger than others, and I have only now just seen a couple of them, but when you walk into them everything is very large, and very high ceilings, and windows where you can buy tickets for the subway. I was fortunate enough to have a T-Money Card left for me by the girl that I replaced at my school, which is basically a debit card. They can apparently be bought at 7-11s & possibly even the subway stop (I'm not sure) for like 2000 Won, and then it will act as a declining balance. I put 5000 Won on my card and then as you pass through the turnstiles you tap it as if it were a PayPass (they're currently testing a version of this out in the NYC Subways). The great thing about this card is that if you have it, you basically get a discount on the price of your trip. Seoul operates on a zone system (a la DC) so if you go from point A to point B and it costs 1000 Won then by using this card it might cost you 900 instead. You can also just go to the windows and buy a ticket individually, but the T Money card eliminates a need for lines, and you wind up saving money on something that can be used on the buses, subways, and various other convenient stores.

Overall, the subways were extremely clean, very spacious, and looked as if they were a week old:

The stations AND the tracks were free of grime and vermin and semi easy to navigate.

And I can't wait until I do it again... the only downside is that almost all public transportation virtually shuts down at midnight so getting home when you live 45 minutes away is NOT fun nor cheap.