From the first time I got on the Seoul Metro (upon my arrival, traveling from the Incheon airport into the city), I knew there was something wrong with it. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something was definitely off.
“I’d been expecting to be blown away with how foreign I would feel in Korea; I had prepared to feel foreign. NOT feeling that was unnerving, unbalancing.”
It wasn’t until my third full day here that I figured out what was bothering me: the train DIDN’T smell like urine! There weren’t any homeless people sleeping in the back corner; there wasn’t even a piece of trash to make the place feel like home! For someone who comes from the Chicago and New York tradition of public transit, THAT is unsettling.
In all honesty, taking the train into Seoul and walking to my hostel, my first thoughts were largely how citiestend to feel the same: the bustle of urban night life just emerging at 9, the neon lights, and the smell of something cooking to relieve you from the general rank of so many people living in tight quarters. I had been expecting to be blown away with how foreign I would feel in Korea; I had prepared to feel foreign. So NOT feeling that was unnerving, unbalancing.
So figuring out WHY the metro felt so odd to me that third day was a relief. Seoul started to distinguish itself; I started noticing the differences. I noticed the blue containers that line the subway platforms are actually for gas masks in case of biological attack (something I never saw in Chicago or New York). I noticed that the streets and stores are nearly dead before 10am. And I noticed that some of the scariest subway goers are the seniors — on one occasion, an older man stood over me and hissed until I offered him my seat (there was an empty one across from me).Of course urban centers all have unavoidable similarities, but they also have their distinctive habits. It’s only now that I’ve gotten my travel jitters out of the way that I’ve started noticing them and that Seoul and this trip are starting to feel more “real” to me. And this is just in time, because tomorrow I leave for Jeonju in the Cheollabuk-do Province… the province of my birth.