The Seoul metro

Here’s some lighter fare after all the political art. I can’t stop going on about the Seoul metro – Toronto’s is just so awful by comparison. For instance, these screens are set regularly along the platform and by the ticket booths, in every station:


That shows the number of the train and how many stops away it is. When it moves to the big circle, it’s arriving in your station.

There’s a free smartphone app called Jihachul that’s a route planner: you click on the stations you’re leaving from and arriving at, and it gives you the route that’s fastest or has the fewest transfers. You can specify different stations if you want to avoid busy ones. It not only tells you which trains to get, but which subway cars and doors are closest to the exit you need. How do you know which car and door is which?


That’s car number 8, door number 1. Every car and door is labelled sequentially, in every station. Also, board from the sides, exit from the middle. The wheelchair means you’re at the end of the car where, in every car, there are differently-coloured seats for the elderly and disabled. It’s considered impolite to sit on them if you’re not one of the latter, even if the car is full. Do other cities refuse to implement this level of rational organization because it might raise people’s expectations of their public services? Did I mention fares are $1?

The Seoul subway is clean. Some lines have videos showing how they clean their cars: workers steam-clean the chairs and spray boiling disinfectant on every surface. It’s no surprise the cars look like this (these are the reserved seats for the elderly and disabled):


But a lot of thought has also gone into the subway stations themselves. They’re not dark, windswept corridors; many have art installations:


If this looks quiet, that’s because it is:


Some tables and a garden, just in case you want to rest:


A Soviet-looking concrete mural, though I suspect it’s the police emblem:


Is everything ultra-modern and efficient? No, even the new hand dryers break down sometimes. Can you imagine this sign in Toronto? Actually, can you imagine a bathroom in which to put this sign?


These have an imperfect symmetry that I like:



An unintentionally morbid cosmetic surgery ad:


I’ll end with an incredibly obscure British reference. In the late 1980s, comedian Alexei Sayle starred in a radio comedy called Lenin Of The Rovers, about Ricky Lenin, a corrupt Russian football player who heads up Felchester FC, ‘Britain’s Only Communist Football Club’. In one episode, he’s furious to learn that a tabloid reporter has ghost-written a right-wing column for him – that is, until he learns that it was appreciated by ‘Page 3 cutie Curvy Corinne’. Really? he asks. ‘She nearly ripped the head off her cuddly Garfield,’ the sleazy reporter replies.


Perhaps that photo wasn’t worth the lead-up, but it’s what was going through my head at the time.


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