Monday, 26 March 2012

Subways and Supermarkets

The Seoul Metropolitan Subway System is without a doubt the best subway I’ve ever had the displeasure of riding. I say displeasure because let’s face it; subways are hardly the epitome of city life. They are a necessary part of city travel and provide efficient, fast and easy access to a variety of inner-city locations but I think it’s safe to say that nobody rides them for the sake of riding them.

With that in mind I quite enjoy riding the Seoul subway; there are 16 lines (9 of which are part of the greater Seoul area), there is a rapid service to the major airports, and it gets used by 7 million people per day. That might give the impression that stepping onto a train in Seoul is like stepping into a chicken factory farm where people are piled on top of each other struggling to breathe let alone move, however, this is not the case. It is a rarity for a metro line in Seoul to be extremely busy to the point of which you cannot move; in fact in my whole seven months here it might have happened to me once. Usually the rides are comfortable and more often than not you’ll even get to sit down. This is probably due to the sheer number of lines that there are. They criss-cross their way across the whole city in such a well thought out manner that literally anywhere in Seoul is easily accessed from anywhere else. Not only that, its dirt cheap.

Travelling to pick Natalie up from the airport this weekend I caught the train from Gangbyeon on the green line (far East) to Incheon International Airport on the AREX line on the opposite side of the city, and it cost approximately 4000 won (2 pounds fifty) . That’s a journey that takes around 80 minutes (it’s that far), a journey of this distance would cost upwards of fifteen pounds or more in the UK but here in Korea public transport is cheap, fast and easy. In-fact the most expensive buses you’ll find in the Seoul area are from the airport into central Seoul, it cost us 15,000 won (7 pounds 50 pence) to get the bus from the Airport back to Gangbyeon, we only took the bus for comfort and of course so we didn’t have to drag Natalie’s bag around the subway, but still, I’d never consider paying that for a bus here otherwise. The bus back to my town in the far flung mountains of Gangwon (a whole 2 hours from Gangbyeon in Seoul) costs 10,000 won (5 pounds), and these aren’t buses in the traditional sense, they are practically coaches and the only downside they have is that there are no toilets on board.

On Sunday we caught the inter-city bus from my town to Chuncheon in order to do some grocery shopping at E-Mart. Now I’ve told you all about the Seoul Subway I’m sure you’ll be equally as interested in hearing about E-Mart.

E-Mart is the biggest retailer in South Korea, it would be the equivalent of Wal-Mart (Asda) in the US, or Tesco in the UK. There are 127 stores across the whole of South Korea. It is essentially a discount supermarket chain that sells everything from food to clothing, from hiking gear to electronics and from pets to gardening goods. The E-Mart that we frequent is spread over two floors, the ground floor sells food, they have huge selections of fish and meat, baked goods, sushi counters, pizza takeaway, wine and liquor, fruit and vegetables, you name it, I suppose it’s not all that interesting outside of the fact that it has striking South Korean sensibilities. For instance there is a whole counter dedicated to kimchi, all kinds of kimchi, kimchi you didn’t even think could ever possibly exist. The fish counter sells everything from squid, to octopus, to giant crabs and live lobster, sushi and sea snails. Well, I’ll finish stating the obvious and move onto the second floor which is full of clothing stores, electronics stores, a pet shop and some home ware outlets. I could see Koreans spending hours in this store as the culture seems to be obsessed with branding and commercialism but on Sunday we spent roughly an hour stocking up. This was plenty. We caught the bus back and unpacked before heading out into town to get a few things that we knew we could get cheaper at the market. Natalie made friends with a dog and we stumbled across a new restaurant which looks like it sells barbequed kebabs, we’ll be checking this out later this week.

My parents arrive on Friday evening which is very exciting. So, I guess that’s what I’ll be writing about next, that is unless something happens at school that I think is worth documenting. I’ve finally purchased the whistle that I’ve been threatening to buy and am looking forward to surprising my misbehaved students with it later this week, that’s not very optimistic of me, I know.

Fun times ahead sailors.

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