Seoul Subway Challenge: Line 9
Line 9 still needs some work on its smile, but speaking as someone who didn’t get braces until the end of high school, I am going to give the 2009 addition to the Seoul Subway a break and appreciate the quirky half smirk that is a work in progress. Line 9 went live in July of 2009 and is the first privately run subway line in Korea run by Veolia Transport, a French company. Also called ‘The Golden Line’, Line 9 snakes from Gaehwa Station and Gimpo Airport along the south side of the Han River toward Sinnonhyeon Station in Gangnam to form a half smile. A full smile should be completed in the near future with plans for further station stops at the Sports Complex Station and later at Oryun Station.
I began my exploration of Line 9 close to its most eastern point. I was hungry after a long ride down from my home in Uijeongbu and I figured the Express Bus Terminal would stimulate my taste buds and sense of adventure on a lazy Sunday afternoon in Seoul…
Express Bus Terminal
At the Express Bus Terminal I did not venture outside as I did with the remainder of my Line 9 stops. There was no need to leave. There was plenty to see within steps of the subway exit. The Express Bus Terminal Station is under the Seoul Express Bus Terminal (aka Gangnam Bus Terminal) and it is not where you go to escape the hustle and bustle of Seoul. The terminal is full of people on the move. People are busy and moving fast in the Express Bus Terminal. They are in a rush to snatch up the latest designer pieces at Shinsegae, eat at the ‘Prestige Food Empire’ (Who knew we had ‘Premium Food Courts’ in this world?), check into the exclusive Marriott Hotel or depart for/arrive from another swanky city in Korea. After mindlessly wandering the maze of floors in the terminal my friends and I decided to eat at KFC before venturing to our next stop on Line 9. Believe it or not, this was my first time eating at a KFC. *shock* I don’t know, the ‘Prestige Food Empire’ just freaked me out. And I had promised my friends a travel-worthy lunch for accompanying me on my Seoul Subway Challenge adventure. And they like KFC.
Line 9 leaves no room for travel confusion. The elaborate digital screens in each car display the upcoming station information along with a birds-eye view map showing the immediate neighborhood at each location. At Dongjak Station we simply scoured the map and chose a spot to explore and its corresponding numbered exit. Seoul National Cemetery was desolate except for a lone woman wandering the aisles of graves chanting some sort of prayer or song. We walked among the uniform grave stones of hundreds of Korean Veterans. The late President Kim Dae-Jung was interred here in 2009. We soon found ourselves in a lush pathway leading to a bridge over a small river teeming with brightly colored fish. With no KFC leftovers to spare, my friend searched her bag and found a package of crackers to feed the fish. Watching fish jump and splash for bits of old peanut butter crackers: It really is the little things in life…
A few stops after our friendly fish feeding experience we found ourselves in the midst of a bloody and lively seafood massacre. We followed small signs illustrated with fish designs along a subway track overpass toward the obvious smell of fresh fish. The Noryangin Fisheries Market is Seoul’s largest marine products market with over 66,000 square meters of small shops, auction spaces and restaurants. If it swims you will find it here and usually at a much cheaper price than you would at a supermarket. The 24-hour market is full of an intense sense of urgency. With many of the 700+ small shops selling the same products, they are competitive and will stop at nothing to gain the attention of shoppers meandering up and down the market aisles. As I stopped to snap a few pictures of live octopus, shrimp, giant crab, oysters and flounder, some shopkeepers were full of pride and posed for my camera while others frowned and quickly ushered me away because they saw my photography as a distraction and a missed selling opportunity.
After the crowded fish market it was nice to breathe some fresh air upon exiting the station at Yeouido. We walked a few blocks to the Cultural Event Plaza where a sign at the park entrance encourages people to “rest or talk with friends”. We did just that and also snacked on some cotton candy a friendly man was selling from the back of his motorcycle. Children giggled as they ran about in the open space, older couples walked briskly along the shaded bike path and young professionals played basketball in collared shirts, ties and dress pants (Sunday?).
Dangsan was a perfect last stop for our expedition. A narrow bridge outside the station exit led us over the busy street to the Han River where we spotted a strategically placed 7-11. I can’t think of a better way to spend a late Sunday afternoon: enjoying a cold beer sitting beside the river and watching boats pass by. As I finished my beer I felt my phone buzz from my pocket. A message from my father back in the US surprised me. “Are you prepared for the TYPHOON!?” it read. I laughed and put my phone away. Korea continues to surprise me each day as I attempt to teach and survive typhoons, but at least I can rely on the Seoul Subway for convenient and dependable transportation.