Confucianism vs Korean Subway Etiquette

Hello, internet! I wrote this slightly aggressive post back when I was working as an English teacher here in Seoul. I have since left my job and have a lot less subway anger. Nevertheless, I shall share these words with you as an ode to my former subway taking self.

I grew up taking trains to kindergarten, to the cinema with my grandmother, and to and from high school for 6 years. We even brought our beloved pet rabbit, Maisy, home on the peak hour Melbourne train. I’ve managed to develop a level of train etiquette and surrounding passenger awareness that could take one a lifetime to obtain. Sadly, South Koreans did not go through this rigorous train-ing and have seemed to forget their Confucianist roots.

As an Australian living in Seoul, I think an appropriate amount of time has passed for me to start complaining about everyday mundane life things. My daily commute to work consists of 2 x 40-minute rides on the subway from the Yeongdeungpo area to the Gangnam area. The entirety of my journey is submerged underground; beneath a world of fried chicken, sidewalk fruit stands and political corruption. I am not able to see the light of day until I come up for air at my destination. During these 40 minute nightmares, I have become quite observant of South Korean subway manners, or the lack thereof.

For some reason, Korean people have collectively decided that if you walk into someone or forcibly push your way through a huddle of subway goers, apologies and niceties are superfluous. The same goes for accidental topples at the hands of a trigger happy train driver. The topples happen more often than not because most commuters are glued to their phone screens. I know that this is just a cultural difference, but it’s one that I just can’t seem to get on board with. In other words, it’s hard to be culturally sensitive when someone is pushing into you with all of their body weight on a busy train.

Last week, I managed to get a seat on my gruelling and crowded 40-minute journey to work; a luxury in some eyes. I was seated two seats away from the designated pink pregnant lady seat that was so rudely occupied by a non-pregnant woman. (In Seoul, you need to wear a badge that says your pregnant in order to sit in these pregnant lady seats. The only thing stopping you from sitting there are your morals).

As I sat down, my attention was immediately drawn to a woman amidst a bout of morning sickness who was practically stopping herself from throwing up on neighbouring passengers. She was standing close enough to the pink pregnant lady seat with her pregnant lady badge fully on display that any moderately aware human would see this and apologetically give up their seat. Alas, the occupant was fast asleep and blissfully unaware of the situation in front of her.

By the time I caught sight of the woman, I could see her face almost reduced to tears. This was due to the unfortunate battle she was undertaking with the human she was growing inside of her. The people around her looked around uncomfortably as she practically vomited in her mouth. The sounds were audibly unpleasant yet no one helped her. Before her face was fully flooded with tears and sweat, I reached out to her over a crowd of both seated and standing passengers and told her to take my seat in my best Korean. She looked extremely grateful for this simple, human gesture. She did have to squeeze past a lot of useless people to get to the seat.

Once seated, she continued to offer to hold my bags for me. I was like, ‘girl, I think I can deal with holding two bags, I’m not the one who is with child, holding back from vomiting all over a train full of strangers’. I, of course, didn’t say that and, even if I wanted to, I don’t yet have the Korean language skills to communicate such an observation.

I really feel saddened from this event and can only hope that other commuters on not only this woman’s daily commute but the people sharing a train with elderly citizens or differently-abled bodies will do their best to make people feel comfortable on trains. We don’t need to label seats for these people, they should be able to sit wherever. Sadly, from what I’ve seen, Seoul subway goers don’t want to stand out from the crowd. They don’t want to be the one to help a person in need, probably because they fear the person reacting badly? Which really doesn’t make any sense to me, again, cultural differences.

This isn’t an issue of feminism or politics or infrastructure or healthcare systems, it’s just plain and simple human kindness and having the ability to both be aware of your surroundings and your smartphone screen at the same time. Does it really take a barely literate in Korean foreign person sitting at least 3 metres from this poor woman to help out? I only wish society was accepting of women who stood up for themselves and felt comfortable asking for help.

If this happened in Melbourne, the pregnant woman would have yelled at the non-pregnant woman, a neighbouring passenger would have yelled at the non-pregnant woman and probably every person in the surrounding seats would have stood up at the same time to help her out. Simply ignoring her and pretending her crying and discomfort is her own fault is not the Melburnian way.

Wherever you go in the world, you will always encounter people who are in a bit of a hurry or are just having a bad day. The Subway in Seoul is the most convenient public transport I’ve ever experienced in my life and I hold nothing against it. If the reader should take anything from this, it’s that pregnant women need to sit the hell down sometimes and it doesn’t take much for us non-pregnant, fully-abled humans to stand up and offer our seat to someone who needs it. Even if you think you may offend someone, it’s better to clear up the awkwardness by just trying. This was not an isolated incident, I have seen this happen to pregnant women, children, elderly people etc. I wish I had only observed it on just this occasion.

Moral of the story: stand up, it will make you feel better and you can really change the course of a person’s day by doing this one small thing.

Ten things to do on public transport instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media

I consider myself to be a seasoned public transport taker here in Seoul, South Korea. Since moving to Seoul, I’ve noticed that the general Korean population are rather fond of their smartphone screens. This doesn’t just apply to the people on the subway as the title of this post may suggest. It applies to people on the streets, in cafes, restaurants, schools, gyms, and everywhere else humans gravitate. It doesn’t help that two huge conglomerate smartphone companies, Samsung and LG, are highly celebrated by the Korean people.

So, because I never use my phone and am a fully-fledged self-help guru, I’ve taken it upon myself to help everyone out with more ~mindful~ smartphone usage. Firstly, I hate the word mindful and I also disagree with the generation of self help influencers. Secondly, I have been living in Seoul for 1 year now and I, too, have a bit of a screen addiction going on. I was being completely facetious.

Here are some ways that we can better serve our brains on the subway to promote a clear mind and help validate our smartphone addictions.

1. Make a to-do list

Do you have more than two things to do after your commute? Well, that, my friend, is the beginning of a juicy list. Let’s face it, you probably won’t do all of the things on your list but it will motivate you to do the things you actually need to do.

2. Podcasts

Listen to a podcast instead of the music you constantly consume in your ear holes. You can learn something, feel like you’re having a private lecture and be that annoying person who brings up facts all the time for no apparent reason.

3. Read a book

Woah, an actual physical book? Okay, this one is for more advanced subway takers and requires a great level of concentration. I know that not everybody can get their bodies to balance on a moving train and read without getting dizzy, we are humans, not mountain goats. However, if your body can handle all of the extra stimuli, you can assert your dominance as the ‘smart’ one on the subway carriage. I read so many books this year just because of my extremely long commute to work.

4. Write a novel

I can’t offer further advice with this one. It just seems like something a person who wakes up at 4am every day would do as a way to be productive. Give it a try? Your novel can’t suck until you finish it. Then, you can make it better.

5. Start a blog

Did you know that I’m currently writing this blog post on the subway? How could you have known that? What a silly question. If you don’t think you have the time to write a blog or a diary, you’re lying to yourself and to your whole family. They will never forgive you for those lies. I have the same philosophy Re: write a novel. Your blog won’t suck unless you have questionable opinions or zero blog posts.

6. Learn a language

Duolingo is a thing and it’s there to be used, so use it. Otherwise, go back to point two, Podcasts, and combine this with language learning. If, for some reason, you decided to learn Korean like me, Talk to Me in Korean have a great podcast.

7. Do a phone spring clean

Organise your photos, emails, contacts, apps, alarms, calendars, texts, ringtones, Instagram bios etc. I’m a true believer that a clean home equals a clean mind. I also apply this philosophy to the digital living space. Think about how much time you spend on your devices and it may help you understand why it’s important to keep your digital chaos clean and tidy.

8. Unfollow people who don’t align with your future

Go onto your socials and remove all the people who aren’t on board your train to self-improvement and general happiness. This includes people you are only friends with because you feel like you have to be. Delete them all. But, as you cull your friend lists, whisper ‘thank you’ ever so quietly to make it more Marie Kondo and less Georgina from Gossip Girl.

9. Go on a Wikipedia black hole search

This is my favourite thing to do at 4am while on a Netflix binge but there is never a bad time to go on a Wikipedia binge. It will help you learn things like Queen Elizabeth II and her husband are related and other things like how long Nelson Mandella spent in prison. These are all very useful things, do not deny yourself this information. As I am editing this, I am realising that I didn’t draw this point in my hilarious cartoon version of this blog post. I will forever regret this.

10. Respond respond respond

Now, this is the thing that I am worst at in life. I don’t know how many times I have written in my diary ‘ahh I really need to stay on top of my message and email responses’ to no avail. I don’t know what it is but I’m working on it, and the subway is a great place to get it done. As I type, I am vehemently aware of all of my unread messages.

I hope this was more comical than helpful. I really don’t care how you spend your time on your commute. I don’t know what kind of day you’re having. We all need to unwind with YouTube videos to clear our cloudy brains. This is more of a cultural observation combined with a pretty useless solution to something that may not even be perceived as a problem. But, if you’re feeling guilty about your phone usage, just know that the world will continue to be flat and have zero gravitational pull, regardless of how many memes you watch on a continuous loop.

‘Well, that was an unexpected ending? I want to read more of this blog! But HOW?’ Please do, I upload when I feel like it about topics relating to Korean culture. Feel free to leave a comment, I always respond. Have a very Korean day!

A Day of Books in Seoul, South Korea

Here are a selection of images from my humble, but forever runing out of power, smartphone. I’ve been wandering around bookstores and the Seoul Metropolitan Library in the City Hall area of Seoul.

After multiple unanswered phone calls with an airline that shall remain nameless, I needed to get outside into the fresh air. Although my fingers are numb, fresh cold air is better than the music you have to listen to when you’re on hold.

I hope my 2-3 regular readers are having a great week! I would love to hear about what you get up to in the wintertime in Seoul. Stay WARM! The bookstore in this post is called ‘Arc’n’Book’.

If you’re interested, the area in the map below is a great place to walk around and find things to do in Seoul! You can kind of just wander and end up in a cool, photogenic location!

Saying Annyeong to Melbourne

Last week, I had to say farewell to the people in my Melbourne life and prepare to welcome a new life in Seoul. We celebrated on a gorgeous (yet intermittently-rainy) Melbourne afternoon with a picnic in front of the Royal Exhibition Building (Victoria’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site). I am now in my new home in Seoul writing about this picnic and I am so glad that I was able to celebrate with a truly Australian-style picnic. Dips and crackers, vegemite cheesy scrolls (handmade), yo-yo biscuits, choc-chip cookies, fruits and delicious Pimms cocktails. My posts on this blog shall now be Koreany ones and I shall be chronicling my life as an English teacher in Seoul! Enjoy!

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Gami – Chimaek in Melbourne!

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Hello, Chickens. Last night, my hardworking design pals and I went out to eat so much chicken and beer that I am still feeling the food baby triplets kicking a day later. We all recently completed our Industrial Design Honours projects and had been threatening the idea of a Korean chicken and karaoke night for eight months. (You know, one of those, ‘Oh, gosh, wow, yeah we gotta do that’, kind of circular discussion that never amounts to anything. UNTIL NOW!) We finally did it but replaced the Karaoke part with ten pin bowling. Bowling and Karaoke are basically the same things – hard work and elbow grease will make you a pro but being inadequate and embarrassingly losing will still lead to fun times and mandatory tequila shots all around.

We ate our long-awaited Korean chicken at Gami and I’m happy to report that they serve up a good time and a good chicken. I’m yet to have chicken like this in Korea because these chooks tasted like they had been on a 7-day spa slash yoga “journey” in India and were reluctant to return home. The ones that didn’t extend their Eat Prey Love holidays ended up at Gami and boy am I glad they did. Washed down with some cold beer, kimchi pancakes and shots of straight soju, we had quite the time. Check out Gami’s website here (even if you’re not in Melbourne) it’s such a cute site, wow!! I also didn’t realise how many locations they have in Australia! Go and have a yummy meal, people! They’re great!

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Whole chicken (ft. bones) – Garlic Soy (left) and Sweet Chilli (right)

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We went for another round of self-discovery chick this time with original (top) and really mother f***ing spicy flavour. The spicy chicken sat in a bath of chilli and got lost in its thoughts, letting its fingers go pruney and sultan-ry. Then the chicken was all like, ‘oh gosh, I’d best get out of this chilli-filled tub and slap my frock on, I have a chicken social event to get to’. Little did that chicken know…

Thank you Chris for letting me use your photos! ^_^