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Public Transportation and Ajumas

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Seoul Green bus 08 pulling up to the stop outside my school.

I ride subways and buses all the time here in Korea.
During the workweek its an average of about three buses and as many subways a day. This is a matter of necessity. I do not have a car. I have thought of buying a cheap automobile but owning and driving a car in Seoul seems to be a monumental headache. Traffic is horrendous; the city layout is expansive and complicated. Parking takes nearly as long as the trip itself. Then there is the ever present possibility of accidents and pedestrian maimings, teacher-budget-gouging gas prices and the ambiguous question of foreigner driver's license legality to boot. Public transportation is much more user friendly, especially for the distances I travel. Half the time I am going from southern central Seoul, across the Han River and into the Northwesternly area in the evening and then returning every morning for work. The other half I remain south of the Han river but still it still involves a good deal of distance commuting.
Riding a bicycle is no longer an option. I remember the days of living in Seattle, riding my Bianchi road-bike like a banshee, being treated as an equal road traveler among automobiles. Bike lanes and helmets and locks and messenger bags and clip in cleats that don't always clip out. I don't even entertain the fantasy of this option here in Korea. I would be dead within the week I'm sure- just trying to get to and from work. If I ever tried to bike to Sinchon I'm sure I would never make it.

Passengers exiting a Seoul subway car.

There are many options for the frequent public transportation user. You can let the rides be relaxing and brainless; the world of Seoul washing over your unobservant eyes. You can read or look at homemade note cards. Devour gimbap. Devote all your attention to phone calls. No matter what you do, you don't have to preoccupy yourself with the basic task of getting somewhere. There is no accompanying anxiety with the public transportation trip itself.
I will admit this before I release my observation. I never used public transportation in America. I don't know what it is like. Quite possibly there are some similarities.
Most frequently the following occurs in the morning. I'm riding the subway or bus in an atmosphere of relative silence. Maybe the radio is quietly entertaining the driver. Maybe the driver is honking at imbeciles who have failed to negotiate a rotary correctly, inhibiting his timely passage. There are your basic phone conversations. But then, every now and then, there is a burst of ferociousness from an Ajuma receiving a telephone call. I am not embellishing this time. It is always an aged Korean woman, an Ajuma, who does the shrieking. Listening to these unintelligible rants during early morning commutes is brutal and disquieting. There is the blinding sunlight, which leaves me with my eyes closed, leaving my ears alone to take the blows. A mental image appears from this deathly, piercing sound. I pity the target of the rage, no matter what this person has done I pity them. Through my sun blasted squint I can only envision the violent ripping of this person apart with the wild discursive rant. I have tried to imagine to what degree these middle age women have been wronged but I cant put it together. I have made women yet at me before but not like that. No, not like that.
I don't know what they are saying either. But whatever it is they aren't shy or ashamed about it. This a full volume discursive public disemboweling of a digitally connected enemy, who probably was and ultimately will remain an acquaintance.
My mornings will never be the same no matter where I live or what I do.

This is a picture of one of the subway seats on Seoul's line #2. They began replacing these seats with less comfortable and more bland looking seats. The new seats would also be less flammable. There was an incident last winter where some wank set a subway car on fire; the removal of padded seats like these seems to be the consequence. I snapped this photo to document comfort. They had begun removing and replacing the seats car by car. Yes, I realize this is the handicapped seat. And, no I never sat there.

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