5 ways to pass your time on a subway.

Clean.

Clean.

Seoul boasts one of the top subway systems in the world. This opinion is reiterated by article after article. It’s easy to see why: fares are typically $1-2; the trains are punctual; the cars are climate-controlled; the system is very clear and organized, with maps all over the place; and everything is translated in English. But what amazes me the most, is how clean everything is. The subways are spotless, and I would choose a subway restroom over nearly any restaurant’s. Spending an hour on the subway is welcome alternative to a drive up to Minneapolis or St. Paul back home.

That brings the question: what do you do for that trip from your home station to the nearest hike or night out? Though it doesn’t take long to understand the system, there are some clear signs that person A is more acclimated to the commute than person B. Here’s a progression of ways to pass your time:

And cleaner.

And cleaner.

5.) Look lost. Trace your path with your finger on the subway map. Possibly get on the wrong subway. Once on the right subway, continue looking at all the maps, advertisements, and TV screens like you’ve never seen one in your life. You won’t fit in, but at least you’ll keep busy.

4.) Stare at the door. After a short bit you tire of seeing ads for vacation packages or plastic surgery clinics. There’s also no way you’re getting a seat, as the preference goes to ajummas (old women) and their TaeKwonDo elbows. So at this point all you can do is people watch or stare at the door as you wait for the time to pass.

Sleepy.

Sleepy.

3.) Use your phone. Korea’s subway systems are wireless, so the fortunate few can connect with their ipods/ipads on their first subway ride. For the rest of us it takes at least a month and a half to get our phones, this is one of those coveted signs that you belong in Korea slightly more than you did upon arrival. Now you fit in with everyone else, their grandma, and their 7 year old daughter: all of whom have had smartphones longer than you. An added benefit is that with your new fancy smart phone you’ll never run out of things to do. Plug in those headphones and listen to your new Kpop downloads, explore your new apps, or obsessively check your facebook and kakao.

2.) Be productive. You might as well make something out of your trip. Catch up on your reading, or bring a text book to study. It’s unlikely you’re still realistically trying to learn Korean at this point, but you can always bring your flashcards to make you feel better about yourself. Make note that this is NOT a time to cram in a meal. You bring that kimbap or bag of chips on the subway and you’re bound to get some glares. Seoul doesn’t keep them clean just so you can get crumbs all over the place.

And sleepier.

And sleepier.

1.) Sleep. Whether you’re catching the 5:30am subway after a long night, or just exhausted from a long day of work, the subway’s a great place to lean your head back and catch some Zs. This is a favorite among the elderly, though you’re never too young. It may be an intentional power nap, or an accidental doze, as was the case for me last Saturday afternoon. (Fortunately a nice old man was kind enough to wake me up at my stop.) Whatever it is, if you’re fortunate to have a seat and a few stops, you may as well take the opportunity to recharge your batteries.

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