Bootcamp NYC (Korean public transportation and other things)

At the conclusion of my freshman year of college, I watched the class of 2010’s commencement ceremony from my 15th floor dorm room. When the ceremony was over, Sinatra’s sweet voice played through the campus while elated graduates sang and formed celebratory kick-lines. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…” Looking down at the seniors, I couldn’t wait for that to be me, and soon enough it was.
I’m convinced that I would not have transitioned smoothly into South Korea if I had not first spent four years in New York City, mainly for three reasons: public transportation, stressful situations, and being alone.
1. Visitors to New York are always impressed by people who can navigate the city with ease; however, they shouldn’t be. New York — Manhattan at least– is a giant grid. Getting from point A to point B is basically as simple as plotting coordinates in a game of Battleship. The subway can be a bit tricky when it comes to transferring lines, and the buses may be reserved for more seasoned New Yorkers, but after some exposure, traveling in the city isn’t too difficult. And if you do get lost, you can always catch a cab.

With that said, if you’ve ever taken the subway from the Upper West Side to JFK with a 50 pound suitcase at Christmas time, you can navigate the Korean subway system no problem. The subways in Korea are much gentler than those of New York. None of that abrupt stop, trying to get you to fall on your face business. On the train, stops are announced in both Korean and English, which is crazy to me. I mean, despite the number of Spanish-speakers in NYC, you’re never going to hear anyone speaking Spanish over the intercom… If you’re in Seoul, I recommend the snazzy Jihachul subway app.

You can use your phone and get WiFi underground. That’s good in the sense that it’s amazingly convenient, but you miss out on the beautiful sight of rows of people reading books to pass their commute time. Instead, you get rows of people on giant Samsung smartphones. 

The bus is a little more tricky. I’d say tag along with someone who knows where they’re going until you learn your own way; that’s been my strategy at least. There are a couple cool things about Korean buses. The inter-city buses tell you how many seats are available and also have WiFi and phone chargers onboard. There’re also airport shuttles that take you directly to Incheon, so that’s convenient.

You pay for the subway with a T-money card, but unlike MetroCards, with T-Money, you pay for distance travelled, not per swipe, so you save quite a bit. You can buy and refill cards at convenience stores or in subway stations.


2. In the words of Forrest Gump, “S*** happens.” You get set on fire at restaurants; you’re approached by emo guys who look like they’re going to kill you; you shamelessly cry in public parks; you get cursed out by strangers a couple times a year. (There are actually decent stories there… Ask me sometime.) But yeah, learning from past experiences, I feel New York prepared me to be pretty lax about situations out of my control. That’s probably why I haven’t quit my job… In the end, life is life. Conflict makes for better stories — at least in the movies.

3. Lastly, likely one of the most important things New York taught me was how to spend most of my time alone without being lonely, which is not to say I’m never lonely. A city of over eight million people, it’s astounding how isolated you can feel there. The numbers provide anonymity, and with everyone taking up an independent, “you do you boo” attitude, it’s easy to get lost. NYC taught me to find peace in solitude. At the same time, New York — specifically, the church in New York — taught me to be intentional with relationships, to make time for friends, to stick to appointments, and to be sacrificial with my time because people need people. “It was not good for man to be alone.” So, in Korea, I’m trying to do those things as I start to make friends here. I haven’t been here that long though, so these observations could be prematurely thought out… 

But anyway, I love New York. When I think about that city, I hear this song in my head and at the same time, remember all the brokenness that resides there. Regardless, I can’t wait to go back someday. Until then…

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