The Seoul Subway System… the World’s Best?

Recently the good people at declared the Seoul subway system to be the world’s best. I’m not sure who exactly grants the authority to make these types of declarations (there are dozens of varying online lists of the ‘world’s best subway systems’), but the Seoul metro is certainly very good. It’s cheap, clean, trains arrive within nanoseconds of their scheduled time, they have heated seats in the winter, glass doors on the platforms to reduce the number of suicides, the world’s first virtual supermarket for smartphone users, wi-fi absolutely everywhere… all good stuff.

Pyongyang subway car

The writer of this particular article also placed the 17-station Pyongyang metro as one of the worlds ten finest, so… still, Seoul has a great subway, which is lucky for me because I spend a lot of time down there.

I don’t own an iAnything, so during the last few years I’ve read a few books beneath the city, and I like to do a bit of writing. Sometimes I just stare blankly at that stupid screen. If you happen to be familiar with the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit System (subway lines 5,6,7 & 8), you’ve probably noticed them. The small TV screens are in every subway car and they play a ridiculous series of short instructional videos on endless loop, day after day, year after year.

There’s something slightly odd about these videos. It’s not the atrocious acting (that’s to be expected) and it’s not ludicrous slogan (that’s mandatory – the slogan of the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit System is, ‘This is SMRT, where Seoul’s happiness takes off!’) Seriously? I mean, if an emotion, or concept, such as ‘happiness’ were to be able to ‘take off’ (whatever that means), why would it choose to do so on the subway?

Anyway, what I find strange about these videos is simply their existence. There is an apparent need for detailed instructions regarding every conceivable occurance that might take place during one’s SMRT experience, from how to correctly ride the escalator, to how to arrive successfully at your chosen destination without having molested any women.

Subway videos

One favourite family-oriented piece of SMRT travel advice involves a young boy. Around two years of age, we see the boy smiling, running down the centre of the subway car and generally being a two-year-old. Next we see his older sister (all of perhaps four) who wags a tiny disapproving finger at her younger sibling, informing him that as of this very moment his childhood has officially reached its conclusion. Finally, social conformity and gender roles firmly established, we cut back to a heart-warming scene in which the girl and no-longer-smiling boy sit obediently, whispering to their mother and father respectively. Wonderful stuff!

In another 30-second clip, we are subtly reminded that actually paying your subway fare gives a man an enviable feeling of self-satisfaction. Not only that, nearby female commuters will fail to look disdainfully at you, and may perceivably be more inclined to want to have sex with you.

Funnily enough, the things that piss people off the most about the Seoul subway (the Christian preachers and drunkards) are barely mentioned, if at all (I haven’t noticed the emergency hotline number you’re supposed to call to get rid of unwanted preachers, though there is one for when you notice anyone looking suspiciously like a North Korean spy – the number for that is 111).

The weirdest thing of all though, considering that these numerous short videos are apparently necessary, it seems that a great number of people don’t pay them the slightest heed. I’ve seen every ‘rule’ broken (yes, even the ‘try not to molest people on the subway’ one) and most of them, like ‘don’t push other people out of the way when you’re getting on or off the subway’ don’t seem to have caught on at all.

There are a couple of useful, practical tips for commuters, like, ‘how to put out a subway fire’ (with a fire extinguisher), and how to correctly put on a gas mask (though if the SMRT experienced a bio-terrorist attack, the immediate and far greater problem would be surviving the initial melee sure to erupt over who would successfully claim the dozen or so gas masks conveniently located at each station).

Some things are not mentioned in the SMRT etiquette videos, such as smoking, drinking, screaming, physical violence, spitting and/or using the subway cars as a toilet. It is perhaps due to SMRT’s oversight in failing to provide educational videos encouraging people not to engage in these kinds of things, such activities are generally acted out somewhat more realistically for the enjoyment of Youtube audiences. Here’s a couple.

Oh, and one more snippet about SMRT, where Seoul’s happiness takes off!  In Serbia (the land that vowels forgot) smrt is actually a word. The word is ‘death’.


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