Zao (good morning) from Taipei! I had the foolish idea of booking my flight leaving out of Seoul at 8 am in the morning when there were no trains, buses, or taxis running early enough for me to make my flight. Since I needed to be at the airport at 5 am for my early flight ✈️ to Taiwan, I decided to take the last train to the airport the night before and sleep on the hard, wooden chairs at the Seoul airport.
I was only in Seoul for two and a half days, but it was a very eye-opening and insightful experience. Here are some of my random thoughts and observations. They are written in no particular order so excuse the messy and unorganized thought process:
1. Some young couples either married or dating like to wear matching outfits. Blacks and whites are very popular colors here so matching or not, these were their colors of choice. I asked my new Korean friend about the matching outfits and was surprised with his response. He said he hopes he gets to wear these matching outfits as well...
2. Seoul has complicated metro lines. It is pretty much all wheelchair accessible one way or another via elevators or stairlifts, but it can be so sloooowwww. For instance, I was at one of the major metro hub, Seoul Station and only needed to transfer to one stop, but I had to take at least three elevators and go through long and winy walkways. If you don’t speak the local language, the subway system is very time-consuming and exhausting to navigate for people with mobility disabilities. Most people here don’t speak much English either.
3. As I alluded to above, if you are relying on public transportation to navigate around, be sure to allow lots and lots of time. The elevators are hard to find and it is not especially clear where the metro lines are and which direction you should be going when you are in a station with multiple lines. Seoul has all the ingredientst to create a perfectly accessible public transportation system, but it is arranged in the most complicated and inaccessible way!
4. When there are no elevators to the metro platform or exits, they have slow wheelchair lifts. And when I say slow, I mean ssssllllllooowww! The metro stairlifts in Tokyo are twice as fast as those in Seoul.
5. It seems like there were rare occasions when they didn’t have elevators or stairlifts. This wouldn’t be so bad if I could use the escalators, but the escalators have a bar in the middle to block wheelchairs and strollers from going on it. It was either this or the escalators were too narrow.
6. As can be gathered from my previous post, Seoul is actually very hilly in some areas. For instance, the path to Seoul Tower has some super steep ramps before you reach the gondola 🚡 that takes you to the top.
7. Be prepared for most people to have limited to no english proficiency...allow lots of time for everything when you are navigating in a wheelchair. The amount of curve balls experienced when traveling in a wheelchair needs some serious patients, persistence and stamina.
8. The ticket booth is too high in all metro stations and there are limited to no staff around to help since everything is automated.
9. Some people are truly very unhelpful. For instance, I asked a group of Korean men who were all pretty boys and dressed well. They seem well educated as well. When I ask them to help me up the steps, they said it was too unsafe and argued with me for longer than it would’ve taken them to carry me up the steps. There were around 6-8 men, but they all hesitated to help. In the end, they all chose to stare at me with pity and talked in a circle around me. I will be honest, it was one of the most infuriating experiences of my trip. I’ve traveled around the world and never have I experience so many healthy, strong men unwilling to help by saying it was unsafe after I informed them I only weighed 90 pounds. It would’ve been a piece of cake for them, and yet... I have to remind myself during times like these, it is all part of the travel experience...
10. People have very white faces here. A lot of times, it is whiter than the rest of their body. A lot of men/boys seem to have a similar looking bowl cut hairstyle. It’s very unique to here.
11. I’ve noticed from all of my metro rides that South Koreans are very fashionable and physically attractive. Compared to the other Asian countries I’ve traveled to, SK men seem taller as well. They all have really clear and healthy complexion. I’ve heard SK has a great cosmetic line, perhaps that has something to do with it?
12. SK people also seem happier and more carefree as well. This is all very subjective, especially this specific observation. My feeling, after roaming in their world, is they seem happier than people in other Asian countries.
13. They have some complicated toilets here. Even my German friend confessed to me she couldn’t figure out how to flush some of the toilets.
14. One of my favorite things about SK and Taiwan is that they reuse and recycle their metro tickets/cards. In SK, every time you purchase a single-fare metro card, you have to put down 500 won (Korean currency) deposit. Only when you return your metro card at the end of your trip do you get your deposit back. This saves so much plastic and paper!
I really enjoyed Seoul and learned so much from them, but I am relieved to not have to navigate their complicated metro system and hilly terrain any longer. I am also happy that I will be able to speak the language of the locals in the next three countries I will be traveling to. Navigating around countries where English or Chinese is not spoken is exhausting, frustrating and so time-consuming.
Anyway, for the next post, I will share with you my favorite city of all time and the most wheelchairs accessible transportation system in the world! 🌎