Saturday, October 5, 2013

Pushy Seoul

A group of people from my program have been taking Korean language classes in Seoul for five weeks now. They invited me along this past Saturday and with the class costing 1,000 won (less than a dollar) per class, I'm planning on a weekly trip to Seoul -- which is fine by me. I like Seoul; in a city of ten million, there's millions of things to see and do. And there are millions of people to gawk at.

There is also something neat about the fact that I was born in Seoul. It's one of those odd feelings that I can only describe as romantic. It's poetic but more straight cut than poetry. It doesn't feel like "I've come to the mothership" or anything like that. It's simply Seoul, the city and culture I was born into. 

After class, a few of us decided to go to the big fireworks show right outside the Yeouido subway station. With themed segements representing different countries - France and Cananda being two of them - the fireworks supposedly lasted for over an hour. My favorite part was the festival food. There were whole chickens rotisserie-style for 6,000 won, fried everything, and corn on the cob that tasted like the kernels were infused with rice. Rice is a main dish in Korea, but I don't know how they did that to the corn. Once the fireworks started, I really enjoyed watching the general reaction. It was as if the Koreans had never seen fireworks before. I mean, there were kids rightfully freaking out (one boy sitting on his dad's shoulders was pounding his little fists on his dad's head over and over in his excitement). But there were adults talking quickly in Korean with intermitant booming, imitating the fireworks. It was adorable. 

That being said, THERE WERE SO MANY PEOPLE. As one is in a different country, I'm glad I went. But I may just avoid major events like that in Seoul ever again. Or just make plans to spend the night and wait out the crowd. Walking into the festival grounds was an experience because the sheer number of people really got to me. Got to me in the sense that wow, there are a shit ton of people in this world, and I'm walking with ALL of them. It was like we were folllowing Moses into the promised land. Everyone heading for the same place. But getting home was a nightmare. We thought we would be fine leaving after the first segment of fireworks. And it might have been okay had the subway traffic been more organized and less pushy. 

I'm not sure if Seoul thought this fireworks festival was going to draw far less people than it did, but there needed to be a team of police dedicated to subway traffic control. It honestly would have been as simple as having a police "bouncer" outside the subway entrance to regulate the number of people going into the station. But they didn't and it was literally a suffocating experience. It took over a hour to get through a space that normally would have taken a few minutes. It wasn't the time that made me so angry but the pushing. We got down there, and there was no turning around. Koreans just shoving us into the crowd. It was completely unnecessary and excalated the situation into a trampling news-like story. There were families with really young kids that I was genuinely scared for. The kids were just wailing because it was so hot and they were getting pushed into -- it was not okay.

It changed my perspective a little bit about Koreans as a people. They are reasonable and polite; however, that experience was stupid. It made me recognize the selfishness and desperation that resides in all people when trying to catch a late night subway.  

I was trying to imagine if this would've happened in Paris or NYC, the other two cities I've been to with subways. It could most definitely. But would people push and shove like that? I can only hope not. 

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