Had to go retrieve my U.S. driver’s license today from the Ansan Driver Licensing, and it was my opportunity to try out the new high-speed train from Chuncheon that is now part of the subway system and replacing the Mugunwha train that’s been running for years and that Koreans are so nostalgic about.
There weren’t any new maps or train schedules at our train station, and Korail’s way-finding signage is always text-based and not as well coded as the regular subway system, so it’s initially confusing.
As always with Korail, they number by the sides of the platforms and use the names of the destinations in text to differentiate the routes, whereas the regular subway system uses the numbers to indicate the routes and are intuitively color-coded. It’s especially confusing because once you get to the platform you can’t tell which side to stand at, because each side of the platform says a stop that should be on the same route – still haven’t figured this out – maybe it’s just anticipating doubling the cars in the future? Because right now, the trains are only running down the middle, between the two platforms. But anyway, you get over the confusion of not knowing which side to stand at once the train appears. And it wasn’t just me – I watched Koreans who, of course, aren’t illiterate like I am, also confused.
Heading towards Seoul isn’t an issue, as there’s only one train possible to get onto, the one heading to SangBong. I’d heard rumors earlier that the train would go straight to Seoul Station, but that’s not true. You have to either transfer to Korail’s Jungang/Yongsan line or transfer to line 7;. But heading back from Seoul WAS an issue, because there are two lines to choose from.
They’ve split/staggered the stops up, to reduce travel time. So I got on the Maseok/Chuncheon train thinking – it’s heading to Chuncheon, so it must be the train I need since it’s going in the right direction. Wrong. Fortunately, at the Maseok stop I heard them say the next stop would be Gapyeong, and I realized it would be PASSING my town altogether. Also fortunately, it is possible to transfer at Maseok in case you also make this mistake. So I got off at Maseok, switched to the other platform, and took the Daesong-ri/Chuncheon train. Nowhere did I see an easily intelligible map showing how the stops were distributed among the two lines. I guess you just learn by experience. I was able to pick up new subway maps indicating the new line while at Sangbong, but it is represented as one line and indicates all stops; not differentiating how they are split up.
The trip is every bit as gorgeous as it always was – they’ve only cut a couple corners on the rails, and you can barely tell, though towards Seoul of course you see some different urban scenery as you head to meet the Jungang line. I do wish they had enclosed the train platforms, though, as it was only about ten degrees Fahrenheit today with a bitter wind, and because the route is split in two, the wait between trains is about twice as long as your typical subway wait.
But, altogether it’s a great change. Total travel time for me was about 40 minutes, down from about 55 minutes, and it gives you a couple more options for transfer that are deeper into the center of Seoul. Plus the Jungang follows the Han river, so it’s a little more pleasant on the eye. And, because the Jungang itself has always had less stops on it, I was able to make it to the driver licensing office in Ansan a good half hour earlier than would have been possible previously, and it runs about an hour and a half later, which means coming to Seoul is less rushed. And being able to use my T-money card and pay about half the fare I used to is pretty awesome as well.
Had to take taxis to and from line 4 to get to the licensing office. The Gojan stop I took there cost 2,000 won less than the Ansan stop leaving.
So to get your Korean license you have to give them your foreign license and they hold it until you should leave the country, whereupon you can get it back. Since I only want my license for I.D. purposes and to drive temporarily while in the states, I wanted to see if they would just swap the two licenses and hold my Korean one in the same way, until I got back.
Well, this is kind of a complex thing to explain when you can’t speak Korean, so once again it was BBB Translation Service to the rescue! So here’s the p.s.a.: You can’t get your American license back unless you bring them your passport and your plane ticket! Great, I thought. I’ve just traveled three hours for nothing. But, thanks to the translator, we figured out that they have two computers for the public there, and the lady at the counter let me email her my e-ticket and a scan of my passport that she could print out. And – here’s the best part – Once you do that, you are finished: you now have two driver’s licenses, one for each country. So I’ve absolutely no idea why they make that rule that you have to leave your foreign license in hock when you can get it back and keep both.
I can’t remember being so cold in my life. I had forgotten how your Toes feel double the size and are in pain. I am picturing them frostbitten, black with necrosis, and I know it can get ten degrees colder or more. Gotta stop watching the history channel, as there were some photos of frostbite of American G.I.’s during the Korean war. I’m not remembering being this cold last year. According to wikipedia, Chuncheon once had a low of -18 degrees Fahrenheit! I am learning to dress better. Commuting, if you over-dress, you can sweat and then freeze and then sweat, etc., so it’s counter-intuitive, but better to not over-insulate your torso, and instead keep your extremities warmer. Extra socks would be nice (must remember that) and legwarmers (must remember that, too!) and arm warmers or long half gloves. Also, mittens are better because your fingers warm each other. And if it’s really cold, then both. If your coat has a hood, it’s better to wrap your scarf around the outside of/including the hood, as if you don’t, the air finds its way past your neck and down your back and shoulders. And those surgical masks? I still haven’t bought one, but I’m thinking about it. It’s a great way to keep your nose warm without steaming up your glas’tses like a scarf over your nose will. And the hat. Not wearing one is just stupid. And long underware. Musn’t forget that.
I never did dye my hair or drink that Guiness, so I think I have to do that before I figure out how little I can pack for my trip.
No word from Kim Sook Ja about the DNA testing suggestion. I’m sure she’s got a lot to process right now, and that’s just too big too soon.