I’ve just returned from a weekend in Busan with a few friends. It was mighty craic altogether I tell you and I’m convinced that Busan is the Galway of Korea. But more about that in another post. In this post I want to talk about the KTX.
For anyone who doesn’t know what the KTX is, it’s the Korea Train eXpress, the high speed rail. For anyone who doesn’t know what Busan is, it’s the second largest city in Korea and it’s got a beach so it’s quite the popular destination. A one way ticket to Busan set me back 50,000 and the return train ticket was a similar price. So not too cheap but not too expensive either. After buying the tickets online, you simply exchange them for actual tickets at the counter in the station. The seats are assigned so it’s seriously happy days.
Before you get on the train you walk over a yellow line that says “We trust you! Only paid customers past this line”. That’s Korea for you, all trusting and you think to yourself “hhhmmm this train might be a bit of craic”.However, once you get on the train, it’s like you step into a parallel universe, one that is allergic to noise. Even as you are settling down for your journey and organising your stuff, you can hear a pin drop. Then you sit back and look up and see a tv screen. Excellent, maybe they’ll play a tv show or a movie. No sorry, they won’t, they just use this t.v. as a way to tell you to be quiet and “respect the other passengers on the train”. That includes phone calls and children. It was hard enough keeping myself quiet for 3 hours but can you imagine keeping a young child occupied for that amount of time? I reckon the journey would most likely be spent in between the carriages where it’s safe to make as much noise as you wish.
Sitting in your seat in silence gives you time to think. Nothing more, nothing less. You could think about your conscience or lack thereof if you got on without a ticket. You could think about how this silent train would make a great blog post. You could think about the unfortunate person who has no other choice but to sit next to you (mwuh mwuh mwuh). You could think about 5 ways to kill the person next to you if they pick their nose one more time. You could read or listen to music ( but not too loudly) but it would be better to embrace this gift from the Korean railroad authorities…..silent thinking time. I reckon its silent because they think that Koreans lead high stress, busy lives and need this silent thinking time to come up with the next super smart phone or self-cleaning apartment or whatever.
Then there’s the train lady. I don’t know where they get them but the train ladies are always the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen. The uniform is oh so similar to the Korean Air one so I reckon they must train the train and plane ladies in the same place. All the thinking I did on the train led me to the conclusion that perhaps the train ladies are the ones who couldn’t quite make it as Korean Air ladies. And it’s not an easy job. I mean have you seen the skill with which she walks up and down the carriages? First she’s wearing heels so this in itself is a minor obstacle. Then she manages to walk straight through the entire carriage, something I tried in flip flops and failed at. The train just kept shaking from side to side, it was impossible. Of course she doesn’t actually help anyone because that would involve talking and as we’ve already discussed that’s totally against the rules. Instead she busies herself fixing bags and smiling or glaring at people.
Anyway, she carries around this machine which I figure is the conscience reader. That’s why she goes up and down so often. She has to take reading throughout the journey to see if you have used the thinking train time wisely. Then at the end of the day she graphs it and Korail use it to improve services. It’s also how she catches ticket evaders as they will cause the machine to spike to abnormal levels. Fact.
All the thinking I did on the train kept me occupied for 3 entire hours and before I knew it I was in Busan to practice my speaking and talk on the phone. If I came up with all this is it any wonder that Korea has Samsung, LG, Hyundai and all those other Korean companies? It wouldn’t surprise me if all these companies sent their workers on KTX journeys as a brain storming exercise.
So next time you get the KTX have a little think about what I’ve said here. But remember whatever you do on your KTX journey, do it quietly.