Every morning and every afternoon, I take the Seoul Subway to and from work. It’s clean, reasonably efficient, and gets me to downtown Seoul in around an hour and a half. Although sometimes, it can get pretty exhausting – particularly when there aren’t any seats left and you’re forced to stand, which more often than not is the case. And sometimes, when you rush down the escalator, your bag flying behind you and your coattails nipping at your heels, only to gaze upon the distant taillights of the train that just left the station – well, that can get a little irritating.
But it’s full of interesting stories and observations that I never would’ve gotten to see had I just taken a taxi, or a bus.
Should I tell you about some of them?
Once, I was gratefully sitting on a seat that someone had vacated and was closing my eyes when the train slowed to a halt and the doors whooshed open.
In came around a dozen yelling, leaping, and generally annoying grade-school students, coming back from (what was presumably) a field trip somewhere.
They were accompanied by one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life.
Let me repeat that: in my life.
She was obviously a schoolteacher (although she should’ve been a runway model), and she was looking pretty haggard – probably because she was in charge of controlling the out-of-control kids that were now wrecking havoc in the subway car. A few of them sat in the corner, laughing loudly at some joke. A few of them were banging on the doors.
She had gotten most of them to sit, when as luck would have it, there was one student left – and no seats.
I took the initiative.
“Hi there. Do you want to sit here?” I asked the student.
I felt like something of a hero as I stood up as gracefully as I could manage in the middle of a rocking subway car, adjusted my coat in a genteel kind of way, and two-stepped my way across the aisle and smiled as the young student took her seat.
When the schoolteacher smiled, blushed, and said thank you, I replied, “No problem” as politely as I could – but I was screaming inside because, hey, I was standing next to an angel. I think that is a pretty reasonable compromise for giving up a measly seat on a subway train.
We stood next to each other for what felt like eternity, but as I found out later on, it was only for three stations. When the subway doors opened at my destination, I adjusted the strap on my bag in an I-gotta-go kind of way and waved at her one last time.
She waved back.
I turned around a few steps after. The subway doors had closed, and I could see her face through the windows.
It might’ve just been my imagination, but her face seemed to be happier than when she had boarded the train.
I watched the taillights fade away in the distance, then turned my steps toward home.