WHAT DOES the local subway mean to you? To the majority, the subway has always been simply a mode of transport. The worn out pastel walls of the underground guide hundreds of people to the soundless platform. The eyes of the people waiting avoid each other’s, and are fixed at whatever is on their hands. Finally! The subway approaches and everyone scrambles inside for a seat that will comfortably carry them for however long. You too, sit and fall asleep, continue playing games on your phone, or surf the internet for a place to have lunch with your friend. Subway – it is a channel of commute, serving its purpose as a means to get you wherever you intend to. So it is only natural it never crossed your uninterested minds, that a subway can be more than a sheer public transportation. Subways can, in fact, provide a vast unexplored field of ordinary life – at the best price and accessibility. So swing your backpack over your back, carry your camera around your neck and off you go – discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, by travelling along the subway.
Museums: food for knowledge
Travelling along subway lanes may sound simple, but where to start? There are too many complicated lanes in the Seoul metro subway. Here is a suggestion: how about starting with lane four? Lane four is one of the few subway lanes that connect the south and the north extremities of Seoul and Kyunggi. It runs straight across Seoul starting from Oido, a land located at the south-western edge of Kyunggi, to Danggogae, a small town in the opposite north-east side of Seoul. Such length allows lane four to pass through some of Korea’s major landmarks, which makes it the perfect starting point for a Seoul and Kyunggi-do tour.
To begin with, start your trip from Ichon; a city located slightly north of Han River, and is best known as the location of the National Museum of Korea. It is a destination that is only 30 minutes away from Sinchon by subway. Near exit two of Ichon station, there is a direct channel that connects the station to the museum. Take the short modern walkway to an open space where a small traditional Korean park and the main museum buildings await. The main building is the National Museum of Korea, which was established in 1909 when the Chang Kyung Goong museum was made accessible to the public. Since then, the museum has been representing itself as the most preeminent one in Korea. The museum building holds more than forty galleries which feature different eras throughout history. Starting with the prehistoric and ancient gallery that holds artefacts from Goosukgi-sidae or the Paleolithic Age to the Josun Dynasty, the museum displays thousands of historic pieces, paintings, potteries, and sculptures to name a few. Some galleries also feature pieces from abroad, most notably in the Asian Art gallery, with works from China, Japan, India, and other areas of South East Asia.
After the historic tour, take the subway once more and move on to Hoehyeon station, the Wall Street and Piccadilly Circus of Korea. Alight from exit seven, and the vibrant city aura will gush in. As can be inferred from its vicinity to City Hall and Seoul station, Hoehyeon is one of the most economically and socially active hotspots in Seoul. A short walk of about five minutes from exit seven takes you to the Bank of Korea. Beside it is the old and majestic Money Museum, which was open to the public free of charge and managed by the Bank of Korea since 1950. Anything about money can be found in this building. The museum features galleries about the history of the Bank of Korea, the life of a currency, how currencies are made, how money affects economy, and much more. All of this is not just simply displayed, but presents a variety of interactive learning opportunities that catch the interest of people of all ages. Also, starting from December 2013 to November 2014, the museum has a special gallery at display on the second floor, themed “Fashion in Money.” It presents currencies from different parts of the world and explains how the fashion depicted in such currencies represent the countries’ traditional costumes, and also why such costumes came to develop in each specific part of the world.
Eat, pray, love (or just eat and love)
After a lengthy yet stimulating tour of museums, it is only natural to seek for some place for delicacy. But where? Not to worry – there are many, just around the corner. Take a five minute walk to the west of the Money Museum, and the dynamic city aura begins to fade. Instead, an appetising smell begins to flow in the air and you will find yourself in Bookchang-dong Mukja Golmok. Welcome to the most delicious street in Seoul.
Bookchang-dong Mukja Golmok is a series of streets and has always been a popular destination for hungry travellers, office workers and just about anyone in Korea. Its history tracks back more than nearly 20 years. In fact, Maeil Kyungjae published an article in 1996 about how the street is “ceaselessly filled by workers working in the vicinity area, searching for delicious meal.” Especially in the evening, the vibrant street comes to life with food ranging from Korean beef, Jjamppong, Jjeegae, and more. Thus, this is the perfect place to pick up some food. Do not worry about which restaurant to eat in – all are guaranteed to live up to your tasty expectations.
After a delicious meal of your choice, it is time to leave for the next destination. Take lane four for Nowon station. This part of Seoul is most well-known for its Culture Street, or Moonwha-ui Geori. Just like its name, the street features various cultural performances, but it is also widely known as the main place for gathering and cheering during World Cup seasons. On special annual occasions like Christmas Eve, unique performances such as B-Boying and marching also take place. Yet normally, Art Festivals are held every Saturday at Moonwha-ui Geori, offering a series of performances by university student groups, indie-bands, and amateur musicians for everyone to enjoy. It is a vibrant street where, if lucky enough, you can also find artists who draw caricatures for passing passengers.
Stroll in harmony with nature
It is time to end the journey and head for the last destination. Take the subway and proceed to Dangogae station, the last station of lane four. Leave through exit two and you will find that the sight is vastly different from that of Nowon. A long road that appears to be the relic of the past presents itself before you. An old pharmacy, hair salons with aged yet friendly hair dressers, the shabby supermarket – they are all there. The large rocky mountain, Mount. Buram, stands proudly in the background. It feels as though time had slowed down here, and you too slow down your pace in rhythm. Then a brisk walk of about five minutes takes you to the large and peaceful Buramsan Park. There is a waterfall, a number of trekking courses to Mount. Buram, and even a wall-climbing set. Also, you will find people strolling calmly, and it is not difficult to spot strangers talking to strangers. As the sun sets behind you, how about ending the travel with a breezy stroll or and chat-up with an elder stranger, or perhaps extreme wall-climbing?
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Why not leave now? The subway is not just a mode of transport to and from your work, or campus. Head for the ordinary yet extraordinary destinations in lane four and discover the hidden destinations in the familiar city. And you will find yourself taking lane four again, today, tomorrow, or even next week, and it will never feel the same. Because now you will realise that every station you pass has a piece of memory and a smile to offer.