This past week, I turned 21 in Seoul. This is my first birthday out of the U.S. and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the past four months I’ve spent here. Just so happens that a friend asked me how the Korean life was treating me, so I opened by talking about my adapting to the bus system in Seoul, which unexpectedly lent itself to being a grand metaphor on my time here. Here is an excerpt, posted with the consent of my friend:
[Note: Naver Maps is the Korean version of of Google Maps]
Ok so the part about me locating bus stops “like it’s my job,” is a bit of an exaggeration, but in all seriousness, learning to navigate the bus system perfectly captures my past three months here., especially since I have to take a bus multiple times a week. Below, I’ll reflect on the stressful aspects of adapting to the bus system and things I’ve learned to LOVE about it.
6 Things that Stressed Me Out at First
in other words, “how you can avoid being stressed like me”
- In the first few days, I didn’t have a T-Money Card–Korea’s equivalent of a Metro Card (NYC)/Oyster Card (London)/Octopus Card (HK)/Suica (Japan)–so I always had to ask how much the bus ride was in cash. This was complicated by the fact that many bus drivers (or just Korean ahjussi’s in general) don’t speak very clearly, so I couldn’t always hear the exact amount. The nice thing is bus drivers in Korea give you change, but to avoid the hassle of fumbling to pay 1150 won in cash, JUST GET A CARD AT A CONVENIENCE STORE OR A SUBWAY STATION. Your fare will also be cheapened by 100 won with a card.
- I didn’t understand the phrase 잔액이 부족합니다. It basically means “There isn’t enough money on your card to pay for this bus ride.” The first time I heard it, I thought my card went through, and was mildly embarrassed when the bus driver called me back to the front to pay.
- I had to look up how to say “May I re-charge my card here?” (충전 되나요?) to ask to re-charge my card at the convenience store across from my house. You can also just say 충전해주세요 (“Could you recharge my card please?”).
- I didn’t know if you should swipe when getting off the bus too. Technically you don’t have to, but most people still do it. I also didn’t know how to ask if I had to swipe my card (“How do I say ‘swipe’?!?!”) Now I know to say 찍다, not that I need to know this anymore.
- I would take the bus in the wrong direction. And realize WAY TOO LATE. ASK THE BUS DRIVER/AND OR OTHER PASSENGERS!!!!! Also some larger bus stops are divided into two bus stops with the same name but different numbers (e.g. 종로 3가) so make sure you’re at the right one!
- I would get off at the wrong stop. There are a ton of bus stop names that sound similar (e.g. Jongno-3-ga, Jongno-4-ga, Jongno-5-ga, etc) and I had to listen carefully to make sure I was getting off at the right one.
5 Beautiful Things about the Bus System
Adapting to the Seoul bus system is more stressful than I thought… But now that I’ve gotten the hang of it, here are the things I love about the buses:
- You can see more of the city on bus than on subway. Many foreigners rely on the subway system, since it is easier to navigate, but I really enjoy seeing the city on bus. I also visit some of the places I’ve seen on bus (e.g. the Seoul Folk Flea Market).
- Bus rides are free if you’re transferring from the subway within half an hour. And vice versa! and bus to bus! Usually I have to take a bus to take the subway, so this is a really great deal.
- I can wait in my house and go out when I see that the bus is 1-2mins away, thanks to public transportation apps! I usually use Naver Maps to figure out how to get to my destination, and if it involves taking a bus, I check the Seoul Bus app to see–in real-time–when the buses will arrive.
- If you live near a good bus stop, chances are it’ll take you directly to most parts of Seoul. When I lived near 청계벽산 아파트, I could take a bus directly to Korea University, Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Gangnam, etc… My favorite bus is the 101 bus. It goes from the front of my house now (우신향병원) to Dongdaemun, down Jong-ro, Gwanghuamun/Gyeongbokgung Palace, and City Hall. All great places.
- You can combine your bank card with your T-money card. Now instead of carrying around an extra card, I can just use my Hana Bank card to pay for bus rides and such. NOTE: it does not pull directly from your bank account, so you have to re-charge your card separately from your bank account.
For a more comprehensive guide on the bus system (e.g. if you want to know how the numbering system works!!), check out the official bus page. Impress your Korean friends 😉