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Seoul: Almost Getting Lost In Translation

April 24, 2010

The hostel that we booked gave us a very comprehensive (when I say comprehensive it is literally a step by step guide) of transportation mode that we can take from Incheon International Airport to Seoul. We were given three options: By Subway, By Bus (Airport bus service), By Taxi. Taxi is definitely out of the option because Seoul’s taxi fare doesn’t come cheap and the airport is about an hour drive to Seoul which translates to expensive. Subway is also a good option but we need to transfer stations but this means lugging our suitcase during train transfers. Among the three taking the Airport Bus service is the best option to take: fare is reasonable at a flat rate of 9,000 KRW, No carrying of luggages and No transferring of trains. There is not much difference in travel time since this is an airport service the stops is fewer than the usual city bus routes.


Obviously we have made a choice – Bus service is it, anyway according to our hostel owner the bus announces the stop names in English so there will be no problem in the possibility of missing our stop. What could possibly go wrong. We just need to make sure that we boarded the correct bus number, hand our luggages to the driver and take our seats and doze off for 30-45 minutes…and that is what we thought.

We did get on to the correct bus but we should have taken the error in reading of our u-pass card as an omen of things to come. Prior to queing in the bus stops outside the airport’s arrival area we purchase the u-pass card in the airport’s train station and loaded it up with enough money value since we will be using it for paying the airport bus. Actually all this time we thought the u-pass card is the t-money because according to my research, Seoul’s transport system used this “smart money” device for paying the fare. Since we cannot find reloadable cards except for the u-pass we thought that this is already the t-money card(more on this on a future post).Once we boarded the bus, we tapped the u-pass card into the card reader and we got an error. I tried tapping three times but to no avail, by this time the driver is already frustrated and he was saying something in Korean which of course I didn’t understand even a single word.With panic written all over my face, I rummaged through my bag to just pay in cash but I was having trouble finding my purse and the driver was now getting more frustrated. My friend noticed this and she was able to hand me a 10,000 KRW note that I hurriedly slipped into the cash slot. Wheew, definitely not a good start.

Airport Bus at Incheon International Airport

With almost 45 minutes travel time and coming from a red eye flight, I dozed off after the bus pulled out from the airport. I awoke when I heard the stops announcement, after about two stops – we noticed  that the bus will onlystop when someone presses the stop button. So we were very alert to make sure we won’t miss it when our stop is announced.Until it is just us and a group Korean women were the ones left in the bus  when we had this doubt that there is a big possibility that we missed our stop.My friend asked the driver by saying our stop which is “Sungkyunkwan” – the driver took out our luggage and said just one word “taxi”. It might be the lack of proper sleep, the coldness of the air or the utter shock of forcing us out of the bus and telling us to take a taxi – that the only thing I was able to do was to stand in the sidewalk and look helpless as the bus sped down the street. I still cannot comprehend how we can miss our stop when we were definitely listening to the stop announcements – I just had this feeling that the driver cannot understand us  and just wants us off his back so he dropped us in this place that we don’t even know the street name.


Now the great dilemma, where do we walk? to the right,left or straight? As we scanned around the area we noticed that there is a staircase heading towards the Metro just in the corner of the street. Hope at last! but there is no elevator or escalator just this glorious gray staircase which means literally carrying and lugging our suitcase up and down through the subway. We checked the station where we are and it was just the same line as the nearest metro station of our hostel. Finally, after 2900 miles of air travel, one hour bus ride, half an hour of aimless wandering in looking for a metro line, half an hour of figuring out the Metro and actual train ride and half an hour of walking and getting lost along Hyewhadong – we have arrived in our home away from home and are ready to start off our Seoul Searching.

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