Sunday, April 9, 2006

Thoughts on the KTX

As a postmortem to my recent trip to Pusan, here are some thoughts. 

1. Don't wait until the last minute on the last day of a weekend or holiday to buy a KTX ticket (or any other railway service) for a train headed back to Seoul.

2. If you do wait until the last minute, be prepared for the inevitability that they will tell you Maejin! (sold out). Anticipating this, go to a ticket counter staffed by a person of a different gender than yourself and ask with puppy dog eyes* if there isn't some way you can get back home. Look as desperate as possible (emphasis: desperate, not desperado, which will backfire). This can get the person not your gender to head to the backroom to get that one ticket that was cancelled and that they've been holding just for the right case**.

3. Avoid getting a seat facing backward (half the seat on the KTX face backward so that they won't have to turn the half-kilometer-long trains around, which would have required knocking down a lot of buildings in both downtown Seoul and downtown Pusan). In a few people susceptible to motion sickness, the backward-facing seats can trigger queasiness.

4. Right now the two-hour-and-fifty-minute ride from Seoul to Pusan or back is perfect for watching an entire movie on DVD, giving you enough time to settle in to your seat and also allow time for potty breaks. Once the Taegu-to-Pusan leg of the KTX is finally completed, allowing the breakneck 300-kph from Seoul to Taegu to continue all the way to the Korea Strait, travel time will be reduced enough that your movie options will be limited to Disney flicks and sequels to action films.

5. Each car on the train has a monitor in the middle which will tell you the train's speed when it's over at 250 kph. When it hits 300 kph, you will be tempted to look out the window and remark how it doesn't really look like you're going that fast, after which you will try to fixate on certain points and use some form of one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi to verify or refute the speed appearing on the monitor. This is a good way to get very dizzy. Instead, bring a portable GPS device and press it against the window to verify your velocity.

*If you've never utilized puppy dog eyes to get something you want, practice in the mirror first. If rather than looking endearingly desperate, you look you are heavily medicated and about to vomit, scrap the puppy dog look in favor of yelling loudly in a foreign language. A properly staged "scene" involving shouting in English has been known to be effective, even if it engenders residual resentment toward whatever nationality your are (American citizens: this is when you wear a Maple Leaf somewhere on your person), but that's the problem of whomever comes after you.

Also, try to avoid using words like "fuck" and "shit," since people with poor English skills might mistake these well-known obscenities as profanity directed at them. Example: you might say, "How could I be so fucking stupid?!" but it may be interpreted as, "Hakeidblo chrintikiho FUCK YOU!" Similarly, "Sometimes my brain is as worthless as shit" can be heard as, "Your country is so full of shit." This will not help you get a ticket.

**True story. Happens a lot.


  1. So connecting the dots, the train was sold out but you used your charm on a 여직원 to get a ticket, had to ride backwards all the way to Seoul, got dizzy, and watched a movie on DVD?

  2. What were you thinking not making a reservation!? C'mon—it's Korea on a weekend, and you're going back to Seoul!

  3. Sewing stitched this together:
    So connecting the dots, the train was sold out

    Yes. All of them were from that time (6:45 p.m.) until the final train (at 9:30 p.m.). My alternatives would have been to stay in a yŏgwan (expensive), stay in a jjimjilbang where people might be having sex again, or take one of the lesser train services (shudder!).

    but you used your charm on a 여직원 to get a ticket,

    Yes, with Florence down in Singapore, I can't let my charm go to waste or else I might get out of practice.

    had to ride backwards all the way to Seoul,


    got dizzy,

    Not this time. I haven't gotten dizzy since my first KTX ride, now that I know staring out the window is not a good idea.

    and watched a movie on DVD?

    Sadly not. I used up all my battery power sending email and blogging while in the Haeundae Starbucks. Next time, though, I will plan better.

    Instead, I finished reading Al Franken's "The Truth (with jokes)," which had me grinning for much of the ride back up. Three hours is an awfully short amount of time to take to travel across the country, but it's still three hours.

  4. Sewing needled me with this:
    What were you thinking not making a reservation!? C'mon—it's Korea on a weekend, and you're going back to Seoul!

    That's just it: I wasn't thinking.

    Riding the KTX (or any other train service) involves me walking to the station at whatever time I am ready to go there and then buying a ticket for the next train available. Even on Saturday morning going down to Pusan, I had no problem doing this. It just didn't occur to me that I might have gotten lucky.

    Fortunately, I had the presence of mind on Sunday afternoon to ask about ticket availability when I called 1330, and they checked for me. Had I waited much later to get to Pusan Station, I might have been stuck.

    Oh, well, I guess there's always the bus—the life-endangering, heart-stopping, erratically driving, longevity-shortening bus.

  5. Actually, we often take the 고속 버스 between Seoul and Daegu. I'll admit the first time we did the trip, I was a bit nervous—more from apprehension than from anything that actually happened. (I was still getting used to the idea of drivers' making U-turns with abandon, and the idea that 3 lanes of traffic = 4 streams of automobiles.)

    They're frequent and cheap, and fast (well, depending on the traffic!) The high point is the mad dash everyone makes for the washrooms and to stock up on carbs and caffeine when the bus makes its 15-minute midpoint rest stop.


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