To say that Seoul subways at rush hour are packed would be an understatement. As would any analogies involving sardines. The Seoul subway at rush hour defies all laws of nature, cramming far more people into each subway car that should actually fit. There are attendants at some of the busiest stations whose job is to push the mass of humanity just far enough into the train for the doors to squeeze shut. My commute takes me four stops and two trains. I only suffer the brunt of the squished and squashed subway madness between Dangsan and National Assembly. However, between those two stops, both morning and evening, I find myself literally wedged in so tightly between other people that I cannot move.
I haven't taken any subway at rush hour photos myself.
This one came from here.
In general, the Seoul subway is pretty safe. There is no way I would bring my big purse with its big, open top that doesn't zip shut on the Moscow subway or a Bishkek marshrutka; its contents would be liberated on my first trip. Theft isn't an issue on the Seoul subway. Perverts, however, are. Now I'll stick to my generalization that the subways are pretty safe, but human beings being what they are, in a city of 18 million, you're going to have some pervy folk on the subway who figure that being crammed in tightly next to someone is a legitimate excuse to cop a feel.
Now obviously, when you're pressed up directly against someone, there's going to be some inadvertent touching. You need to move your hands to scratch your shoulder? Take a kleenex out of your purse? Answer your phone? Basically, you move your hands, they're going to touch somebody. If you ride the Seoul subway regularly, you know this, you know what it feels like, and you tune it out. (In fact, I can only tolerate the crazy crowds by keeping my earbuds tightly plugged in and my ipod cranked; helps me zone out.)
So there I am, riding line #9 between Yeouido and Dangsan on my way home this evening, doing my best to zone out to the Diane Rehm show, when the train rolls in to National Assembly. Normally it gets super unbelievably crowded at this stop. This is where the over the top sardine analogies come into play. So many people get on the train at this point that once they're all on, I normally can't move an inch. And so it was tonight.
I was crammed in there, listening to the Diane Rehm show rather dully dissect aspects of Wall Street accountability, and debating whether or not it was worth it to try and fish my ipod out and change the channel, when a hand started massaging my ass.
Wait, what? Surely not. Surely it was someone trying to get his ipod out of his pocket. I did my best to inch forward, getting nowhere and earning a couple of dirty looks. The hand continued to feel around. I was definitely getting groped. I tried to whirl around, but I literally couldn't do more than turn my head, first one way, then the other. I was completely surrounded by men, all of whom (from what I could see) were staring blankly ahead, as if zoning out to whatever was blasting through their headphones. And I couldn't move, and the hand kept exploring. I wanted nothing more than to jam both my elbows back as hard as I should while shouting 하지 마! at the top of my lungs. But not knowing who the perpetrator was, I was likely to end up elbowing an innocent grandfather and wind up on YouTube as the subwaytard. (Referencing the bustard, for those who didn't catch that. Clips of foreigners behaving badly in public have a tendency to go viral quite rapidly here.)
From an ad, discouraging men from groping women on the Seoul subway.
Taken from here.
Luckily, National Assembly and Dangsan aren't too far apart, and we were about halfway between the two stops when Mr. Happyhands began exploring. Now, if you know anything about the Seoul subway at rush hour, you'll know that getting off the train is more like being swept along by a rip tide. Every day I see people pushed out of the train who are trying desperately to remain on it. The way out of the train car is not a good time to stop and turn around to look your attacker in the eye... even if he is following you out the fucking door, continuing to grab and squeeze. Yeah. As soon as I had enough room, I slammed my left arm backwards and gave him a good slap on the wrist (sadly, worth about as much as a metaphorical slap on the wrist), and the hand magically removed itself from my ass. By the time I was clear enough of the crush of people that I could actually turn around, there was no way of telling who it was. Fucker.