Not only because Kevin’s link to thi post by C. Buddha, either?
Today, I met Lime in Hong Ik and we had dinner — Vietnamese — and a coffee. She’s very much enjoying the Korean translation of the Jared Diamond book I got for her, and she returned the giftiness with some nice Korean CDs from Purple Records. After that, we went our separate ways, she to the hospital and I to Bucheon.
I had considered taking the slow train to Bucheon, and just sitting and reading, but thought, oh, if I catch the Rapid train to Dongincheon, which stops in Bucheon, it’ll save me 30 minutes.
Now, very few foreigners ride this train — I’ve never actually seen another foreigner on it, anyway. But a lot of Koreans ride it. Ridiculous numbers of Koreans. At one time. Probably health-and-safety-code violating numbers of Koreans ride this at the same time.
Whenever I catch the Yongsan Rapid train, there’s usually room to move, to breathe. But the rapid train out of Seoul, to Incheon, that train is almost always crammed with people. By crammed, I mean that it’s impossible to move more than a few inches in any direction before you bump into someone else who also cannot move more than a few inches in any direction, because they’re surrounded by people who can’t move.
That’s how it was on the train tonight. I was looking around thinking, “You know, if some nutters like those Aum Shinryukyo bastards set off some kind of gas on the train, we’d all die. No if, no but. We’d be dead.” Then I noticed the family in front of me, who were fussing over their daughter. I’d thought she was a college girl, but (as I’ll note later) it turned out she was probably a high schooler.
Anyway, this girl looked distressed, for obvious reasons. The train was so hot that several Korean girlfriends were wiping the sweat off their Korean boyfriends’ foreheads — and remember, people here like it hot. They don’t sweat so quickly, or so easily, as us heat-hating white folks from the temperate climes. People were jammed together.
Well, it took me a little longer than it should have to catch all the signs. I thought the girl was just being dramatic, making all those miserable sounds and sighing and gasping for air. “Yeah, we’re all uncomfortable,” her dad said, while her mom kept saying, “Let’s get off at the next stop. Let’s just get off… get off…”
The train stopped at Guro, and more people got on. That is, more people rammed themselves into the train. No matter that it was hot, and full, and starting to stink; no matter that they had to really shove people to get on, they got on the train anyway. At this point, it seemed impossible to move. I was jammed against the mom, and only a few inches from the girl, and she was worse than before. She started tapped her chest, and the punching it and gulping for air, and I realized what was going on.
She was going to puke. In a sardines-tight-packed train. And I was standing right in front of her. Her mom had quite obviously figured out what was going on — I had been trying to read my book and ignore the dramatics, and so I didn’t catch it until after it was too late to do much. Her mom dug into her purse and pulled out her wallet, then looked for a bag. She said the word “bag”, and so I dumped the DVDs I’d bought from some subway pirate guys into my briefcase and handed the bag to the girl.
About two seconds too late. She stretched the bag open in front of her, but didn’t have time to stick her mouth over the opening. The first wave of puke blasted out before I’d even had time to pull my arm back after giving her the bag, and a glob went onto my coat, another onto my briefcase. The rest splattered onto the floor, bouncing onto the legs of about ten people standing around the girl.
That was when I noticed that movement actually wasn’t impossible on the train: people had somehow created a rather remarkable amount of empty space around the girl. Everyone was revolted by the stink, but a lot of people tried to be helpful — a couple of fellows offering their pakcets of tissues for cleanup, an older guy laying out newspaper on top of the puddle of vomit. But the damage had been done, the smell was unbearable, and most of the people in the subway car piled out as soon as the doors opened.
The poor kid, she was mortified. I called Lime to tell her about it, and afterwards, both the father and the girl approached me to apologize. I tried to reassure her that it wasn’t her fault, that there were too many people on the train and that this was probably why she was sick, and she thanked me and went to finish washing up.
All I can think was, if a fire had broken out, or some nutball had come in with toxic gas, I wouldn’t have even had a chance to run away. The way that people behave on some of the trains is a total safety hazard, and the sad thing is that I realize, no matter what, nothing will actually be done about it until a bunch of people get injured or die because of it. When buses are full, they drive on by. When taxis are full, they drive on by.
And in Montreal, as far as I remember, sometimes when a train is really full — and this is a lower limit than the Korean sense of a train being full — people will voluntarily not board. They’ll wait for the next train, since they’re frequent and dependable, since it’s safer, and since theres no point in being crammed in so that you have to fight your way out again.
Of course, it seems to me that people here aren’t going to develop that version of common sense overnight. So what’s the solution?
Maybe some kind of density mapper computer could be used, so that the doors for train cars that are calculated as being too full (at, say, 70% of absolute maximum capacity) will not open.
Or maybe cameras for the drivers, who can simply drive through stops when the train is too full to take any more passengers?
I don’t know, but I think something needs to be done, before a bunch of people die because of this stupidity. And besides, it’s just uncomfortable and unpleasant in general.
As for me, I think that I’ll be taking the slow train home from now on.
And I recommend the videos on the main site. Or, if those won’t load for you, try the versions on Youtube, embedded below.