Sunday, October 13, 2013

KTX

This past weekend was one of those rare ones where you have a fantastic time yet don't dread the week to follow, because said fantastic time was had at an education conference, and you learned so much that you just can't wait to get back into your classroom and get your teaching groove on!

I'm not going to write about the KOTESOL Conference right now, though, since it's late and I need to sleep early tonight. The week that I'm really looking forward to is also going to be a very tough one -- it's bookended by conferences, one of which I need to process and write about, the other for which I need to prepare a presentation and baked goods. This ordeal begins tomorrow. And I haven't finished my Monday afternoon lesson plan. So! It's off to bed for me...

But not without some photos, at least!
Changwon Station at 6:30am. It looks grand, but Seoul Station is even grander...
The first (of many) cool things about last weekend was that I took a train in Korea for the first time. Now, Seoul's metropolitan train/subway system I'm quite familiar with, but I've never taken regional trains, such as the Mugunghwa (무궁화호), or the high-speed rail, called KTX. For the past fifteen months, it's been all buses, all the time. Buses are much cheaper than trains, and for me, the travel time difference isn't much of an issue. It takes 2.5 hours (and 52,000₩/$50) to ride the KTX from Changwon to Seoul, which is already such a long time that when I want to spend a weekend in the capital, the extra two hours that a bus ride requires is actually... negligible? That sounds ridiculous, I know, but what I mean is that the four hours I would save by taking the high-speed rail is not worth the extra $40-60 for the round trip.

Anyway, the point is that I've never taken the train before, and this seems to surprise a lot of people. The reason I got to ride the KTX this past weekend, then, was that my school's English department scored some cash to fund our registration fees (등록비) and transportation costs (교통비) for the KOTESOL Conference.

I had to wake up at 5:30am to catch my 6:50 train, and Changwon Station looked quite beautiful in the early morning light. (I have not been awake to see the sunrise in a very long time.)

When I arrived at the station, I ran into four of my first-year students. They were also taking the early morning train to Seoul! When I asked why, they explained that they were entering a national mathematics competition for which they had to use algorithms and equations to replicate a famous drawing, theirs being Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer. Right: my geniuses were going to draw a Dutch Golden Age masterpiece with math.
I chatted with the students I ran into at the train station. I hope they did well at their competition!
I enjoyed chatting with them, especially since I rarely see my students outside of school, and it was cute how excited they were to try to explain what their project was about to me with their limited English. But their seats were in a different car on the train, so I said goodbye when our train pulled up.

The last and most important thing about my KTX adventure is that I hardly remember the rest of it, since I fell asleep in those gloriously comfortable seats. I do have one complaint: not enough legroom. The seats were better than those of regular (일반) buses, but when compared to "luxury" (우등) buses, well, I actually think the luxury buses are more comfortable, because I can recline and stretch out my legs quite a bit. So even though the KTX is faster, I think in the future I'll still stick to my good ol' buses.

P.S. Another bus story: about a month ago, I ran into one of my students on the bus. As it turns out, he has been attending a hagwon (private academy) for extra science classes in Seoul every weekend since July, and the course will end in October. That's sixteen weekends in a row of the 8-hour commute for the sake of extra science classes. I was dumbfounded. Not only that, he said that he wasn't the only student who did it: one of his classmates attended the same hagwon-for-kids-whose-parents-can-afford-to-be-this-crazy, but he wasn't on the bus because he had taken the KTX. The KTX. A hundred bucks a week for the sake of extra science classes. Un-교툥비-lievable. My co-teachers and I agree that this is absolutely nuts, but that's Korean education for you, in a (forgive me) nutshell.

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