Sun, 05 Nov 2000

Korea's street vendors, subways studies in efficiency

SEOUL (JP): Street vendors are the same everywhere around the world. They take over large sections of the sidewalk or busy public places, trying their utmost to draw visitors with their shouts.

But there are significant differences between the Korean traders and their counterparts far away in Jakarta.

Street vendors at several Seoul locations, such as in popular markets like Namdaemun, Tongdaemun and Itaewoon, are relatively well-organized and have a sense of how to keep the city clean and tidy.

Unlike most of their colleagues in Jakarta and other big cities in Asia, South Korean roadside traders rarely try to dupe their customers, including foreigners, with inflated prices.

In the eyes of many tourists, their presence helps boost the good image of South Koreans.

Although they are to be found in abundance on the side of roads, pathways and pedestrian bridges, they still leave ample space for passersby.

Street traders at Namdaemun and Tongdaemun markets are known among visitors, including those from Indonesia, for relatively good prices for clothes, shoes and accessories; traders at Itaewoon are known for their imitation goods bearing international brand names.

"Here (Itaewoon) all goods are mostly counterfeit ones. You don't have to worry about quality though because it's quite difficult to tell which is the real one," said tour guide Michelle Kim.

"The vendors, however, will always tell you the truth and won't try to take advantage of you."

The city administration of Seoul and other major cities should also be praised for their efforts in operating the markets.

At Chagalchi fish market in Pusan, seafood lovers can choose their own fresh fish directly from a vendor's aquarium and have the meal cooked on the spot, adjacent to the sea.

Compared to a similar area in Muara Karang, North Jakarta, the Chagalchi fish market is cleaner, better organized and well maintained.


Seoul, home to 12 million people, has been the site of an inexpensive, reliable and convenient express subway service for almost three decades.

Almost every corner of the metropolis through to its outer suburbs can be reached by the subway. The same is true of the extensive subway in Pusan.

After doing some shopping at Tongdaemun street market in the heart of Seoul, tourists can quickly board the train at the subway located near Kimpo International Airport.

The trip to the airport costs 600 won (about 55 U.S. cents) and takes about 30 minutes, compared to the one-hour trip using conventional above-ground public transportation.

Unlike in Jakarta, there is no macet (traffic jam), no sweating in vehicles going nowhere and no three-in-one traffic restriction policy.

The management of the subway system in Seoul places electronic signboards in each of the train cars, which display station stops and destinations in both the Roman and hangul alphabet.

The trains also have prerecorded announcements in both English and Korean of the upcoming destinations.

Colorful but informative maps of the route lines and stops, both in English and Korean, are also available at every station in Seoul.

The cars serving all of the eight lines are simply differentiated by the giant colored stripe painted on its body.

Large maps of the subway could be spotted easily at several places at every station.

The subway here is operated by two different firms -- the Seoul Metropolitan Subway Corporation (Seoul Subway) and Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation (SMRT).

The first firm runs the first four lines constructed between 1971 and 1994, while SMRT operates the other four lines that were built between 1990 and 2000. (nvn)