Exotic pets, music help make the metro a place for culture

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Nov 15, 2013 - 21:07
  • Updated : Nov 15, 2013 - 21:07
A young crew performs at 2013 Seoul Metro Culture Festival held at Gyeongbokgung Station on Oct. 2. (Seoul Metro)
You need not go to the local zoo to meet a New Guinean black scorpion, Latin American caiman or four-meter-long Burmese python.

Sindang Station, located at the intersection of Seoul subway lines No. 2 and 6, offers metro riders and zoo-lovers a hangout filled with rare reptiles and insects.

Over 100 species, including the gekko vittatus, a cousin of the famous GEICO commercial mascot the gecko lizard, are displayed at the Reptile-Insect Environmental Classroom to welcome an average of 100 daily visitors. Most of these passersby are students on school field trips, according to head animal keeper Myung Hong-sik.

A guide shows off a boa constrictor at the Reptile-Insect Environmental Classroom located within Sindang Station. (Jeong Hunny/The Korea Herald)
“Sometimes entire families, with the grandparents, the parents, and children, all come to enjoy the animals here,” Myung said.

Tour guides such as Myung lead visitors through the mini zoo, sometimes taking the more innocuous reptiles out of their cages for petting. The guide even occasionally takes the non-venomous red tail boa constrictor out for a stretch on a guest’s neck while the brave volunteer cringes nervously.

“Does it bite?” the visitor asks. Yes, sometimes, if you’re not careful.

Cute lizards and stinging insects are not the only sources of intrigue on Seoul metro.

Cultural performances and art exhibitions also add color to the transit network.

At more than 10 subway stops, lesser-known but nevertheless-competent entertainers offer Seoul metro users a more melodious subway experience.

Of more than 150 teams that applied for performing rights at Seoul Metro’s subway stages this year, only 17 were picked. Indie-bands, classical guitarists, mime artists, and even fencers are on the list of those to show off their talents.

The cultural symbiosis between the capital city’s subterranean railroads and performers extends to include the world of art too.

Tourists stopping by Gyeongbokgung Station, located near the Joseon era royal palace and Cheong Wa Dae in downtown Seoul, can enjoy artworks without stepping outside the station.

Showcases at the station have included works from Seoul Arts High school, the winning pieces of the International Competition for Contemporary Hanok Design, and shots from the Photo Artist Society of Korea.

Next door lies Gwanghwamun Station of line No. 5, hosting the Gwanghwarang art exhibit. The exhibits themselves have been arranged by the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts and Jongno-gu Office since 2005 while the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation (the public company running lines No. 5, 6, 7, and 8) provides the necessary space.

According to Kim Mi-kyung, a Sejong official, 100 to 200 viewers visit the Gwanghwarang on week days while over 300 to 400 viewers stop by on weekends.

As of now, works portraying the Fukushima disaster and the problems of globalization by artists from the Korean People’s Artist Association’s Seoul office are on display until Tuesday.

“Our intention is to provide a cost-free opportunity for Seoul citizens to experience quality works by creating this space within the subway station,” said Kim.

The creators of the artworks are appreciative of such efforts.

“I think the most beneficial aspect of holding these kinds of exhibits is that we can communicate with the public at a very low cost,” said Lee Ku-young, the head of the KPAA’s Seoul office. “It makes our job much easier as artists because we don’t have to go out and look for people who might be interested in our works. They come to us.”

One passerby even said the displayed art images did more than just entertain and soothe the soul.

“I think the images and decorations are very nice,” said Katy Alonso, a 21-year-old college exchange student from Colombia.

“It makes the subways feel much safer.”

By Jeong Hunny (