SKorea prepares for mass exodus from Seoul
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SKorea prepares for mass exodus from Seoul

Forget civil defense drills, the true test of the South Korean government’s ability to handle a mass evacuation of its capital city is taking place this Lunar New Year’s Day.

The holiday, known as Seollal in Korea and “Chinese New Year” to most of the rest of the world, is one the big two holidays in Korea, the other being the Chuseok harvest celebration in the early fall.  During those holidays, Koreans are expected to visit their older relatives.  More traditional-minded Koreans also use the holiday period to perform ancestral rites and tend to ancestors grave sites.  Another important part of the holiday is stretching stomachs by eating copious amounts of oily food.

Seollal is a three-day holiday, which helps spread the travel out over a wider time frame, but Korea’s transportation system is still stretched to the limit every year:

According to the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, a total of 31.73 million people nationwide are expected to be on the move from Tuesday to Sunday, up 3.2 percent from last year, when the holiday lasted for only three days…

The Korea Railroad (Korail) said railway tickets departing from Seoul on Tuesday have already sold out and 414,000 passengers will travel by train on that day alone.

The holiday period is actually five days this year since the official holiday period is followed by the weekend.  Some Koreans have made it even longer by taking Monday and Tuesday off from work or school, giving them nine days off.  Less traditional-minded Koreans are taking advantage of the extra-long holiday to get in some international travel.