The Story Of Ha Tae-young

“Why are you so happy?” this is what Ha Tae-young (45), a Boondangsun subway conductor often hears from others. Like a perpetual boy, he has a bright laugh, just like the subway train lights illuminate the tunnels. But up to his mid-thirties, he felt empty and his expressions were hard; due to his fundamental questions about life and fear and anxiety about subway accidents. His mind was really much darker than the actual underground. This is a mind-subtraction story of Tae-young Ha, who says he found a bright happiness by escaping his mind’s tunnel.

The first train of Boondangsun toward Wangsibri starts at 5 in the morning.  “Please take care today.” I greet and pat the wheel of the train and start the run.  Day laborers, security officers, street cleaners….many people await the first train. I am thankful to start my day with these people who launch off our society’s mornings.  Starting with Jook-jun station, Ori station, Migum station, Jun-ja station which switches to Shinboondangsun station that goes to Gangnam station, and ending at Wangshibri station – many people repeatedly get in and out. I feel worthwhile as a conductor when I think “Once again, I was able to help the customers arrive safely to their destinations today.”

I started my life as a train conductor in my late twenties. After 8 years of various train conducting, in 2005 I started conducting a Boondangsun subway trains.  Coming from working outside in midst of scenic nature, it was suffocating to be inside an underground tunnel.

But now, even though my body is underground, I am able to observe expressions and clothing style of people. Depending on weather, or economic situations, there are differences in expressions and clothing styles of people. As the economic situations worsen, the expressions and clothing styles are darker and unfortunately many people these days are like that. Truthfully, I was one of these people with hardened facial expressions.

I was born as a third child among 3 boys and one girl under parents who farmed in Poong-gi, Kyungbuk. Precocious, since middle school, I wondered “the mind is the master; why is the body always commanding it?” As I got older, I worried “who am I? why do I live?”I felt since I was born anyway, I should know at least 1% of myself before I died.  To know me and to win over my body, I hiked in mountains, did strenuous exercises and sought out many things without any solutions.

While conducting the subway trains, I always had fear and anxiety about accidents.  I was living as well as I could every day like a squirrel in a wheel, but sometimes I felt so empty, anxious and suffocating….I wanted to escape my mind that was darker than the underground. In 2006, I saw a brochure from Maum meditation in a cabin. The moment I saw the words, Maum meditation, I thought, “ah, there will be answers to my questions here.” I started meditation soon after and threw away accumulated minds one by one.

One time, the train was inoperable during a run. I was beside myself. Since the train was delayed, everyone came up to the conducting room to knock; it was not repaired immediately and I was having a cold sweat with a lot of fear. It wasn’t a big accident, but these were one of the biggest anxieties in my mind. The news in which someone committed suicide by jumping into the rails, horrible subway accidents, big and small accidents heard from fellow conductors….even when I did not directly experienced them, these occupied big parts of my mind. Due to these minds, I was worrying, nervous and anxious.  I ardently subtracted these worries and anxieties.

I continued to throw away and at one point, there was enlightenment. “Ah, I did not exist originally. I came originally from the Universe, this Universe is me. I just need to live as this Universe mind….” It felt like all of previous suffocating feelings suddenly exploded and disappeared. I also gained answers to the fundamental questions of life.  How could I express my bliss and delight? I was extremely happy. I also repented.

“How do I exist? Because there is air, I can breathe to live; because this train exists, I can conduct it; and because customers take trains, my family and I could live (through earnings) – I was caught in myself and did not know to thank.” I was so repentant.  After repentance, my mindset was different. It is as though I started to think from the world’s view. Afterwards, each customer seemed more precious and I was more thankful.

Customers who behave dangerously in the stations, customers who try to open train doors with hands and feet or bags when it is already closed, customers who are drunk and causing problems….I meet many different people when I conduct the trains.  Before when I saw these customers, I was irritated and stressed, worrying about possible accidents. Now I think from their points of view, “they must be very busy, they must be having a hard time”; and I am more able to take them in for a ride with bright smiles.  When I see people in wheelchairs or blind, I am able to start a little later than usual and call service agents to assist them out of the train; I became to serve customers with more attention.

Since meditation, I often heard that my face seemed softer and happier. When I had a lot of pictures in my mind, I had so many useless thoughts and my mind was constantly changing. Once those pictures were taken out, I was able to concentrate on this moment and do my best.  I am aware daily that this is living with one body and mind. The Universe mind is the mind of helping and saving each other.  The most thankful and happy is that I am able to start and finish the day with thankfulness.

When conductors experience accidents, they often have a difficult time with post traumatic stress. Because they work underground in a narrow conducting cabin, they tend to develop claustrophobia or panic disorder after a while.  I feel bad when I hear a conductor committed suicide due to a panic disorder.  My dream is to create a Maum meditation club for conductors and offer a place to mind-subtract while working.  When you escape the dark tunnels of mind, really bright happy life is waiting for you.  I would like many more people to experience such happiness.

Summary Choi Chang-won & Photographs Kim Hye-jin