Saturday, April 05, 2008

4/07/08 Korea: Movie Premier, Electronics Market, Theme Park... A Long Day in a Good Way

On Monday the 24th of March it was a nice sunny day. We decided that then would be a good time to go visit the War Memorial of Korea(English website here). After a solid little subway journey and a bit of wandering on street level, we found it. We could see some large statues and memorials from the street, so we read the plaques and gazed at them a bit before going any further.

There was quite a bit of this imagery. Split families, a split country, a split earth, and so forth.

All those killed fighting the Korean War had their names inscribed in these huge plaques, separated by country. There were so many from the US that they were further divided into states. Illinois had a few whole walls to itself.

Upon finally arriving at the front doors to the building, the lone woman at the entrance nonchalantly informed us that the museum is closed on Mondays. I couldn't see the faces that we made at her announcement, but I imagine that they were quite unpleasant.

The museum/memorial is giant, so we had alloted quite a chunk of time to its exploration. We had a Dunkin' Donut while we pondered what to do next. Korea has a different variety of American franchises than Japan, so we occasionally snuck in to have a guilty fix of whatever unhealthy food was available. After a bit of idealess staring at each other, we decided that we might as well check out another market. This one was completely dedicated to electronics, so we correctly assumed that it might be a bit different that the markets we had seen previously.

We soon found ourselves at I'Park Mall, as it was the starting point in the travel book's directions to the market. A movie ticket isn't as awful in Korea (it was like 7 dollars) so we wanted to check the movie times before embarking. An average trip to the box office it was not.

There was a bit of a commotion. A group of mostly women had formed, many of them holding signs, a couple had flowers. I didn't bother to ask anyone what was going on, it was pretty obvious that some sort of famous person was going to be here. We just loitered around and asked ourselves aloud who we thought it could be. I was so sure it would be Brad Pitt that I had decided to write “I love you Brad” on my chest with a black marker. Luckily, a lady with a pretty solid grasp of English intervened and told us a bit about the situation. Seemed Andy Lau (a famous Hong Kong performer, actor, and producer) was going to be making an appearance. We later learned that this was because of the world premier for (IMDB). As he was supposed to show any minute, I figured I might as well hang around and wait a moment. It was only like 20 minutes later when he slipped by with his little entourage. He waved a bit but he didn't bother to come closer to the small crowd. I was satisfied but I felt a bit bad for the other people. Who knows how long they had been standing there waiting for him.

Its hard to see, but he pokes his head out at 1:34

We stumbled onto the setting of the actual premier once it had already concluded. A bit low budget, but so was the movie I imagine.

The Yongsan electronics market had a similar feel to the Dongdaemun market that we had visited earlier in the week. It was a hybrid between indoor big box electronics store and street market. We crossed a pedestrian bridge from the shopping mall onto an upper floor of a building filled with electronics. The floor was divided up into small stalls, where things like cell phones and small televisions were being hawked. There were so many cellphone stalls selling seemingly the exact same thing that I wondered about how hard it must be to compete. I would think that bartering with them would involve a lot of price checking and walking around. So we walked floor by floor downwards until we reached the ground floor. This was where the street market seamlessly flowed from the building above. I don't recall much separation between the white tiled floor and the busy street outside. Perhaps there were no doors.

This place exhibited a busy, bustling quality that I had seen all over Seoul and I was beginning to very much enjoy. Every morning, the short walk from our hotel to the closest train station involved walking past various small factories. With plenty of windows and a door perpetually open, groups of one or two people fiddled with their machines. One was always printing various layouts on glossy sheets of paper. I enjoyed the little hint of the day's work given by the box of rejected prints sitting out front. Next came the forklifts spinning around in the middle of the street and all over the sidewalk. Dodging them quickly removed any morning grogginess from my brain. The little factories and the food market directly across the street needed to be fed daily with large boxes of supplies. Then there were two or three motorcycle repair shops. Often there were so many bikes waiting for sale or repair on the sidewalk that a short detour through the street was needed to pass them. Some of the bikes were sporty and brightly painted. Others, though, were the workhorses.

These things were half motorcycle, half flat bed truck. I was impressed with the large and often awkward shaped loads that were strapped to the back of these things. And, like everyone else, the drivers harbored no qualms about driving up on the sidewalk when it suited them. My guidebook noted that Seoul has a large amount of accidents that involve pedestrians... somehow I'm not surprised.

Well, our electronics market was more of this. TVs and refrigerators were being unloaded from trucks instead of boxes of paper and dried fish, but the activity was the same. I picked up a few cheap Korean movies on DVD from a peddler early in the day. During the course of the day I probably saw 20 such stalls selling the same thing. I walked by them quickly to avoid the sales pitch.

We had gotten out of bed much earlier than usual in order to learn about Korean wars, so even after everything that had happened we still had a good chunk of day to fill. So we did what any group of three planless dudes would do. We went to a theme park. I couldn't pass up the chance to add one more to my list of international theme park conquests. I imagine I am becoming a theme park connoisseur of sorts.

Of course, most of my admiration is reserved for the Disney brand parks. I like the nostalgia of the places and the rides, of course. On a different level, I also like the idea of building a different world. Before his death changed the course of things, Walt Disney had planned to make Epcot(Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow) a real city with residents and a complete working infrastructure, much more than the perpetual world's fair that it is today. The idea of trying to build a utopia is always an interesting one, but can you imagine Walt as the benevolent dictator of your city? Couldn't Disney World simply expand over time until it became a major metropolitan center?

A very interesting promotional video where Walt reveals his plans for world domination.

Sooo, we hopped into a taxi and yelled “Lotte World!!” like little kids might. Then I yelled it about ten more times with different pronunciations until the cab driver understood me.

Lotte World(English site here). Where to start? First of all, the building itself is a beast. The indoor section is housed in a building with a rounded roof, a bit like a sports dome. Connected to the domed land is a slightly smaller outside area, where the Disney-ripoff castle sits. The outdoor rides are the ones that wouldn't fit inside, and it even features a haunted house.

Our tickets included admission into the Lotte World Folk Museum, which offered a lot on Korean history and culture. I went to the museum first, and realized the folly in building a folk museum adjacent to a theme park. Its hard to concentrate on the lifestyles of royalty in the Choseon castle when theres a ferris wheel and $1.50 cotton candy being sold next door. I imagine school children might feel the same way. I fast-walked through the place with a purpose. I might have seen 7 other people in the whole building.

Here is some Korean history seen through the eyes of a guy who would really rather be at a theme park. Annnnnd, GO!

First, there's this gentlemen.

Cave guys.

There was a parade.

Buddha was there.

Japanese police are mean.

The End.

Then came the fun part.

This was a fairly quality park. One of the things I pay attention to is how well the park is themed. Disney's big strength is that is has so many stories and characters from which to pull concepts. Here there were only a few little characters, and they don't seem to have much of a back story. Lotte World does a good job though, I think. The park is divided into areas that feature a world culture, and the rides are loosely based on that theme. The award for best named ride goes to The French Revolution, a ride that spins.. quite the pun.

Another excellent part of this park were the prices. Admission was about 24 dollars and a decent sized soft drink cost about a dollar fifty. The pairs of ears we're wearing ran about 3 dollars. Quite a good value, I think.

One of my favorite attractions was the Aeronauts Balloon Ride, which consisted of a hot air balloon-shaped sky-ride that ran on a track on the ceiling, giving a nice view of the park.

Mmmm, Churros.

We went to see this show thing.... definitely best appreciated with an open mind.

Taking aim at Desperados, an attraction that involved bouncing horses, light guns, and a movie screen filled with characters who deserved to get shot. What else do you need?

A parade broke out at one point. Several floats and dancers covered in lights did little performances while they walked the indoor route. The funny part was that every last person in the parade was Caucasian. It was most certainly more white people than I had seen since I got off the plane. We got a bit of special attention from the parade. Many of the performers gave us a “hello” as they walked. I seem to recall one giving Tung a high five while passing. I don't think they get too many foreigners around those parts. I wondered what their story was. The tale of an American ending up dancing in parades at a Korean theme park much be one worth hearing. Unfortunately I didn't see a trace of them once the parade was completed. Too bad.

Some parade action.

As the day progressed, the park got more and more busy, with groups of school children beginning to appear. Lines that were laughingly short when we arrive soon became logged with ride goers. The wisdom of arriving early at Lotte World in Seoul, Korea is probably information that I won't be able to benefit from, as I don't imagine being back. But the rest of you have been advised.

The night ended with a laser light show thing. Their seemed to be no more than five laser projectors involved in a presentation that ended up feeling a bit low tech. It was more weirdish than amazing, but it finished off with some pyrotechnics which were much appreciated by the crowd. A very enjoyable evening.

Good times.



The last week at school has been like no other that I have yet experienced. First of all, we are still in the middle of spring break, which I must say is completely awesome. The teachers, including myself, have all changed from stressed-out working machines back into real people. I have savored the time, trying to chat as much as possible with the other teachers. They really are good people.

Spring vacation marks the end of the school year in Japan. As a result, we have gone through the process of changing teachers. Friday of the week before last, the principal of our school announced what teachers would teach in what grade, and which teachers would be leaving. I don't really understand the criteria, but certain teachers are told that they will be moving to another school in the school district. It seemed that no one knew for sure who would stay and who would go prior to this day. Then, Tuesday of last week, at the beginning of the day, all 15 or so of the teachers that will be leaving lined up at one end of the staff room and gave little goodbye speeches. The next day, the same line up was for the new teachers, with each one giving a little intro about themselves.

As a result, I have two new English teachers with whom I need to get accustomed. Wish me luck.

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