By the end of January, I was ready for a holiday. I’d had a terrible week, dealing with out dated education practices and a black dog that insisted on following me around – constantly reminding me that I had left my loved ones and forgotten my teddy bear in a warmer hemisphere. Luckily, my cold hemisphere position celebrates two New Year’s holidays and I was due to set off on an adventure up North.
No, no, not that North. I was going Seoul Searching!
As soon as I clocked off, I boarded the Seoul Train – a mildly insane idea considering that this meant I was to arrive in Seoul at 4am. The internet had assured me that 4am was a perfectly reasonable time to arrive in one of the world’s largest metropolises, leaving no surprises when I arrived in a barren wasteland of closed coffee shops and quiet streets. This was New Year after all, most Koreans were running home at half speed (traffic jams) to complain to their elders that the kimchi refrigerator had finally broken.
After fending off an overly friendly touting “taxi” I jumped into the most legitimate vehicle I could find and gasped “coffee”. The man turned, looked me up and down, snorted, said something about a waegookin, and drove me to Itaewon, the foreigner section of Seoul, filled with 24 hour cafes, brunch spots, western sized shoes, baking supplies and kebabs; most importantly kebabs.
I didn’t have a kebab. That’s really not the point. Kebabs existing, meant that people who needed kebabs also existed; loud, sleazy, raucous, completely drunk and distasteful people – everywhere. Never has disgust been more satisfying.
I was in the antithesis of Disney. An ‘old familiar point of view’ had taken over. My Never-Wonder-land. The… ah… I could keep going but I’ll spare you some pain.
A friend of mine claimed, on our 4 hour trip in Macau, once upon a time, that if Las Vegas was the most fake place in the world, then, as Macau is a fake Vegas, it must be the most fake place in the Universe. The same could be said of Lotte World and Disney World.
Macau is to Vegas as Lotte is to Disney. From antithesis to hyper-reality, I was sure to make this a trip of extremes. Lotte World, is the largest indoor theme park in the world, and also has an outdoor section with it’s very… own… Cinderella’s Castle. I didn’t feel any pressure to go on the rides, I just wanted to soak the place in.
For anyone who has been to a Disney Land and ridden the “Small World”, you would know that it is best compared with Gene Wilder’s face and that terrifying tunnel in the original Willy Wonka movie. For anyone who is yet to experience either, well:
Round and round and round you go.
Everything is bright. Just a little too bright.
Everything is coloured. Just a little too coloured.
Everything is happy. Just a little too happy.
If you took that one ride, and made it a park, you would have Lotte World – An Architect’s Impression of Mania.
I’ve thought for a long time about what to tell you about Lotte World. I’ve been trying to decide on a fun story or particularly odd encounter. Yet, I don’t really have any I want to tell. My trip to Lotte World was an entirely cynical one. I intended to laugh derisively at the delirium – matching couples, overly happy staff and the wide eyed smiles of the Lotte characters – and I did. Yet it was an entirely personal endeavor. I went to wander, and have time to myself and I got a lot of that, yet less than I expected.
When I had finally decided that I had had enough, serendipity stepped in, in time for the parade, and I found myself completely barricaded from getting out. Suddenly, I felt a little poke in my back. Turning around, a little knight stared up at me, sword in hand, ready to take on the evil giant that stared back at him. As I bent down, he whispered “hello”, I pulled out the pen in my pocket, and we proceeded to duel. More kids joined in and the high pitched Korean lady performing silly dance moves to keep the children “occupied” while we waited for the parade stared daggers in my direction. With the little boy refusing to let go of my hand, I watched the show. The parade was a fascinating march of unacceptable racial stereotypes and sea animals. It was pretentiously hilarious, unpretentiously fun and I completely adored it!
That little boy really helped renew my enthusiasm for all things Korean, and reminded me to appreciate rather than laugh at what is innocent and kind. Seoul had done for me what my job had failed to do in the weeks previous. It reminded me why I want to be here. I want to educate beyond a university environment, and work with kids. I want to live in a culture that is so old and yet so young; having pushed so far ahead, in such a short space of time, that it is difficult to find anything below or above an extreme.
I love South Korea, it never stops amazing me and it never will. I have so much more to tell you about my Seoul adventure, yet for now I will leave you with this little face that I’m sure will haunt your nightmares just as it haunts my apartment. Here is my first Korean souvenir, a comforting slice of depression found within the coloured halls of the most manic place on earth: