Friday, December 14, 2007
"It's Christmas in Korea – with all of the folks at home!"
Now that I’ve done a bit of a purge of some early December Christmas homesick sentimentality, I can be free to write a bit about what the Christmas season is like here in Korea so far.
As I said in my previous blog, I’m one of those people who mark things by the season. One of my favourite things about Christmas is being in places that I’m familiar with in another season – and seeing what the Christmas season does to change that place.
Usually, it’s as simple as how roof once warmed by the summer sun looks with a light blanket of snow. Coming to Korea in August, we had missed what was apparently the “heat wave”. Well, to us, the post heat wave time was hot enough. Our first day walking around Seoul with Bonnie and Ian could best be remembered as a day dealing more with humidity and jet-lag than actually seeing our surroundings.
It’s hard to imagine the shift. But coming from Calgary where we too have four seasons, I guess it’s not that hard to believe that it can be cold here too. Having spent nearly every weekend since we’ve been here exploring Seoul and surrounding area, it’s nice to have a bit of familiar context for how Christmas appears here.
This may be Asia, but Seoul is also a huge city with international flavour. It is probably safe to say that Seoul “does” Christmas maybe more than Calgary “does”, at least in some ways. I am speaking of course of the commercial aspect of the holiday. Okay – not just “commercial”, but the surface stuff – decking the halls and all that jazz. There’s a lot of money here: a lot to be spent and a lot to be made by the fortunate. The equals a lot of Christmas bling in every shop window and on every street corner.
This being my first time spending Christmas outside of North America, I was a little unsure how the Christmas season would play-out here. Before I left Calgary, I gave little more than a passing thought to what the Korean holiday season would be like. I figured that at best, there would be the obligatory mini-light displays and garish Santa statues in the subway stops. Oh, no – I’ve never been to New York at Christmas time or any other time for that matter. But I would imagine that aside from Macy’s Thanksgiving-Day Parade and Rockefeller Centre, Christmas in Seoul – at least in the busier shopping districts – is very much what it might be like in any huge city that celebrates the season.
Since we will be heading to Thailand for Christmas, we figured that we would do our best to celebrate the pre-Christmas season by checking out a few things. There’s more to come, but for now, in lazy point form, here’s part one in a selection of the Jing-a-ling-a-jing-jing that we’ve experienced in Korea so far…
1) Everland – A couple of weeks ago, Steph and I joined a few friends from school at South Korea’s largest theme-park. We figured that we owed ourselves a little R & R and decided to celebrate Shannon’s birthday with a trip to Everland. I read somewhere that the park opened in the ‘70s though it looks newer than that. Essentially, it is the Korean Disneyland, though having been to both the Florida and California Disney parks, I would say that there are huge differences.
Everland is no Disneyland, though there are similarities - seen in For all of my Disney nerd friends, I promise to go into full detail when I get home, but for now, just know that there is a ride called “Global Village” that is just as beautiful and frightening as “It’s a Small World”, an electric night parade that is just as electric as the Main Street Electrical Parade, and a plethora of shabby fast food stands – not to mention the rows upon rows of souvenir stands that look exactly like the Main Street Emporium, but sell “Aesop’s Village” characters that likely had no copyright at all.
What Everland had for us this year was a Christmas theme that was like The North Pole on Barry Bonds clear cream. It was crazy. I felt like Clark W. Griswold when we got to the gate and looked in to see a whole lotta Christmas stuff. I know that Christmas is about more than light on artificial trees, but who’s complaining? Sometimes you need a serious jolt of holiday to feel like a holiday is coming.
We had a blast and the night full of hanging-out with (relatively) new friends, riding some cool roller-coasters, and freezing our heinies off was capped-off by a truly amazing fireworks show, complete with a Santa Clause that spoke Korean and wore what was likely a 4000 volt suit – sucking enough energy with each “ho-ho” to power an entire North Korean village.
If you find yourself in South Korea, wanting to have a day and night of festive joy to kick-start your Christmas season, you could do worse than a day and night at Everland. The six of us were grinning like idiots and haven’t really stopped since. Though I wasn’t able to join my sister, her husband and my nephews in Disneyland this past October, Everland was the next best thing. Not a substitute or consolation– just something different. And it was nice to have the little buddies and their family in my thoughts.
Everland Hi-Lites? Being complete giddy twits with other full-grown adults while we watched the night parade go by, riding the “Eagle’s Fortress” – one of the highest-rated suspended roller-coasters in the world, and buying ridiculous souvenirs of our Everland trip on the way out of the park. My Sweet Carrot has become the stuff of legend.
With Christmas drawing near, I’ll be doing my best over the next week before we head to Thailand to comment on a few more Christmassy Korean things. Generally speaking, it does feel like Christmas here… as much as it can feel like Christmas when you’re away from home.