Monday, March 30, 2009

Seoul Land Review

As mentioned before, I was offered two tickets to Seoul Land by my recruiting company - the group that works as a go-between to bring foreign teachers to Korea. Not everyone goes through a recruiter, but it's not an entirely bad idea to do so. Find a reputable one and go from there.

Not only were the people at my recruiting company very helpful in the new and frustrating process that is applying for a Korean work visa, but they have also made a point of following through with things - notifying recruits about excursions around Korea as well as promotional stuff for weeknights and weekends.

At the airport, I was greeted by them, they gave me a hat to keep warm as well as a refreshing bottle of water - ahhhh... comfort.

Since then, I have also been offered free tickets to a Korean movie preview (which I tried to make it to, but didn't get there on time), and the two free passes to Seoul Land. I dig on amusement parks - what can I say? Not only that, but Seoul Land was host to a very important scene in one of my favourite Korean movies: My Sassy Girl. Dee and I had to check this out.

Not to sound ungrateful, but allow me to cut to the chase: Seoul Land is weak. What Lonely Planet inexplicably and mistakenly refers to as "Seoul's biggest and best theme park," is actually all seven shades of shabby. To put it bluntly, Seoul Land is a poor man's Everland, though consider that this poor man has been out of work for a WHILE.

I don't want to be too harsh. Truthfully, as people who know me well know, amusement parks have a certain... Je ne sais quoi. I am a big fan of the Disney parks I've visited. I'm enough of a kid to just enjoy them in a familiar and frolicky way, but I'm also nerd enough to actually regard them as texts - believe me, it's something I was moved to do in a "Gender in Popular Culture" course during my undergrad. Did you know, for instance, that the basic planned layout for the parks themselves was based on an inadvertent sexual subtext shared by Walt Disney himself at a conceptual design meeting? I kind of wish that I didn't know that. But I digress...

What I meant to say was that I don't just love the big and beautiful parks, I also am strangely charmed a great deal by those parks that have long outlived their glory days. There's a strange little heart beating in the most neglected places. The most oddly charming are the ones that exist only through false advertising (probably much like The Lonely Planet is guilty of above). The best familiar example of this is the extra shabby "Enchanted Forest" by the Three Valley Gap on the Trans-Canada highway. For anyone who's ever been driven by there as a kid and wanted to know exactly what was behind those trees, I can tell you that I've seen it all through the eyes of an adult, and what I saw will violate your childhood memories.

That's perhaps a little extreme. But yes, for some dilapidated amusement parks in this world, the only thing they have working for them is nostalgia and kitsch. Perhaps on a trip through the interior of BC, all that you have time for at The Enchanted Forest is a pee break and a stroll through the gift shop. That's okay, because you can still purchase a VHS copy of a handy-cam tour through the neglected and weathered woodland critter dioramas that litter the hillsides. It's that kind of place.

I know that I'm being maybe a little too unfair towards the old Enchanted Forest. It is what it is, but my sister and I used to make snow forts, tunnels and slides on our front run and advertise our "theme park" via hand-drawn flyers on our neighbors' mailboxes. There is a reason nobody came. I guess the thing that fascinates me about these places is not just that they are still going strong, but that they existed in the first place. This is coming from someone who plans to buy an annual pass to Everland (Korea's finest amusement park) this year, but I am endlessly intrigued by the thought that goes into the design of such places of leisure, as well as the things that keep people coming back to see dated attractions and get their photos taken with people dressed in fuzzy colourful suits - be it Mickey Mouse, or Lastar and Laila (Everland's Korean answer to the mouse).

Regardless of all of my flippant judgments and expressions of curiosity, I am a big fan of any amusement park. Well, I'm maybe not a big fan of Seoul Land, but let's just say that I appreciate its successes and challenges.

South Korea has three "major" theme parks: Seoul Land, Everland, and Lotte World. Seoul Land, if I had to venture a guess, is probably about a quarter the size of Everland, for those who keep score. Seoul Land is part of Seoul Grand Park, which also consists of a notable museum and a fairly big zoo. It was opened to coincide with Seoul's hosting of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. That makes Seoul Land exactly 12 years younger than Everland - a suprising fact to anyone who has visited both.

The place is divided into five themed lands, much like many other theme parks. Here, there is:

World Plaza: a kind of "World Showcase" style promenade that works much like a Main Street would in a Disney Park - it channels you towards the centre. What's at the centre, you ask? Why a geodesic dome of course. Think of it as a small tribute to Epcot Centre.

Adventure Land: Western United States themed rides, shows, and food. There's a flume ride here as well as a swinging boat deal.

Fantasyland: (I'll let the brochure speak for itself) "Children enjoy unforgettable times here as they romp through dreamy wonderland facilities." Yep.

Tomorrowland: Future-themed stuff. The two biggest roller coasters at the park are located here. There is also a swinging bungie "superman" style ride, though it costs and additional 15,000 won to get on it.

Samchulli Land: Traditional Korean-themed shops, shows and rides. There is a snow hill here for tobogganing in the winter.

Okay, so there's really not a whole lot else to say about Seoul Land. I will say this though: I kinda feel bad about writing less-than-kind things about it. It's kind of like kicking an injured puppy. I just wanted to say a few words about it in case anyone is checking google for a review and is having a hard time finding one (like I did). It has some fun stuff for little tykes, but for most others - there's a better park out there.

Truth is, we walked-around the place for about 3 and a half hours, rode one ride (The Black Hole 2000, the biggest coaster there, and more tame that the one at Calaway Park) and spent the rest of the time just having a look or having a coffee. All in all not a bad day, but with free tickets we were dodging a bullet. My tickets may have been free, but for anyone who was thinking of taking a break from Everland and dropping the 29,000 won entrance fee for Seoul Land, well, save your money.

I'm just one of those curious theme park fellows. I've got to know what's out there. Yes, Everland is my baby, but I was curious to see what the other places hold. Lotte World will be on my list soon, but it'll surely be a frustrating trip - I scanned the website and I'm too tall for most of the E-ticket rides.

Anyway, if you're a theme park junkie living in Korea, and I know some of you are. Do yourself a favour and skip Seoul Land. Judging by the long line-ups, this injured puppy doesn't need your 29,000 won anyway. If you get a free ticket, you might appreciate the kitsch and the zany old-schoolness of it all. But when you check your head, do buy an annual pass to Everland, go four times and it will more than pay for itself. Not only that, but you'll get to ride two of the best roller coasters in the world. Everland, I'm sorry that we forsook you this past weekend. Dee and I are on our way again soon.

Blatant copyright infringement: "Maybe if we change hair-colour and give Captain Hook an eye-patch, we'll be in the clear.."


1 comment:

DFM said...

You couldn't be more right when you talked about having a hard time finding a review. I fit your description of who you wrote this post for exactly. I wanted to go to Everland with a friend, but unfortunately our schedules just couldn't match up.