16 October 2008

Seoul Grand Park

Right now, I am watching a television program about the US Ambassador here in South Korea, Kathleen Stephens. She is a popular figure here - despite all the overt hostility against W and the US troops - because she previously spent a lot of time here in South Korea, as a Peace Corps volunteer and as a public school English teacher. It also helps that her Korean is fluent, and that she even has a Koreanized name. Recently, she went back to the rural middle school where she taught English in the 1970s, and gave a speech. I am very moved by her story and presence, and firmly believe that it's not the bastards, like W, 2MB, and the reactionary Korean-American community, who are in charge of US-South Korean relations, but dedicated individuals like Stephens and other Peace Corps volunteers, pop culture icons like Rain and Mariah Carey, and ordinary everyday people of the two nations. I hope to be a part of that relationship, and it'll only help further once Obama clinches the presidency, by now a foregone conclusion.

But for now, I want to revisit my daytime sightseeing, which took me to Seoul Grand Park - specifically, its huge zoo.

I have arrived at the subway station serving the park. Although the park is administered by the City of Seoul, and even uses Seoul telephone numbers (area code 02), it is located just outside the city limits, in the southern suburb of Gwacheon. Line 4 of Seoul's subway system comes here, but since it's outside the city limits, the station is owned by Korail, as opposed to Seoul Metro.

This destination sign shows the line's name as the Gwacheon Line, as opposed to Line 4. Gwacheon Line was indeed the official name of Korail's extension of Line 4 through Gwacheon and Ansan, when it opened in 1994. The two tracks of Line 4 actually cross over at the city limit, so that here, the trains can run on the left to follow the Korail convention, as opposed to the Seoul Metro convention of running on the right.

After Ansan, Line 4 continues along the former path of the now-defunct Suin (Suwon-Incheon) narrow-gauge line, currently terminating at Oido. The entire Suin line is being rebuilt as a conventional-gauge subway line, however, and when it re-opens, Line 4 will run all the way to downtown Incheon and its Line 1 terminus, alongside dedicated Suin Line trains.

It's still quite warm today, but make no mistakes about it: it's mid-October, and the maple leaves are turning. Streetside vendors sell snacks for anywhere from 500 won to 2,000 won (USD 50 cents to $2).

I bought a 7,500-won (USD $7.50) combination ticket, which allows me to enter the zoo (normally 3,000 won), and also take a one-way ride on the sky lift from the parking lot to the zoo and return by a tram (or vice versa).

I am flying over a lake, with a great view of Seoul Land amusement park in the distance, also part of the Seoul Grand Park complex. This arrangement reminded me of Walt Disney World and its Magic Kingdom, which requires riding a circle line monorail at the parking lot in order to cross a lake and reach the main gate.

Seoul Grand Park opened in 1984, to replace the Japanese-era zoo and amusement park that had to be removed from Changgyeongwon in downtown Seoul, so that it could be restored to Changgyeonggung, a royal palace.

I am still on the sky lift, flying over the rose garden, which costs extra. I decided that this view was good enough.

I have entered the zoo, where I was surrounded by hundreds of secondary school students, in their uniforms. Boys and girls usually go to segregated schools, but they mixed together here.

Japanese-style school uniforms (and for boys, extremely short hair) were required until the early 1980s, when they were completely abolished, and students were free to wear their own clothes. The current, more modern uniforms were re-introduced in the 1990s. Girls normally do not have the option of wearing pants, so good, warm hosiery will be a requirement in colder months; good thing high-quality hosiery is so affordable here.

I love the Pikachu aluminum balloon that one of the students had. Balloons are not allowed in the subway, however, as they will short the 25,000-volt overhead power lines and shut down service; warnings were everywhere throughout the station.

Flamingos. A nearby sign says that the flamingos occasionally need their feathers trimmed, so that they will not be able to fly away. Two flamingos had their feathers trimmed today, and were supposed to be a bit upset about the experience.

A nice giraffe-feeding session.

White rhinoceros, representing southern Africa and northeast Africa west of the Nile. The horn is quite valuable, so they are facing extinction in the wild.

This is a shout-out to my Australian blogging friends, Rossiann (kangaroo) of Brisbane and Wendy (woz) of Tasmania. Here's an emu, a flightless bird from Tasmania.

A bunch of red kangaroos, which are found throughout Australia. I truly look forward to a future Australian trip (even though I know better than to look for kangaroos and koalas in populated areas!). Smaller versions of kangaroos are called wallaroos, and even smaller ones wallabys; they are all here at Seoul Grand Park.

In case of the red kangaroo, a newborn is only 1/60,000th the size of a fully grown adult!

The Mexican axolotl makes an appearance here. Some examples in this tank include quite a few albinos, two of which are in the photo.

Dragonflies are a very common sight in South Korea. And here are the ancestors of dragonflies, which existed in the Carbon Age. The left one has two extra small wings near its head. Some of these dragonflies had wingspans in excess of 2 1/2 feet.

This exhibit demonstrates the usefulness of insects in traditional medicine. The right drawers show insects as used in Korean herbal acupuncture. The left shows a European witch preparing her insect brew.

Not really an animal exhibit, and a mere decoration, but I liked this picture. It shows two Silk Roads - the overland route starting in Korea, going through China and the Middle East, and ending in Europe, and the overwater route starting in Japan's Kyushu, going through the Philippines and Singapore, rounding India and Arabia, passing through Suez, and ending in Italy.

The overwater route is still very well used today. The overland route, in both road and rail forms, is being re-developed under international agreements; as I said countless times before, a continuous rail route already exists from South Korea to the UK, and only lack of political will prevents actual train service.

These rather large turtles are called northern red-bellied cooters, and are native to the northeastern US. Even though my blogging friend DiAnne Grieser is originally from South Dakota, and her current home is Seattle, I still dedicate this to her.

A pair of scarlet ibises.

The water buffalo, a very important beast of burden in many parts of Asia.

It's not quite Christmas yet, so the reindeer is here taking a break, instead of pulling Santa's sleigh. Reindeers are native to the northern latitudes.

Totem poles from British Columbia! This was a very quick way to remind myself of my visits to Vancouver. Vancouver is one of the most livable cities in the world, and it's one place that I would love to return to, again and again.

Unfortunately, the reality of being in Seoul hit me nearby, as Christian doomsday missionaries shoved an "end times" pamphlet in my face. There are better places for doing that kind of rude proselytizing than a tranquil park/zoo.

There was an extensive South American area, featuring these llamas, which are domesticated versions of the wild guanacos. Llamas have hearts that are 15% larger than those of other comparably sized mammals, as a way of coping with the high Andes altitudes.

Indoors displays showcased animals native to the Amazon, as well as resort promotion posters from Venezuela and some lessons on Maya and Inca civilizations and history.

I was so upset by those rude Christian missionaries that I left this message in the South American hall's visitor message area, in my not-so-great Korean penmanship. It reads:

"Don't you Christian bastards have better things to do than proselytize in a zoo? Pests like you must be shut up - including your leader 2MB. If 2MB and Reverend Moon continue to meddle in American politics, the next American President, Obama, will never forgive you. Keep up your work if you want the humiliation of being some foreigner's colony again. Otherwise, you better control your Christians - including 2MB. - From a visiting American"

I was able to walk into an aviary full of peacocks. Back home in Los Angeles, I can visit the county arboretum in Arcadia to mingle with peacocks. Actually, scratch that; I can mingle with the peacocks on the residential streets surrounding the arboretum as well. Here in Seoul, this aviary is the place to do the same.

The Asian black bear is commonly found from the Amur River to the north to Burma in the south. They were once common in Korea, but hunting has endangered them, so they are now protected.

A Eurasian otter. This is a shout-out to my blogging acquaintance, longtime peace/progressive activist Rick Albertson of Erie, Pennsylvania, whose longtime nickname is "Otter." Actually, the North American otter is a separate species, but I am pretty sure Rick would appreciate this anyway.

Alaska and California have another otter species - the sea otter - one of the few things the two states share. Even then, I am pretty sure that Alaskans would rather have their fur, while Californians would rather protect the otters.

Here's a jaguar, the reigning king of the Latin American mountains and forests.

Three Siberian tigers (out of several more). They were once common in Korea, but today are extinct in South Korea and found only in small numbers in North Korea. Most Siberian tigers today live in Manchuria and the Russian Far East.

A white tiger. Although only 1 in 10,000 births end up as white tigers, I saw quite a few here in South Korea, including several over at Everland.

The coyote, a very familiar sight from North America. Most South Koreans recognize them from old Western movies. I know coyotes as the terrorists of suburban neighborhoods that kidnap and kill household pets.

A timberwolf, almost extinct in Europe but still common in Siberia and North America. I was reminded of the NBA franchise in Minnesota as I took a look at this wolf.

This is a crested black macaque. Many American right-wingers love to compare Barack Obama to this thing. Honestly, a macaque has more class than those right-wingers. And another thanks is in order to 2MB and Reverend Moon, for funding all the smearing of Obama.

This pair of red foxes are representative of those found in Asia, North America, and Europe.

These particular examples arrived here in 1999 from the Pyongyang Central Zoo, as part of an animal exchange program between the two zoos, designed to promote civilian ties and animal conservation in both Koreas.

These gray wolves are also from Pyongyang. As South Korean wolves are in danger of extinction, they were brought in in 2005 to rebuild the population.

The sign for this display uses both the South Korean name (늑대, "neukdae") and the North Korean name (말승냥이, "malseungnyangi"). In North Korea, the 말 (mal) prefix denotes a large beast. After sixty years of division, with no contacts allowed for ordinary people, the two Koreas have seen their languages diverge significantly.

I strongly believe that inter-Korean relations are one area where the civilians can potentially do much more good than the bureaucratic megalomaniacs of both governments ever can. However, both governments keep a tight rein on such exchanges, as exposure to the other side can decrease the government control over the people (especially a big worry for the North Korean personality cult).

I took a few minutes to spend 2,000 won (USD $2) on a dolphin show, which also featured a pair of California sea lions. The show was good - but the excessive humidity of the tent-covered arena, with very little outside air coming in, was horrible.

This is an ibex, commonly found in the Alps, in Israel, and in Central Asia.

A pair of shaman village guardians. In the middle is an animal transport crate belonging to the Pyongyang Central Zoo; it had brought the foxes here in 1999.

I hear that due to the economic breakdown in North Korea, the Pyongyang Central Zoo is now a very sorry facility. Nevertheless, some South Korean animals and plants, brought by previous South Korean Presidents on their Pyongyang visits, are there as the star attractions. Again, megalomaniac politics of Kim Jong-il must end, and peace must come to the Korean peninsula, so that I can visit a revitalized zoo - and the rest of Pyongyang as well.

This wolf was cloned in 2005, by inserting the DNA from a wolf cell into an egg of a domestic dog. It is the first cloned wolf in the world.

There is a botanical garden on the zoo grounds as well, including the greenhouse in the back and this traditional-themed flower garden in front. Love the fountain made out of kimchi jars.

Some grass sculptures, depicting the characters of Wizard of Oz. I was immediately reminded of their comparisons to American politicians; the Scarecrow, due to his lack of a brain, is compared to W, while the Tin Man, due to his lack of a heart, is compared to Dick Cheney.

These are Barbary sheeps, native to northern Africa but also present in North America.

I am wrapping up my visit, with this obscured view of some springboks, the national symbol of South Africa. So much so, that South African Airways flights use the call sign "Springbok" when communicating; it is one of my favorite aviation call signs, next to "Speedbird" (British Airways), "Dynasty" (China Airlines in Taiwan), and "Cactus" (America West Airlines, before it merged with US Airways). By comparison, my usual airline United, and its South Korean partner Asiana, are simply "United" and "Asiana" respectively - how boring.

South Koreans love South Africans, for their participation in the Korean War. I also appreciate South Africans for their long struggle against apartheid, and for their democracy which, despite many hiccups, features one of the most progressive national constitutions ever. South Africa also led the way in legalizing gay marriages. The South Africans even built my superb car, sitting in my garage back in California (though it was under the auspices of the BMW bastards).

This was probably the most exhausting zoo ever for me, due to its enormous size and hilly terrain. Nevertheless, I am very glad to have visited it.