11 October 2008

Seoul: World Cup Park and 63 Building

I started the day by visiting my mother's teenage home in eastern downtown Seoul. I nailed it down to the exact street, though I couldn't recognize the house itself, due to the addition of a store to its front yard.

Later, I headed back to World Cup Stadium in hopes of touring it again. But seeing that the tour was closed again, and that the tour didn't seem to offer much anyway, I decided to tour the surrounding World Cup Park instead.

The bridge in front will take me across the street from the stadium to another part of the park, which sits atop 20 years' worth of Seoul's trash. As I previously mentioned, this is a former migratory bird sanctuary, turned into a landfill in the 1970s before becoming a park in time for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The boardwalk in the distance climbs the mound of trash.

There is a city festival going on; it's called the Eulalia Festival, after the wild plants growing on top of the trash mound. Due to the crowds, I can't take up the boardwalk, as it's for descending visitors only; I will have to take a mile-long detour. The lanterns along the walkway are for the festival.

This methane pipeline reminds me that yes, indeed, I am walking on top of a heap of trash.

I've arrived. This portion of the park is named Haneul Park (Sky Park), due to its location on top of the trash mound. Today, it's very pleasant due to all the eulalia plants visible here, standing over six feet tall.

To the right, two of five wind power turbines are visible; they power the park's infrastructure, taking advantage of the elevation and the riverside winds. They also demonstrate a way to combat global warming - considered a myth by many Americans, but a definite reality here.

Since Haneul Park is on top of a trash heap with unstable geography, it is strictly forbidden to walk off the trails, take any plants, bring any pets, or even play such games as cards, chess, or Go; games are commonly played at most other parks.

The golden spire of the 63 Building can be seen in the distance to the left. I will visit it after I am done here.

A dry grass sculpture, like so many others I've seen around Seoul. This shows an agricultural band celebrating good harvest.

Cosmos flowers in a number of different colors. Thatched-roof pavilions are in the back, with rooftop pumpkins. Definitely reminders that this is Korea in autumn.

I am about to start my descent. Here's a good view of the city, with Namsan and N-Seoul Tower being prominent. I can also identify the World Trade Center/COEX Mall to the right, very far away on the other side of the city.

A very good look at the World Cup Stadium.

It's a shame that I had to watch the FIFA World Cup 2002 events through television sets in Alaska and California. And it's also a shame that I had to go to Los Angeles right before the 1988 Olympics. And it's an even greater shame that when the FIFA World Cup did come to America in 1994, with the final match at Rose Bowl (very close to my then-home), I was out here in Seoul.

This event was not taking place today, but I found it worth photographing anyway. There was/will soon be a pink ribbon marathon, to help find a cure for breast cancer. As South Korean diets become more Westernized, breast cancer is becoming more common.

Another look at the World Cup Stadium, from Peace Park in the south.

I proceeded back to Yeouido, which I had visited a week ago. This time, my destination was the 63 Building. A combination 26,000-won ticket (USD $26) allowed me to tour the building's three paid attractons: IMAX Theater, SeaWorld aquarium, and SkyArt observation deck/gallery.

The IMAX Theater showed only one movie, Alps, with showtimes hourly; the presentation was dubbed in Korean, though transmitters and headphones were given to foreigners for the original English track. I loved the views of the Eiger, the Matterhorn, and other peaks, and will look forward to visiting Switzerland in the near future. And I made it through without falling asleep! I always stay awake here at 63 Building, but I always fall asleep at all other IMAX theaters worldwide for some reason.

SeaWorld is a rather pathetic aquarium, compared to the excellent one over at COEX Mall, even though the cost is nearly the same (and the most expensive component of the three attractions at 63 Building as well). Here's a large sea turtle, which, again, reminds me of fellow blogger DiAnne Grieser of Seattle.

Some king penguins.

The Japanese spider crab, normally found in deep seas, and the largest arthropod in the world. Captions in Korean and English say that the adult male can stretch as much as three meters.

King of herring. This example stretches at least 20-25 feet. This one also lives in the deep waters, though body problems cause it to lose pressure and float closer to the surface.

This is a coelacanth, long considered to be extinct until one was found off of the east coast of South Africa in the 20th Century. This example is a gift to South Korea's President Chun Doo-hwan, from the President of the Federal Islamic Republic of Comoros in Africa, in 1985.

A round tank had many species of large fish swimming around, including this crooked example.

Two red-eared turtles. Found in the Americas, they tend to disrupt native species here in South Korea.

Now I am heading up to the observatory, located on the 60th floor. I am on the 53rd, so I am almost there. I am taking the dedicated observatory elevator with river view, which takes 80 seconds to make the climb; while it once was possible to use the normal elevator (without the view) and make the climb in 25 seconds for less money, that option is no longer available.

Looking eastward, upstream on the Han River. The lighted bridge in the middle right is the original Han River Bridge. Just to the front is the railroad bridge, where I could spot many subway trains and a few bullet trains.

I turned on my iPhone and played some Mariah Carey on it, in honor of my last visit to this floor back in 1994, when I was able to listen to the entire Music Box album over the building speakers (and tell Mariah herself about it later that year, in New York). I was very glad to be back here, fourteen years (and that meeting plus three concerts) later.

The northwest (downriver) view.

From here on, the river flows in a straight line before making a 45-degree right bend to meet with Imjin River, before turning 90 degrees left to empty into the Yellow Sea. From the confluence to the mouth, the river is now the border between the two Koreas; as a result, it's not possible to navigate this river from the Yellow Sea.

The right (north) shore of the straight portion of the river is served by the Freedom Highway. It is the quickest way to get from Seoul to the DMZ. When it was first opened in the early 1990s, it was common for the drivers to take their cars to the limit there, well beyond 160 km/h (100 MPH), due to light traffic and the straightaway; due to the excessive speeds, the police would not even try to stop the violators, for fear of causing even more danger. The Freedom Highway was also known as the Korean Autobahn as a result, though that reputation is now only history, due to new developments along the highway.

I took in a special traveling exhibition of Hello Kitty-inspired art here at the observatory, in addition to nighttime views of Seoul. The lack of clear grid patterns on the streets were a definite reminder that I was no longer in Los Angeles, Chicago, or some other American city. For a look at the Hello Kitty artwork, check out my post on Christy's Art Blog.

This is the Wishing Wall. At the souvenir stand, I can buy a donut-shaped piece of paper, write my wishes on it, then hang it here. The wishes then will be burned on Jeju Island on the first full moon of the new year, so that they can come true.

After spending a good amount of time taking in the artwork (and listening to Mariah Carey), I took the elevator back down to the ground floor. As I descended, fireworks were visible over the skies of distant Jamsil, as the Seoul Design Olympiad was kicking off there. I will probably head over to Jamsil tomorrow to check it out.

I am now taking the subway system's Line 1 back to the apartment. Line 1 is jointly administered by Korail and Seoul Metro, with Korail owning almost the entire line and operating almost all trains; Seoul Metro owns only the ten or so stations below ground under downtown, and operates only a handful of trains. On this rare Seoul Metro Line 1 train, station displays are available in not only Korean and English as usual, but also in Chinese as shown; no other operators and lines offer this nicety. Here, I am approaching Noryangjin Station, and the left doors will open there.

And while dark blue stripes in the interior do correspond to the current line color of Line 1, the exterior of this train has red stripes. Since opening in 1974 and well into the 1990s, Line 1 was known as the Red Line, and the Seoul Metro sectors were red on subway maps; Korail sectors were identified by gray instead. Not only was red traditionally associated with death (to a point where a person's name written in red ink signified that s/he was dead), but red is also the color of Communism and therefore usually taboo in South Korea, two reasons why it's no longer used, though South Korea's national soccer team (and its fans) are known as the Red Devils. Nevertheless, I would've preferred that Line 1 stayed the Red Line, as there are a number of other blue stripes on the Seoul subway network map, including Line 4, Jungang Line, and Incheon's Line 1. Yes, Incheon has its own subway, with its own operator, though it is integrated into the Greater Seoul subway system, and does not require a separate fare.