09 December 2008

Seoul: Jamsil again

It was a slow day that I had intended to spend entirely indoors. But I'm glad I didn't. I headed for Jamsil, which continues to be my favorite hangout, due to my previous residence in the area, and due to the presence of Lotte World. I started off with the ice rink, but hated it this time, due to the rough ice in bad need of resurfacing, and due to a bad skate. I left as soon as resurfacing began.

Lotte World's greatest claim to fame is its amusement park, Lotte World Adventure/Magic Island. The Adventure is the largest indoor amusement park in the world, while Magic Island outdoors is connected by a footbridge. Magic Island occupies much of the western half of Lake Seokchon, which used to be the southern shore of the Han River, but now is an isolated lake; the land between the lake and the river, previously a floodplain, has been terra firma since the early 1970s, and now hosts Lotte World itself, Jamsil Apartment Complex 5th Phase, and Jamsil subway station.

The amusement park stays open as late as 11PM, and an admissions-only ticket costs only 10,000 won after 7PM. The most expensive day ticket, an unlimited-rides ticket for entry before 5PM, is 35,000 won. Rides cost 3,000 to 4,000 won each, and as all admissions-only tickets before 7PM cost only slightly less than unlimited-rides tickets, it's better to buy unlimited-ride tickets. But after 7PM, the unlimited-rides ticket stays expensive, while the admissions-only ticket drops dramatically, so I took a chance and decided to explore the park.

Magic Island is anchored by Magic Castle. If it looks a lot like the Disneyland Castle, there is a reason: both castles are modeled after Neuschwanstein Castle, Mad King Ludwig's fantasy castle, in Fussen, Germany.

Magic Island hosts a number of mostly thrill rides, including a haunted house, a roller coaster with water-submerged tracks for a log flume ride sensation (the tracks were dry tonight due to the low temperatures), spinning rides, and more. Thrill rides that tend to make riders scream must shut down at 9PM to ensure that residential neighbors will have a quiet night's sleep.

As Christmas is nearing, the whole park features Christmas theming. Loudspeakers play various Christmas carols; most are traditional, but as I was taking this photo, I was listening to a Korean singer's cover of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You." I could live with that - though of course, I would've vastly preferred the real thing.

Here are the residential neighbors surrounding Lake Seokchon. These are ridiculously high-rise luxury apartments; they are called Lake Palace, and were built less than three years ago, by Samsung under the Raemian (來美安) brand and by LG under the Xii (pronounced like the first syllable in "xylophone") brand. Raemian and Xii apartments can be found in lots of upscale South Korean urban neighborhoods, and are the most desirable brands.

Housing in Seoul is expensive. Even the 30-year-old crumbling apartments of Jamsil Apartment Complex 5th Phase, measuring about 100 square meters, cost a billion won per unit. That's still high $600K's in US dollars, even with the severe depreciation of the won. At least those old apartments have elevators and centralized heating. Part of the ridiculously high price, especially for older apartments, is due to a possibility of demolishing and redeveloping the apartments; when the new apartments are completed, residents of the old buildings are entitled to move in for free - therefore getting massive modern upgrades for free - provided that they are willing to move to, and pay rent at, a temporary place out of pocket for the construction duration. The Lake Palace apartments, for that matter, are themselves redevelopments of Jamsil Apartment Complex 3rd and 4th Phases, which had consisted of early 1970s 5-story buildings with primitive coal heating, no air conditioning, and no elevators; they had been very lucky to even have running water and private toilets!

Here is the Adventure, which is the indoors portion, featuring lots of lighting. The Christmas lighting adds even more color. At 9:30 PM, there was yet another lighting source - a laser show featuring the twelve zodiac symbols of Greco-Roman mythology as narrated by Jupiter.

I can see shops and the ice rink on the lower two levels. From down there, the Adventure looks quite cramped and pathetic, but now that I'm actually up here, I find four levels within the Adventure itself, and many behind-the-scenes rides, attractions, and equipment. There is definitely plenty of room to cram lots of rides into these spaces. I'm impressed.

Here's something interesting. I am seeing a musical production of Cinderella, with a Christmas twist. Instead of a fairy delivering a pumpkin and turning Cinderella into a princess, Santa Claus does the job. All music is traditional Christmas carols, sung mostly in Korean and some in English. All spoken lines are pre-recorded Korean, and the performers, many of whom are Westerners (including the blond Cinderella, wearing the blue work dress in the center), do a great job of lip-synching the lines. I absolutely loved this 30-minute musical, which also featured eight acrobats in reindeer costumes, performing a pre-show routine of high-rope acrobatics 15 meters above the crowd.

I am certainly appreciating the fact that this year, I am enjoying Christmas the way it ought to be enjoyed - a season of joy and sharing. I am very glad to have enjoyed it in the Seoul snow and in the Hong Kong warmth. The most priceless thing is that I can share my joy with Christians and non-Christians alike, which is a far cry from back home in the US, where the Christian extremists have turned Christmas into an excuse to steamroll non-Christians over. Never mind that Christmas is really a pagan holiday that Christians co-opted, as Jesus was certainly NOT born around the Winter Solstice.

I ended up using three 4,000-won attractions: a roaring rapids ride with circular boats (fortunately, I didn't get wet), a musical fountain show, and a balloon ride along the park's ceiling, 30 meters above the main park level. I pretty much stayed until the park closing. I'm really glad about today.

Looks like I am staying active in Seoul more than I thought, even with my rage over the 2MB government. I love Seoul, and until 2MB blocks my way, I will continue to come back. (I'll have to be back in spring, anyway.) I hope that 2MB will be history before he has a chance to really start banning me for political reasons.