Sunday, August 30, 2009

Episode 5: In Which DFM Faces Some Korean Gangsters And Later Discovers Secret Korean Technology

Today Lee decided to take me to the Caribbean Bay water amusement park. It is a massive outdoor water park attached to the massive outdoor amusement park Everland. Both parks are owned by Samsung, and are located roughly an hour's drive away from Seoul. To get there we took a tour bus which cost us only $10 for a return trip ticket. Where I lived in Canada you get charged $10 if you even look at a taxi cab.

Caribbean Bay has some odd rules which are indicative of the Korean government's regulations, so I assume they say something about the Korean psyche, but I am not yet sure what that is. The first rule, which did not bother me but which did struck me as odd, was that every swimmer had to wear a swim cap. I assume this was to prevent hair from getting in the water, or other sanitary reasons and I have no problem with that (or perhaps it was to prevent the water from getting on one's hair, since the Koreans seem downright anal about getting wet). However, Lee told me that if I wore a baseball cap I could get around the rule because I was "making an effort" to follow the rule. This would have seemed incredible to me if it weren't for the fact that Korean media censorship rules work in exactly the same way.

For example, from what I've read it is not legal to make advertisements dealing with sex. However, you can have explicit innuendos and as many scantily clad women as you like making said innuendos, so long as there is a token effort made to not show anyone actually having sex. This leads to some of the most ridiculous, uncreative, "sex sells" advertisements in the world, in which the content of the advertisement has nothing to do whatsoever with the product in question, and in some cases can even work to discredit the product altogether.

The second rule was that everyone was required to wear a life jacket (which you have to rent for $5). This really angered me. It is just another in a long line of examples in which the government treats its citizens like children (and the citizens seem to gladly oblige). Why can I not choose to swim in the deep end of the wave pool without a life jacket? The waves don't break or become dangerous until after the point at which I need the jacket anyways!

You might think I'm overreacting here, but consider the new trend I've seen in which people do not push or shove on the subways or in the corridors, but rather walk nicely and stand on the right side of the escalator holding the railing. When I was nearing the end of my first stay in Korea back in late April I started to notice a lot of films being played on the subway's TV screens telling people to stand on the right side of the escalator and to not push. When I came back the first thing I noticed was everyone standing on the right side of the escalator, not pushing. Now, we've been doing this for years in Canada, but I was amazed that in less than four months the outrageous Korean subway users could be transformed so completely into civilised individuals.

I was overjoyed with the transformation at first, for I thought everyone was standing on the right to allow a lane on the left for people who wanted to walk (you know, courtesy). However, I was later informed by a Korean friend that it is "dangerous to walk on an escalator" and that the posters and videos I saw were telling people so. When I questioned my friend why, I was told that the escalator is very steep, and that if it were to suddenly stop I could fall all the way to the bottom. I was prepared to shrug it off as just one person, but I asked two other friends and they both subscribed to the notion of escalators being dangerous.

Really? My neighbourhood has no sidewalks and I walk on the street with two way traffic on a one lane road, and the government sees fit to make a fake propaganda film about people falling down and getting their hair caught (could happen I guess, but the simple solution would be to cut your hair) and now you're trying to tell me that a healthy young male like myself cannot cope with a "suddenly stopping" escalator? Escalators move so slow that I frequently out pace them walking up four floors of stairs coming out of the subway tunnels. But I digress...

Back to the story. Lee had told me that the food inside the park was overpriced and that I would need to get a refundable bracelet that I paid for and could use to buy things inside the park. While the food was more expensive than I could normally get it on the street, $7.50 for a pork cutlet feast hardly classifies the Samsung company as "gangsters" as Lee called them. In Itaewon that would have cost me at least $15, and if Lee went to a movie in Canada he'd have to declare bankruptcy. (Note: I was refunded the unused portion of my bracelet.)

The first ride we tried was the new Boomerango. This ride involves standing in line for 2 hours (not a joke, there was a sign that said the wait time was 120 minutes), for about ten seconds of thrill. The thrill was indeed immense, with the drop sending your stomach up to your throat, but I'd say it was hardly worth the two hour wait.

After waiting for the ride in the everyone was so cold (the weather decided to choose today to be less than sweltering for the only time all summer) that we had to find a hot tub fast. Caribbean Bay also has an indoor water park, but it's mainly for the kids and their parents and I'd never compare it to the West Edmonton Mall's World Water Park (although I guess I just did). We went inside to attempt to find some warmer water. Lee and his wife went to the sauna, but I went to find an overpopulated hot tub into which I could squeeze myself.

After I had warmed up I went exploring the indoor section a little further and found a tube ride that looked exciting. This ride required standing in line for half an hour to get an inner tube, and then walking up the stairs with your tube so that you could stand in line for another half-hour to get on the ride. On the way down I decided to get some extra speed by balancing myself on top of the tube so my feet and backside would not touch the ground. My plan backfired though when I carried so much speed into the final corner that I moved too high up on the side of the wall and flipped backwards, landing on my head (this ride is dangerous, they should have made me rent a helmet too). When I got to the bottom of the ride ahead of my tube I was a little worried that I'd get in trouble. However, when I made the "flip over" sign with my hand, the attendant just asked if I was alright (in English). This gave me the chance to say "it's okay" and "fun fun" (which I had just learned to say in Korea that day). The attendant laughed.

After the tube fiasco I tried to body version of the same slide. You stand in line for an hour to find out which tunnel you will enter (I suppose the second time on the ride you'd know). I was in the "small" tube line (the small referring to the diameter of the tube). I thought I'd be in for a less enjoyable ride, with less sloshing up the sides because of it, but it just so happened that the small diameter of the tube allowed for a more efficient ride (with less of the aforementioned sloshing to slow me down). Because of the incredible speeds I could both obtain and maintain through the corners, the G-Forces created by this ride were some of the highest I've experienced on a water slide before. I'd say I loved every minute of it, but I don't even think it lasted one minute.

I had to close my eyes to keep the water from spraying in I was going so fast, so I didn't realise until after the fact that I had exited the tube. Before trying the ride I had watched all of the other riders fall below the water and flounder around for breath, becoming disoriented. I wondered how a simple water slide could have such an effect on so many people. After I came up from under the water on my turn though I was pointed in the wrong direction and completely disoriented myself. The attendant on staff repeatedly said "wah wah wah wah..." (supposedly to draw my attention) until I managed to steady myself and start moving in the right direction with a huge smile on my face.

By now it was 3:00 PM, and I figured I'd better head for the Sky Screamer-like ride I had seen on my first pass through the park. In the lineup for the ride I met some high school students. While I normally wouldn't hang out with people eight years my junior, under the circumstances I didn't figure I would be able to discuss politics or philosophy in Korean, nor they in English, so it didn't really matter.

The boys were actually quite funny and really helped to pass the over one hour wait time for the ride. At one point, one of the boys asked me who my favourite singer was. Since all of my favourite songs were written before any of them were even born I picked the first Korean "musicians" I could think of, Brown Eyed Girls. The Brown Eyed Girls are a former teen-girl pop band, who are now in their twenties. You'd think that a "girl band" would have a slightly more Y-chromosomeless following, but I've seen grown men with the Brown Eyed Girls on their iPods, and their number one demographic is high school boys (along with all the other girl bands). Therefore, it's funny but not necessarily surprising that when I told these boys that I liked the Brown Eyed Girls (I've only heard one song) they all cheered and gave me a "high-five."

When we neared the top of the ride it came out that none of the boys had ridden the ride before and all were scared. We all joked about how they'd have a heart attack, and one boy's lips were actually turning blue. When we made it to the bottom of the ride we all high-fived again (actually I got a high-five for pretty much anything, including knowing what basketball was). We then took turns calling each other "nam-ja nam-ja!" Which means "man man!" or, "now you're a man" (I found it interesting that the ladies weren't "all up-ons" after that touching moment).

By this time it was nearing 5:00 PM and I needed to find my friend, since our bus was leaving soon. The boys also needed to find a friend, and so we set off on a mission. We were looking for a "Korean man in a baseball cap." In a place where everyone has to wear a baseball cap, and everyone (save me and maybe four other foreigners) is Korean, this was no small order. Eventually I decided to just leave without him and discovered from a text message that my friend was at the nearby amusement park, Everland. Since the boys were going there too, we went together.

It just so happened that it was the last day of "the season" (whatever that means) today and there was a special on - anyone going to Caribbean Bay also got in to Everland for free. The boys really wanted to take me on their favourite ride, the T Express. They told me it was made of "ood" (wood, for those of you who don't speak Konglish). When I said that from a distance and in the particular light that afternoon it looked like metal (not in so many words, obviously), one of them told me "it is Korean technology." All joking aside, the coaster is nothing to scoff at since it is the highest wooden roller coaster in the world, with an inclination of 77 degrees and a top-speed of 104 km/hr. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to ride on it because my bus was leaving in half an hour and the line up was two hours long, but I got a chance to see the cars move around the track from a distance.

On the way to the ride we witnessed a long parade featuring an endless stream of princes and princesses, dancers and mascots. I'm not sure why, but a good number of the women, and almost all of the men were foreigners (i.e., "white" because the other races don't really matter in Korea). I don't know where they all came from, but it seemed like every white guy in Korea was in this parade as either a prince or a flag bearer/marcher. Oddly enough, the Korean women who did make it into the parade all had blonde wigs. It would appear Disney has done its job well and now royalty is synonymous with "white" (who needs athletic glory when you've got the theme park parade market cornered?).

Unfortunately my good time soon had to come to an end, and I had to say good-bye to my "brothers" (the boys asked if they could call me "hyoung," which means brother in Korean). Perhaps I'll get to meet them again, since they live on the East end of Seoul, and my work takes me there on Fridays. I'm sure we'll have an adventure, since they're like "grown up" versions of the young boys I met in the school yard on my way to Ace Climbing Centre on my last trip.

A note: the reason the rides took so long was not because there were too many people in the park (which there were), but that Koreans are Nazis when it comes to needless regulations. I've already touched on the life jackets and escalator issues, but at this theme park they wait until you are not only out of the slide but out of the water before they let the next person down. I told the boys that in Canada we send the second person down before the first person is finished and they told me "Koreans would be too scared." I believe them too.

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