Ever since I first got to Korea I wanted to visit Lotte World, one of the theme parks around Seoul. I had heard it was essentially a complete ripoff of Disneyland, castle and everything. The only problem was that for nearly eleven months, nobody would go with me and the last thing I wanted to be was that person walking around alone in an amusement park that parents tell their children to stay away from. Finally, as the end of my year in Korea is in sight, I convinced people to go with me and I got to experience the copyright infringement-filled wonder that is Lotte World.
Lotte World is split up in two different parks; Magic Island, which is the outdoor park, and Adventure, which is the indoor park. We decided to do Magic Island first since it was about 70 degrees and sunny, the first time we had seen that combination since October. Magic Island is where many of the bigger rides are, such as the Atlantis (a roller coaster) and the Gyro Drop (Lotte World’s version of Tower of Terror without the haunted hotel theme). In the middle of Magic Island is a castle that bears a very striking resemblance to a certain other castle in Orlando.
After finishing up everything we wanted to do on Magic Island, we headed inside to Adventure. The indoor park was giant. It stretched out over four floors and even included and ice skating rink in the middle. The rides weren’t as big or thrilling once we got inside but they were fun in a tacky and cheesy way. My personal favorite part of Adventure was just how blatantly obvious the copying of Disney was, even more so than on Magic Island. Nearly every ride had a “cousin” in Disneyland that was easily identified. For example, the Adventures of Sinbad was essentially the Korean Pirates of the Caribbean and Pharaoh’s Fury was Lotte World’s Indiana Jones. Just as people at Disney parks walk around wearing mouse ears, people at Lotte World wear various animal ears as they manage their way from ride to ride. I opted for tiger ears.
While Lotte World probably won’t win the world record for the greatest roller coasters or the scariest rides, it did have a certain charm that made it a very enjoyable Sunday activity. If Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth, Lotte World is at least the happiest place in Korea.
One of Korea’s many odd festivities is the Parting of the Seas Festival that takes place every spring on Jindo Island. Once a year the tides go down so low that the seas “part” and Jindo Island connects with another island. While crossing the tidal flats probably wasn’t as dramatic as parting the Red Sea a la Moses, my trip to Jindo was entertaining nonetheless and gave me a chance to see a part of Korea I know I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
When we got to the Parting of the Seas Festival the sea was still a few hours from parting and we had just finished a grueling 6-hour bus ride on the world’s least comfortable bus in existence. To stretch our legs and revel in the joy that comes with having room to move again, we set out and explored all the booths and had a few drinks by the beach. From the beach we could see countless Koreans filling bags with seaweed. As someone who detests the taste of seaweed, these giant bags looked about as appetizing as the mud that was slowly emerging as the tide lowered.
When it was about time for the tide to reach its lowest point, we headed to the spot the path to the other island would soon emerge from. Before we could cross we had to put on thigh-high, neon orange rain boots as part of the crossing involved trudging through seaweed marshes. Once we had our new, ever-so-sexy footwear on, we pushed our way through the crowd and raced across to the other island before the tide came back in. As we got further out the ground became rockier and tide pools revealed starfish and octopuses that were bottom dwellers about a half hour prior to me seeing them.
In addition to seeing various forms of aquatic life slithering about the rocks and shells, I was also able to witness even more seaweed harvesters lining up the path from island to island. Many of them had sailed to a spot they knew the water would be completely receded from and waited for their boats to eventually be lowered to dry land where they could maximize their seaweed scavenging without having to push past the thousands of other festival goers. In the spirit of the festival, I took a piece of seaweed from the water but lost it somewhere in the crowd. Somehow, I think I might find a way to live.
The tide was only out for about an hour and a half so we were only at the festival for a few hours. Once we crossed back to Jindo Island, we had to get back on the Medieval torture device known as my bus back to Seoul. Despite the short duration of the actual Parting of the Seas, the festival was well worth the long bus ride. After all, any experience that involves a festival with a biblical name pun as a title is a-okay in my book.
Ever since I got to Korea I have thought of it as America in 20 years technology-wise but America in the 1950s when it comes to social structure. Gender and family roles are much more visible in Korea, even in the ultra-modern Seoul, than I have ever noticed in the US. With this in mind, I was shocked when I discovered that in a town a few hours outside of Seoul was a park dedicated to the penis. Feeling that this was entirely too random of an experience to pass up, I headed to Samcheok with a few friends and went to Haesindang, the penis park of Korea.
The story behind Haesindang is almost as amusing as the park itself. I’ve run across a few variations of the tale online, but I’m going to give my favorite version of why Haesindang exists. Long ago, there was a couple engaged to be married who were madly in love. The man was a fisherman who went out to sea a lot. The woman loved to eat what he brought home and on the morning of their wedding, the man went to the beach to quickly fish up something to surprise his bride. Unfortunately there was a storm and freak tidal wave took him out sea, killing him. Filled with grief, the woman threw herself into the sea as she no longer had anything to live for.
It turns out that not even death could contain her grief. Apparently losing the love of her life was only part of her devastation. As this was many years ago, engaging in certain physical aspects of love outside of marriage was a major no-no and she was also more than a little bit disappointed about not having been able to see exactly how her fisherman sailed his ship to shore, metaphorically speaking. Because of the anger at her situation, the woman haunted the town after her death, blocking the fisherman from catching anything and, as a result, impoverishing the village.
One day a man passing by the beach the ghost woman killed herself at realized he needed to answer nature’s call. Facing the ocean, the man relieved himself, catching the eye of the ghost woman. After finally seeing what was going on below the opposite sex’s belt, the woman was able to rest in peace and fish returned to the village, letting it prosper once more. To stop this from ever happening again, the fishermen built giant phallic statues on the coast. Why Hollywood has yet to be turn this into a major motion picture is beyond me.
Regardless of whether any of this is based of fact or if it is entirely fictional, the park turned out to be an amusing getaway. The coastal location was gorgeous and it was pretty close to a few caves we ended up walking through as well. While it probably won’t be competing with Disneyland to become the next great family vacation spot, Haesindang was well worth the $2.00 admission fee. Take that, Magic Kingdom.