Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Korean trip Part III: Everland!

And finally, on Monday, I got to go to Everland amusement park, the second biggest reason I went to Korea, but definitely the best! Casey had to go to work in the afternoon, so I had to get there by myself. But the Seoul subway system is pretty straight forward and Casey gave me excellent directions, so I made my two transfers without getting lost, though it took a good deal longer than I expected, almost three hours.

I did have a slight snag with the taxi from Casey`s apartment to the station, however. I had written down the Korean exactly as Casey spelled it, but when I told the driver, no matter how slowly or how many times I said it, he couldn’t understand me! I told him in English and he still didn’t understand. I finally showed him the paper with the English written on it, and he nodded, said exactly what I had said, and drove me to the station. I had thought Casey was joking when she said Korean is in the world`s top five hardest languages to speak. It`s not tonal like Chinese, but apparently they have a lot of homophones and words that sound similar. Korean sounds like a cross between Chinese and Japanese, but I don`t think it`s related to either one, especially not Japanese, which falls in it`s only completely separate language group that isn`t related to any other languages outside Japan. There are a few words they share, especially numbers, and loan words taken from English, but that’s about it. Also, while Japanese and Korean both have levels of honor which change how you speak to certain people, in Japanese these are pretty straight forward, simply changing how the verb is conjugated or adding an honorific “o”, “go”, or “sama” onto the beginning or end of nouns and names. In Korean, apparently it changes the entire word. For example, when I was in taikwando, I learned “comapsoupnida” which means “thank you.” However, that`s the highest politeness level, what you would use with your master. You would not say this to a friend, or even an elder, superior in your company, or customer. The form used most often is “comsamnida.” So the stuff in the middle changes. Also, I counted for a Korean in what I learned in taikwando. They laughed and told me I was all wrong. My pronunciation was so off they couldn`t understand a word. That`s what you get from learning Korean from an American.

At the bus stop, I asked if I was at the right place for the bus to Everland, and two Malaysian girls with excellent English told me yes, and we talked the whole bus ride there. I think one of the greatest pleasures in traveling is that you meet people from all over the world and get to hear about their countries. They told me all about the jungles, and I would like very much to visit there one day!

I got to Everland about 11:30, about an hour and a half later than I had hoped for, but just in time for the Christmas parade! The dancing and music was rather silly, but the floats and costumes were gorgeous! Here`s the ice float:

Everywhere I went, I was asked, “Why are you in Korea?” always with a bit of shock or sarcasm. I said I was here on vacation and they were even more surprised, like “why would you want to come to Korea for vacation?” Casey was right, Koreans are pretty humble about their country, except sporting events. You know how there are posters of Tiger Woods all over American airports? They have pictures of their World/Olympic ice skating champion, Kim Yu-Na. They would then ask me what country I was from and what state, but when I said I lived in Japan, they became pretty quiet, and ended the conversation with a quick, “you should come teach in Korea,” before dashing away. It`s almost identical to the reactions I got to that statement in China. (Though at least I didn`t hear anyone hissing “I hate the Japanese.”) Even before Casey said anything about it that night, I could pretty easily tell that even the Korean young people don`t seem to like Japan very much. I also noticed that while Japan is really big on personal space and boundaries (except for in subways, trains, and at festivals), the rest of Asia seems to have no such concept. One young man got so close and in my face as he excitedly drilled me on my reasons for coming to his country that I thought he might run me over. But the girls seem to be more shy and Japanesish.

One set of these I met on the amazon rapid ride, all giggles and broken English with Korean mixed in. (It`s funny how every country seems to think that if they simply speak slower and louder, you will understand their language. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not an American invention.) Also, all amusement park rides across the world seem to be basically the same. After that, I headed for the Zootopia section, the real reason I went to Everland.

First I took the safari. I love safaris! I went on a real one in Africa, and I`ve got to say, the ones in zoos are usually more interesting, as you`re actually guaranteed to see all the animals. (However, you are not likely to be charged by an elephant in a zoo. That was quite an exciting experience, but probably not one I`d like to repeat.) Here`s some pictures of the animals from the tram. Bear:


And the whole reason I set my heart on Everland back in February when I had my passport fiasco and had to cancel the trip: the white tigers! Granted, it would have been much more fun and interesting to see them in the February snow, but probably a lot more cold too. As it was, the weather was simply gorgeous and the temperature perfect. Here they are:

Near the safari was an Africa building, but I doubt all the animals were from Africa. (the caiman for example). This zoo was much more about “fun zones” than it was about being ecologically accurate. I don`t care; give me happy, active animals in a slightly unnatural environment over sleeping ones alongside detailed signs on habitat any day. I can always look up that stuff later. There I saw this fellow, a rather mellow iguana:

What`s he been smoking? Whatever it is, it must be illegal to make him that happy.

And I got to feed the birds. Here they are eating from my palm:

After that, there was a cute little animal show. I couldn`t understand a word, but it was pretty straight forward. Hook wanted to steal Christmas and Peter Pan had to stop him with the help of his (actually her) animal buddies. After that, I spent the majority of the time in the “monkey`s paradise.” Ha, I remember when we were kids and my brothers and I used to pretend we had a “monkey`s paradise.” Well, this was a real one, the best of the best, because every single exhibit had babies!

Here's a baby on the mama's back!

Check out this little baboon. He`s not so cute, in fact, he looks exactly like a goblin:

Now I know where the Japanese got all their goblin stories! I don`t think they have baboons, but they have tailless monkeys that look very similar.

At around four I checked out the baby/exotic animal area (I purposely saved it for last, knowing that if I went there first I would stay there they whole time and not see anything else). Here`s some interesting little guys, I don`t know what they are; I`ve never seen them in America, but they have them in China and Japan. I`d never seen so many before. They were quite active; listen to the chirps they make:

This video`s especially for my mom, some kangaroos, including a baby, jumping!

A video of lion cubs playing:

And my favorite picture of all, the baby lion:

Isn`t it sooooo cute? And check out this fennec fox, playing with a gibbon`s tail:

If I actually had any talent or skill at photography, I might do this for a living.

The zoo closed at 5:00 (they had to kick me out at 5:15), I rode another ride, and was just in time for the Christmas village light up at 6:00, which included a little song and dance show. Here`s before:

And here`s after:

On the way, I met a couple from Singapore. I heard them speaking English and I immediately started following them, as they seemed to know where they were going. Singaporians are such nice, beautiful people. Ever met an Asian with a British accent? That`s the way they normally talk. (Makes sense; they were a British colony.) I think it would be way overly simplifying them and the rest of the world to say they are “Western,” but they certainly have a “Western flavor” about them, which is somehow refreshing when you`re drowning in foreignness. I`ve met seven of them now, which is quite something since there`s only about 4 million of them all together. I suppose that`s about equal to meeting a New Zealander, and I`ve met a good many of them now.

As for the show we watched together, the Everland characters were such rip offs of Disney characters, right down to their poses. But then, every “new age” theme park is a rip off of either Disney Land or Universal Studios, only with a zoo. As long as the shows themselves and the animals are different, I`m happy.

I walked around looking at all the lights for awhile, then at 6:30 saw the “moonlight parade.” And that`s when my camera ran out of batteries. Oh, well. I`ll be going to Universal Studios in a few weeks and they have a “starlight parade,” which is similar.

I rode the carousel, then just walked around the park, especially in “Asop`s garden,” a fairytale garden with characters, ornaments, and stories spoken aloud in Korean based on Asop`s fables, until it was time for the 7:30 light show. That was spectacular! Lasers, music, and fireworks, all with a Christmas theme! Then I hightailed it to the bus stop to catch (what I thought) was the last bus at 8:00. I panicked a little when I realized I misread the sign and there was no 8:00 bus, but fortunately, there was an 8:15 bus, so I could meet Casey at the station at 10:00 (the way back was much shorter for some reason). What a great time! I could have easily spent two days there, especially with the indoor water park that I didn`t go in at all.

That night, we did some late night souvenir shopping, but it wasn`t what I`d hoped for. Seoul is famous for it`s super cheap (though very expensive in other countries) high-end brands. I was hoping to cheaply replace some of my worn out winter clothes and buy some traditional crafts for next year`s Christmas presents for family and friends, but we were far from the good clothing stores and the traditional ones closed at traditional hours. So I settled for a new pair of velvet gloves with foe fur (only $2.00) and a few trinkets for friends.

The shop owner asked me where I was from, and with Casey translating/his broken English skills, I told him America, and he seemed rather pleased. Curious, I added that my father was stationed in Korea for awhile as part of the Air Force reserves, and he seemed even more pleased. “Thanks for protecting us from those rotten Northerners” seemed to be the general direction of his thoughts, which is what I usually get from Koreans when I tell them about my dad`s service time. There appears to be a generally positive attitude toward American troops among Koreans, and I saw a lot of Koreans in American military uniform randomly walking around, or maybe their uniform simply resembles ours. But then I told him I was living in Japan. He was quiet for a moment, then started grumbling. The only word I understood was “bad.” Casey got us out of there pretty quick.

“Most Koreans, especially older folks, really hate the Japanese,” she explained. “They did terrible things during the war. You know, that`s why Korea`s lost most of its cultural assets, even its cultural identity. You want to see authentic Korean culture, you`ve got to go out in the country.” I think I`ve talked in the past about how nonchalant Japan is about their war crimes. There`s a group of old Korean “comfort women” (sex slaves) who protest in front of the Japanese Imperial palace every Saturday and still haven’t gotten their basic citizenship rights (remember, no one can become a Japanese citizen unless they are Japanese by ethnicity or married to an ethnic Japanese), let alone an apology. I`ve speculated in the past that if Japan had paid war reparations to China and Korea after the war, neither China nor North Korea would have become communist. But that`s not entirely fair either. Japan was in no condition at the time to pay reparations to restore Asia the way America did with Europe. Though it wouldn’t hurt them to apologize and try to improve relations now. They are the richest country in Asia. They still maintain a superiority complex. When I told my co-workers I was going to Korea, the first thing they said was to expect lots of dirt, to be careful of the meat because they eat all kinds of strange things like dog (they don`t) and not to drink the water. Kind of sounds like what we tell people before going to Mexico, as if it and everyone living there had the plague or something. (Of course it`s important not to drink the water, but if that`s the first thing that pops in our head and out of our mouth when we think of a foreign country, we probably need to change our attitude.)

That brings me to my next point. Prejudice in Asia. I often hear Americans say that America is the most prejudice, bigoted country in the world. Most of them have never left America. Prejudice is a world-wide disease, my friends. Because America likes to group people by race rather than country (probably because we`re an immigrant nation, but that`s no excuse), we consider prejudice to be based on race. By that narrow definition, yes, you could say that no prejudice exists in Asia. I have never seen anyone talked bad about on account that they were white or black or any other race. Even Casey, who is African American, said that she never experienced any negative treatment on account of her skin color, though she does get stared at a lot. If anything, Asians show favoritism toward the Caucasian appearance. Besides all the skin whitener sold in stores, I was appalled at the number of advertisements I saw for plastic surgery, mostly for eyes, nose, breasts, and backside. A girl could go in and get a whole new body for a few hundred dollars. Korea is “famous” (or infamous) for having the cheapest and highest quality plastic surgery in the world. Apparently it`s a very common graduation present, and girls from all over Asia come to get it done. That would explain the number of girls I see with big eyes. They look a little too big, as if they weren’t designed for their faces. People are so blasé about it too. Anyone I ask about it here says, “Why not? It`s your body. You can do what you want with it.” I think it`s horrible. Not only does it imply some kind of ethnic superiority, but is the girl satisfied when she gets her “new face?” Usually not. Insecurity adds to insecurity. What about natural beauty? Apparently it`s not good enough anymore. People prefer a “fake” or “manufactured” look to the real, genuine thing. Most importantly, it shows an over-obsession with appearance. People should spend more time molding their inside than their outside. You`ll just loose your looks in twenty years anyway. Any parent who pays for their daughter to get plastic surgery is basically saying, “sorry honey, you ain`t good enough. And don`t expect to make it on character or brains, either.”

This is very telling. I would argue that Asians, when they hate, tend to hate other Asians. On a basis of country, not race. They don`t really harbor the same kind of hate toward other races because they fall in the completely “outsider” or “other” category that is in this and many other cases considered inscrutable. Not that they don`t pass judgment on non-Asians in small things, but as a whole, they seem unwilling to judge a race of people different from their own. In this, yes, they have risen far above some styles of Western prejudice. But hate is still hate, and to say it simply doesn`t exist because it`s not directed at you is a rather narrow, selfish view.

Of course, I`ve just oversimplified things myself by using the term “Asians” as if such prejudice applied to all of them. Of course it`s a country by country issue. Nor do I mean to imply in the least that all Chinese hate Japanese or all Japanese look down on Pilipinas and Koreans either. Most seem to go through their lives with a peaceful “live and let live” attitude. It`s also not nearly as violent as you see in other parts of the world with lynching and such. That hardly ever happens. But you often find riots in China against Japan, or North Korea “accidentally” sinking one of Japan`s ships, or the Japanese press giving some rather strong threats for a nation without a military. Hatred in Eastern Asia is characterized by a kind of subtlety that simmers and randomly explodes. Like what just happened between North and South Korea.

Exactly two hours after I landed back in Nagoya, North Korea dropped bombs on a civilian island in South Korea. If there are any two countries in East Asia that hate each other with a killing passion, it`s those two. This was the first attack on civilians since the “end” of the Korean war, which technically never ended, because South Korea never signed the cease fire. I don`t have the time or knowledge to go into that situation fully, but suffice it to say it`s been all over the news in every Asian country, each of them scrambling to figure out what to do if “the big one” came. (As if Japan could do anything. All their prancing and posing is rather humorous for the standpoint that they have no military.) But it appears as if things will settle again to a simmering almost boil. The heir apparent of the North`s dictatorship is just showing off before he takes over for Daddy, I think. They`d have to be brainless to pick a war against the world`s superpowers, since both the U.S. and U.N. side with South Korea. If they`re looking for help from China, they won`t find it. China relies too heavily on South Korea for it`s economy, which is too unstable world-wide right now for China to betray any benefactors so quickly. They might as well go Imperial style and fall on the same sword that they used for the backstabbing.

Such is the state of East Asian politics according to L. J. Popp. How they really are might be a totally different story.

I was planning on going to the zoo or orchid garden in Nagaya when I got back, but I was so exhausted (from not going to bed until 1:00am and getting up at 4:00am to catch my 9:30 flight), that I just went home and crashed at 6:00 and woke super early the next morning to unpack and be ready for work. All in all I think it was a good trip, but two and a half days wasn`t enough! Seven days, like China, would have been ideal. I needed two days for the palaces, two days for Everland, one days for all the folk village and mountain, one day for church and the stuff in that area, and one day for shopping and just walking around, getting to know the city. By the time I was comfortable, starting to figure things out, and really enjoying myself, I had to leave! Oh, well. Next time!

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