Sunday, August 31, 2003

A Rat with a Gun

It’s called Lotte (pronounced Lowtay) World. And, brother, it is jammed with fun. If I had to describe it I would say it is a theme park that seems to exist in that ethereal place where Knott’s Berry Farm® meets K-Mart®. I recently spent much of a day playing in this wonderland with several of the soldiers from my battalion as part of a 3-day retreat away from our home/work place. Lotte World screams to be commented on.

We arrived via subway shortly after the park opened. In order to get from the subway station to the actual park, one must possess a very sensitive global positioning system, an extremely acute sense of direction, or a Korean. Without one or more of these things you don’t stand a chance of ever reaching your destination. The reason is that the entrance to Lotte World is buried deep in the bowels of Seoul at the far end of an apparently endless cavern. In order to get the proper picture of the situation one must not envision a cave entering the side of a lonely mountain. Instead, one must envision a cave entering the side of a lonely mountain lined with all manner of vendors, or as I prefer to call them, crap peddlers. Man, they will sell you anything and everything. And the thing is that one shop will be stocked with cell phones and accessories and the very next shop will be stocked with more cell phones and accessories. After approximately 135,287 cell phone shops you arrive at the first of the 34,951 shoe stores followed immediately by the 587,012 cheesy dress sellers. And these do not line a single tunnel. Instead, you must navigate through a labyrinth that would make the Minotaur jealous. Once you have successfully moved through this maze of vendors, you come at last to the gates of nirvana … Lotte World.

The first thing one notices about Lotte World is its mascot. It is written into the World Theme Park Charter of 1274 that all amusement parks must have a mascot. Disneyland has Mickey Mouse. Six Flags has Bugs Bunny. Lotte World has…well, I’m not sure what that thing is. My compatriots and I stood for several moments discussing the species of the Lotte World mascot. Some said it was a squirrel…but where’s the big bushy tail? Some said it must be a raccoon…but what’s with those teeth? Still others thought it has got to be a chipmunk…come on, look at those eyes! All anyone knows for sure is that it belongs to the class mammalia and the subclass eutheria. I mean, really, a pongo pygmaeus would know that much! With the identity of the mascot’s species still undecided, and not knowing its name (since we don’t read Hongul) we braved entering the park not knowing what to expect.

As it turns out, Lotte World has much about it we could not ascertain from mere empirical observation. This held true in regards to the actual theme of this theme park. For the most part it was a smattering of 17th century Caribbean piracy infused with touches of medieval baroque, some Bavarian castly stuff, a little 23rd century futuristic technothings, some good old down home home flavor, and perhaps a dab of disco. This should give the reader a very vague sense of what Lotte World is all about to the casual observer, because frankly, having been there in person I still have only a very vague sense of what Lotte World is all about.

Being an amusement park, Lotte World had amusements. Adrenaline producing rides that leave amusee in a state of euphoria and with a deep-seated desire for more. One ride spun like a merry-go-round while swinging on a pendulum while another ride lifted the rider to dizzying heights only to let go and offer a brief free fall. But the ride that bears the most comment had to be the Sinbad ride. This is one of those indoor boat rides that take you into a dark tunnel where you slowly work your way through scenes of horror and fright, except on this ride they emphasized the “slowly” and seriously downplayed the “horror and fright”. The designers of this ride must have lived with the conviction that to drag riders at an almost imperceptibly slow pace past a hundred zillion plastic skeletons yammering chilling words in a strange tongue would produce maximum scarage. Can I just say here that this was not the case? In reality what this ride does is eat 20 minutes of your life. Riders of several nationalities could be overheard saying, “Man, I thought that would never end!”

Lunchtime rolled around and we headed for the food court. Here our Americanness came fully to bear. When coupled together, the words “food court” indicate certain things to the westerner. Things like pizzas, tacos, slushies, lemonade, pretzels, and hoagies. The producers of Lotte World have a different idea of what a “food court” is and it involves a choice of Korean food or Japanese food! So let’s see…hmmm…do I want the fire hot rice with meat of unknown origin or the raw fish and seaweed pate? I’ll just interject at this point that dinner never tasted so good!

In the heart of Lotte World sits an indoor ice rink complete with every Eric Hayden wannabe on the Korean peninsula. Adjacent to the ice rink is a state of the art bowling alley complete with dimly lit, smoke filled video game arcade. Next to the bowling alley is probably the most disturbing part of Lotte World. It is disturbing not only because of what it is but because of the several posters throughout the park informing guests of its presence and bidding them come and enjoy this most exciting of activities. The posters feature the indeterminate rodentish mascot of Lotte World pointing with one hand in the direction of said attraction and with the other hand brandishing a Glock 9mm. That’s right, Lotte World, family oriented theme-like amusement park has a shooting range. All one has to do is go up, pay a small fee and “rent” any of a number of weapons ranging from the kid friendly .22 caliber pistol to the Dirty Harry .44 caliber special. Approximately 15 weapons representing most major gun makers and most of the “popular” calibers are available to John Q. Citizen. Roughly $35 buys you 10 rounds and a human silhouette target. Fun, fun, fun.

So, as evening approached we departed Lotte World, and made our way out into the shop maze. We arrived back at the subway station approximately 8 hours later and headed home to ponder the events of the day. And the next time I see a Racchipmunsquirrel I’ll remember Lotte World and smile.