I missed out on my usual blog session yesterday, so I thought I would be prolific and write two blog entries today. This morning my family and I went to Children’s Grand Park in East Seoul. It has just about everything a child could want–a huge playground, botanical garden, a small zoo, a camel ride, an elephant theme show, and a water park where children can play in an artificial stream. I have to admit, it’s pretty cool. It only cost 900 won (90 cents) per adult, and young children are admitted free of charge (parking is a bit pricey). You can’t beat that price. We still spent 14,000 won for lunch and a few thousand more for some drinks and snacks, but all in all it’s a cheap date. The elephant theme show costs 6,000 won (about $6.00) per person. We decided to pass on the show.
My son had a great time at Children’s Grand Park. He played for about an hour on the playground, sliding down slides, playing on the teeter-totter and on all sorts of kiddie rides. He had the most fun at the water park . If you come to the Children’s Grand Park, be sure to bring a swimsuit and towel for each child. We didn’t and had to improvise. Our son waded into the water in his daiper. By the time he was finished, it weighed about a pound after soaking up water! He had a great time playing in the water, climbing on the rocks, sitting in the boat, and climbing the small step waterfall. After he finished, daddy lent his shirt to dry him off. I’m sure I elicited some stares from onlookers as I took off my shirt to use as a makeshirt towel. After all, everyone around us was Korean. It reminds me of a time in 1994 when I visited rural China. A freakish rainstorm drenched me as I walked in the countryside. I sought refuge in a kind peasant woman’s house. Not thinking, I took off my shirt to wring it dry on her dirt floor. I’m sure I broke just about every rule of etiquette doing that! I’ve wizened up a bit since then (I hope). I’m sure she didn’t know what to make of this person who was probably the first Caucasian she had ever seen in her life.
After we left the water park, we visited the park zoo. My son was especially enthralled with the monkeys and the lions. He loves the animated features "The Lion King" and "Madgascar," whose main characters are lions. I pointed out "Simba" and "Alex," his favorites. For the first time, he encountered many of the animals he read about in books and played with as toys, including an elephant, zebras, ostriches, tigers, kangaroos, and yaks. I wonder whether these animals lived up to his expectations, because live animals are really never as cute and cuddly as their stuffed or drawn counterparts. Next to the elephant pen, we saw a film crew filming the park. I’m not sure why they were filming; perhaps they were filming a scene for a Korean drama. Perhaps my family inadvertantly became extras in the film.
The park is very much a family-oriented park. I saw some childless couples but nary a single person. The majority of the park visitors clustered in families. I saw some families visit without the fathers, many of whom have to work on Saturdays. It’s interesting that Korea is a very family-friendly country, yet at the same time it has the lowest fertility rate of any OECD country (just 1.19 children per woman in 2004–the OECD represents the world’s top 30 economies). Korea is going through a so-called "kid crisis" where the population is increasingly aging (7.2% of the population was aged 65 or over), and fewer and fewer couples are having children. The park today was filled with families. I saw more families here than I’ve seen elsewhere in Seoul. Central Seoul is very much dominated by singles and couples. I see very few children in Seoul beyond the school girls and boys who use mass transit to travel to and from school.
Thought of the day: I thought it very odd that Children’s Grand Park would feature a plastination exhibit. A macabre art form developed by Gunter von Hagen in Munich, Germany, plastination is very creepy to those who are squeamish about death and an affront to those who believe in the sanctity of the body after death. Plastination is a process by which those who donate their cadavers are embalmed with plastic rather than formaldehyde and then carved into artistic art forms. The plastination exhibit at Children’s Grand Park was well advertised throughout the park with vivid images of corpses that underwent plastination, including fetuses and deformed children. I kid you not (no pun intended). When I was in Munich in 2003, I thought about visiting BodyWorlds, home of the plastination phenomenon. However, my American traveling companions thought I was crazy. Plastination grossed them out. I caved in to peer pressure and did not visit BodyWorlds while in Munich. I personally find plastination intriguing. I am amazed by the fantastic creations that result from plastination, and I’ve pondered what would prompt someone to donate their body to be plastinized and put on display. Instead of being buried, one’s body ends up in an artistic exhibit for all the world to see. Not surprisingly, plastination conjures all sorts of moral and ethical issues. I am an American who finds plastination fascinating, yet I still think it is in very poor taste having a plastination exhibit on display at a children’s park. This is especially true with regard to the photos of the fetuses I saw. I wondered whether Koreans have objected to this exhibit. Considering that Korea may be the first nation to clone a human being, I would not be surprised if Koreans generally do not object to plastination exhibits at a children’s park. The COEX Mall also has a plastination exhibit, indicating that Koreans find this odd mummification process very fascinating. I’m certain many Americans would be appalled.