One of the few welcome interruptions to weekly routine is when an old friend visits from life pre-Seoul. Living in this megacity has its benefits, but one thing that seems to be less emphasised in big city life is making and keeping good friends.
I first knew Daniel in middle school when I was 14 years old, which means that we've been friends for 50% of our lives. Our first connection was through a mutual obsession with Capcom's Streetfighter Alpha, which we used to play every Friday night, still dressed in middle school fatigues, on an overused arcade machine in Adelaide's Chinatown foodcourt. Back then, an important skill was being able to backspin a one dollar coin into the machine so that it would register as a two dollar coin. Reliable talent in this field made you a local hero for the evening.
Now, who said that video games weren't healthy for social development?
Caribbean Bay and Everland are two themeparks about an hour south of Seoul. Everland is a Disney-esque style wonderland, although a little smaller and lacking universally recognisable cartoon mascots. Caribbean Bay is a waterpark with a Pirates of the Caribbean style theme and jovially repetitive entrance music.
Originally we thought that such a rainy day would deter others from Caribbean Bay and we'd have the place to ourselves.
Unfortunately it turned out that we weren't the only ones with that idea. I guess with Seoul's population of 12 million, the statistical chance of many people having the same idea as you would be quite high.
But I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who thought up the idea of Mossarium Man, my fictional alter-ego.
We were then given the choice between a regular Outdoor Locker Room, or the suspiciously titled 'Delightful Luxurious Locker Room.' While forking out extra for an exhilarating locker room experience may be the idea of a good time for a select few, such signage tends to raise eyebrows and lower opinions from the majority of patrons.
Overcompensated corporate executives of the theme park world, take heed.
Caribbean Bay itself is a nice enough place, with well-manicured foliage. One of the many apparent contradictions in Korea is that although it probably has one of the world's highest per-capita coastlines, swimming is not a popular sport here. As such, swimming at Caribbean Bay can only be done after donning a life-jacket.
Here's my lovely wife, Heather. Let me be the first to say that she's one of the most pleasant people to travel anywhere with. People with such qualities tend to be curious, open-minded and 'on the ball,' but unruffled by setbacks such as endless rain on your day to the beach.
We spent a fair amount of time bobbing up and down in the deep end of the wavepool, suited up in our life-jackets, feet unable to touch the bottom and feeling a little like human buoys. It was nice for what it was.
The theme of the day seemed to be calm, controlled, extremely safe and overpriced fun.
That afternoon, we took our all-day all-access superpark superfun pass, or what have you, and left Caribbean Bay for Everland next door. I'd been here before, but not on a rainy day, making it all the more exciting.
I like Korea, and I like themeparks, but Everland seems to have diversified in its attractions at the expense of animal welfare. I think zoo education is an important thing, but Everland's Safari Tour wins the Lee's Korea Blog Award for most uneducational use of wild animals under an educational guise. The line-up was decorated with photos of African tribes with the odd spear and wooden mask for emphasis. Once in 'the compound' we were shuffled into tiger-striped buses continuously driving 50 metres apart into a paved area containing lethargic tigers, a single bored elephant and bears who sat by the side of the road waiting for the bus drivers to throw them Zec biscuits.
In an effort to induce maximum exposure of the animals to window-thumping kids in the well camouflaged orange tiger buses, a discrete electrified perimeter reduced the area that the animals could 'roam.'
Roam being a euphemism for sitting and staring at orange tiger buses.
Our educational experience over, we were then conveniently led through an exit which was actually a shop containing large plush toys. In today's era of commercialism, I think it's perfectly fine to make a little cash by selling mass-produced toys after an animal exhibit. But the least you could do is offer to donate a minute percentage of your profits to animal conservation.
You could even advertise your commitment to charity by placing an informational notice next to every 'Today only -20% off!' sign.
Then we went on this ride. My overpriced lunch of junk food felt like it had been put into one of those cool tupperware devices that spin the water out of lettuce.
Daniel and I enjoyed each other's company and it was a good time to catch up, so I guess it didn't really matter where we were. If you have kids under the age of 12, they'll probably go nuts at Everland. But if you're over the age of 27, refer to the expressions on our faces for guidance.
Heather, on the other hand, enjoys most things in life in general. Which is a good way to be. She even enjoys being rained on for a few hours and then getting her photo taken as payback for taking our photos while riding on a chairlift.
For the summer season, Everland has been putting on a water show with what appears to be dancing English teachers working part-time weekend jobs dressed up as fairies. The highlight of the show was the spraying of water cannons onto the crowds to refresh them from what would normally be the humid Korean summer heat.
It complemented the day's drizzling rain quite nicely.
One thing in Everland that I thought was actually rather nice, as well as the ever-waving ice cream ladies, was a showroom toward the exit with budgerigars. These amicable and brightly feathered birds flew down from perches on the walls to eat sesame seeds out of your hands. Heather was particularly amused at her self transformation into a statuesque bird seed dispenser.
If you have kids and don't mind waiting in lines, then Caribbean Bay and Everland are suitable places to relieve you of your hard-earned cash. But if you're looking for something nice to do with a friend on a weekend, I'd more highly recommend hiring a tandem bicycle and riding along the Han.