Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years

Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years: Version 2.0!

Monday, July 8, 2013

American Dreamland~~!

The Dream of America!
Not too far from the Wonj is a depressing little theme park called American Dreamland.

It's been around since at least the 70s, and is a perfect example of the shift in tourism that has occurred in Korea: years ago, places like this would be seen as entertainment Meccas, since Koreans had very few options and a lack of perspective. The majority could not leave the country, so heading out to places like Chiaksan for a long weekend was considered a truly awesome experience.

This was made easier to swallow for most Koreans as they were generally brainwashed to think that the best apples come from Chungju, the best rice is from Icheon, and the best sunset in the entire universe can be seen rising over the East Sea. Why would you need to go anywhere else when the best of EVERYTHING can be found right here, right now??  If I were an apologist, I could say I understand the motivation of leaders to have people think that way, as domestic consumption needed to not simply be encouraged, but obligatory, in good mercantilist fashion.

With the opening of the country's borders in the late 80s, places like American Dreamland didn't stand a chance: why spend all that cash for a weekend at Chiaksan when for near the same price you could head off to the Phillipines, Thailand, or China, even if the place promised to give you a happy dream of that land of milk and honey, America? The end result is that dotted throughout the countryside are parks and tourist zones that are either closed, or look stuck in the 70s.  Even places like Everland, one of the most popular theme parks in Korea, have a kind of dated feel, stuck in a more golden profit time.  Despite that feel, we will go to Everland since there aren't many other options, and the youngest has been after me for more than a year as many of her friends have already been several times.

We went to American Dreamland many years ago and swore never to go again: at the time, not only did it look completely run down and unsafe, but the zoo it boasted was one of the more depressing examples of the human mistreatment of animals I'd ever seen.  Not only were the cages basic concrete slabs with rusting bars, but quite a few of the kids kept throwing all kinds of garbage, rocks, and instant ramen at the animals.  I got mad and started yelling at the kids, which didn't earn me too many friends among the parents, and we were asked to leave.

The girls and I decided to check it out last weekend due to a recommendation from a coworker: it seems that it has been trying to reinvent itself by not only improving the lot of the zoo animals, but by expanding the zoo idea into an English Village. Basically, piles of waegs are bussed in on the weekends to work the rides and generally walk around speaking English, thus giving little Minsoo and little Jiwon the opportunity to practice their English.

Not sure why the owners thought this would work, as every English Village in the country has been bleeding money since the get go. These types of villages were supposed to stem the flow of cash overseas, as tens of thousands of students leave the country every vacation to study overseas. Conservative figures I've heard place the amount of cash flowing out for education at 3-4 billion US dollars a year.  The figure is probably at least another 1-2 billion more.

Most of the workers were students who come up every weekend; many of them seemed nice, cool, and Russian. Not that it really matters as long as they can speak English, but also that the place was nearly completely empty.  They seemed generally surprised that a waeg was there with kids.  Maybe I was more surprised that we had actually come.

Where is everybody? Probably in America.
While I will admit the new facilities for the zoo animals are an improvement over what I saw many years ago, the zoo was still pretty sad. We did see several varieties of chickens, venison, and dogs, with even a monkey and a couple bears. The lioness was probably hiding it her cave, which seems reasonable as it was ridiculously hot on Saturday.

Most of the rides seemed unsafe, but we did go on a few which was enough to entertain my elementary school aged children. This was made more OK by the fact that since we were waegs, we didn't have to pay for admission or tickets. Or so they said at the front gate.  Whether this meant only for general admission or the rides as well was unclear, but I was more than happy to say to all the ride operators we were told it was free.  No one said a word about it, so the whole day cost us 5000 won: 3 waters and 2 face paintings.

We only stayed a few hours then trucked it back to the Wonj. Despite being free, I don't think we'll be heading up again any time soon. 

Time for coffee.


Anonymous said...

So I met the famous F5waeg this weekend ha! Thought you said you were a teacher?

F5Waeg said...

Famous? Now that's rich! I don't usually talk about where I really work for privacy reasons, so just saying I'm a teacher eliminates all that.

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