In March, 2010, my friend Cereba and I spent a day at Building 63, also known as the Yook Sam building. It would be our last “girls day out” before her return home to the states. While it was windy, cool, and as you can tell from the photo, cloudy, we found plenty of fun things to do inside.
Building 63 is a landmark skyscraper in the Seoul area built in 1988 for the Olympics and has, as you may have guessed, 63 stories. These 63 stories distinguished Yook-Sam as the tallest building in Seoul until 2003, when the Hyperion Tower was built. Then, in 2009, the Northeast Asian Trade Tower was “topped-off” and is currently considered the tallest building in Seoul.
Building 63 features “The World’s Tallest Art Gallery” on its 60th floor, an aquarium, wax museum, Imax theater, and myriad shopping opportunities. On a clear day, you can see this golden tower from as far away as Incheon (though, there aren’t many clear days in Seoul). According to wikipedia, “The 63 Building is an iconic landmark of the Miracle on the Han River, symbolizing the nation’s rapid economic achievement in the late 20th century. 63 refers to the building’s 63 official stories, of which 60 are above ground level and 3 are basement floors.
After grabbing a bite to eat at one of the restaurants in the building’s food court, Cereba and I bought a “three-attraction pass” and headed for the aquarium. Being that is was a Saturday, the place was packed with families and children. In Korea, if you linger in any spot for more than a minute, a crowd will gather – so we tried to keep moving. I joked with Cereba that we should stand near something we did not really want to see, then as soon as a crowd gathered, dash over to whatever exhibit we were really interested in – at least until another crowd gathered.
Aquariums are fascinating and seem fairly harmless to their inhabitants. I mean, fish don’t seem to care where they swim, and, I’ve hear, forget where they’ve been only seconds after being there. I was a little surprised, though, to find that the Building 63 aquarium features penguins, sea otters, and miscellaneous reptiles in addition to all forms of fish. The fellow pictured here is one of the featured exhibits. You can get a sense of how he feels about the whole situation.
The penguins were cute, and seemed content to preen and groom themselves, and were particularly cute and had a pretty interesting set-up, including a number of glassed-in areas between which were suspended transparent tunnels in which they could scurry from one area to another – very entertaining for spectators. There was also a small cut-out in the barrier of the central exhibit where one could feed the otters small minnow-like fish from a nearby freshwater tank. The otters’ antics sometimes humorous, sometimes desperate.
After getting our fill of observing watery creatures, Cereba and I headed for the Sky Gallery on the 60th floor. We had to stand in line and take turns to ride the elevator in small groups. The elevator features an outward facing glass wall allowing passengers to enjoy the view while making their way upward.
While there is a gallery on the 60th floor, it is the view from the 60th floor that is the most impressive thing about visiting. You can see all of Seoul from there and in every direction. While it wasn’t the clearest of days, the distant horizon was still discernible. As is always the case whenever I get a panoramic glance of Seoul, I was impressed and humbled by the size and density of the city.
Cereba and I decided to take a rest at the coffee shop on the 60th floor and to enjoy the view in a leisurely fashion. I had a hot tea with milk and a bit of sugar while Cereba has a smoothie and a container of dippin’ dots. All around us there milled tourists, most of them Korean, but a few European and westerners too. And like at the aquarium, there were a lot of families. One little Korean girl, dressed cute as a play- doll (as all Korean children are) ordered some dippin’ dots too, but just after reaching her chair, she’d dropped the container. Little balls of dry-frozen vanilla and chocolate ice cream scattered all over the black marble floor and began melting almost immediately. The little girl’s eyes grew wide with astonishment, for it was quite a site to see, all those little balls rolling around on the shiny floor. But she knew she had made a mistake too, so seemed unsure of how to react. Fortunately, the coffee counter clerk saw what had happened and came quickly with a pile of paper napkins to clean up the mess, and all was well.
Cereba and I finished our beverages and decided to move on to the next attraction. We made sure to give our table to a group of three senior-aged eastern Europeans who were casting about for a place to sit. They were very gracious in accepting and we felt pretty good about offering.
Last on our itinerary was the Wax Museum. Truly, wax museums are kind of cheesy, but they are a fun kind of cheesy and a good way to spend the afternoon with a good friend, and everything you do with a good friend is fun and interesting.
When standing up close to a wax figure, it’s pretty obviously fake, but they are great for snapshots like this one. Except for the awkward hand gesture, this is a pretty convincing image of Obama – right?
Anyway, we saw all kinds of campy portrayals of famous, semi-famous and downright obscure historical figures. One thing Cereba and I noticed about most of the figures, particularly those of western icons, is that their heads are a bit too large for their frames, and we wondered if this was intentional, or simply how Koreans see westerners.
The highlight of our visit to the wax museum, however, was the “scary, haunted house” exhibit. We were eager enough to accept the invitation to see “scary exhibit” from the young Korean man promoting the attraction and thought it would be a real hoot.
We entered the darkened area and immediately I commented on the fact that this is the kind of situation that begins many horror films – here we are, a couple of confident spectators underestimating the danger of the situation we have just entered.
After a couple of mildly gruesome displays of wax figures being tortured and coming round a few dark corners, we came upon an exhibit that was an obvious set up. Upon the floor and lying across the path was a wax “corpse.” Near its feet a dummy sat in an electric chair. I came to a complete stop and pointed out the obvious set-up to Cereba. If we tried to jump over the corpse, I felt, the corpse would jump up and grab us. If, on the other hand, we walked around the corpse’s feet and near the dummy in the electric chair, the dummy, who I began to doubt was really a dummy at all and figured to be a real person, would be the one to grab us. I didn’t like my choices, and in a flash had made the decision to run ahead without looking back – consequently leaving Cereba behind.
What Cereba experienced, but I did not look back to see, was the dummy jolting briefly out of its electric chair to the accompaniment of a series of loud pops and bangs. I guess now we truly know the answer to the hypothetical question of what Lisa would do in the event of a zombie invasion (she would run like hell and not look back). Poor Cereba had been abandoned and had no idea where I had gone – and I had GONE.
We both had a good laugh over the incident at the time, but got to laughing even harder when we realized later that we were probably being watched from CCTV. The operators must have had a good laugh at us while choosing the exact right moment to trigger the dummy in the electric chair. I wish we had a copy of that tape!
So that was my last “girls day out” with my friend Cereba. Now she is back home in the states and I miss her very much and feel lonely without her. But, we will meet again when I get back home, and for that day I cannot wait!!