This is the fourth tallest building in Seoul and the twelfth tallest in South Korea now, but height isn't really much of a draw anymore since Korea has been building real players in the tall buildings game. It is 60 floors tall – the other 3 floors are underground. It is, arguably, the best looking tower in the city though. I would argue that, for now. When I decided to head to this building I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I heard from several people that it was better than they expected. That was intriguing. It is not even mentioned as tallest in the world and I have certainly been to taller, but I’m a fan of tall buildings just the same. So I decided to check it out and it was a nice surprise – “a really nice surprise Clark.”
The 63 Building is on an island that used to be unused land but recently was the center of some of the major revitalization Seoul has been doing. It was a planned city called Yeouido (can you fit anymore vowels in that word?) The area is new and expensive, but it’s also right on the Han River and freshly designed with the emerging trend in Seoul of planning a lot of public space and park land. When I exited the Yeouinaru subway station (in case you want to visit), I wasn’t sure what to expect. You come out on a street, like many streets in Seoul, until you turn towards the river.
I walked down the new wide stairway with a view looking over the park to the river and it was beautiful. The rose garden to the right was full of color and the bike path was full of bikes. I might take this moment to point out that bikes are re-catching on because of the parks they are building here. The park was huge too. There was grass on both sides of the path and a boardwalk down by the river. There were also leaf-shaped umbrellas posted around the edges of the grass so you could sit in the shade on the grass and picnic, as several families were doing. It was the day of Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) mind you that I was there. It was a beautiful bright day – a little too bright, because I forgot my sunglasses at home – but nice just the same. I walked to the river’s edge and saw people holding hands and kissing (unusual in Korea, in public) with ice cream cones and kids flying kites and riding bikes around on the wooden decked boardwalk. There were guys showing off on the river on their waverunners and a jet boat blowing up and down the river. The ferry was also slowly making its way up river from the dock within walking distance from where I was. If you can’t tell yet, I had already fallen in love with this place. In a city full of crowds and sidewalks it was nice to be in the open air on the river.
But wait there’s more! The park stretched in both directions as far as I could see (seriously, I’m not taking poetic license here). I could see the 63 Building up river, but I wanted to see more of this park first. I walked down river on the wide walking lanes and could hear running water. After going under a bridge I could see kids playing in a fountain, just past the man-made river on the walking path.
This fountain was huge. The water would pour over and under the cement towards the river making several different ponds and infinity pools before being cycled back up. I sat here for 20 minutes or so watching the kids get their pants rolled up and wade in. It was only about a foot or two deep at the other end. Kids were riding their bikes through and running their bare feet in the water as they went. And, in true Korean fashion, there was two restaurants right next door. One appeared to be a nicer sort of place with a rooftop deck you can eat at on the third floor and the other one was more of a quick food sort of cafeteria-style place that served cup of noodles and fast food items. Keep in mind that in Korea these places are common and not at all ghetto like they would be back home. Can you imagine how dirty and destroyed this place would be in Seattle if it served 50 cent food and had public toilets?
This is Korea after all, so not only did they have food right in the park, nicely done, but there was also a stage on the river right next to this area for free concerts. This park reminded me a lot of how I wished our parks looked forever, not just when they were new. No graffiti, safe, clean, and still free for your enjoyment. I walked around for a good 2 hours before deciding to give the other direction a try.
I walked back to where I started and on up the river. At the ferry dock, mentioned earlier, there was also food. These weren’t high-class, monkey suit sort of places either. On the dock with a view of the river and across the way to the north side of the river was KFC, and a few other fast food places. No white tablecloths here my friends. You can have fried chicken on prime real estate in Seoul. There was a huge sandbox across the path for the kids, the largest sandbox I’ve ever seen, not counting baseball fields I used as such when I was playing outfield in elementary school. I sat and rested on some steps under another bridge out of the heat and watched families sitting on the steps and under the bridge picnicking and playing games. A few kids were learning how to fly a kite there.
Onward and upward. I dried my sweat pocket shirt and made my way across the street to the 63 Building to see what the fuss was all about. They have a Seaworld inside. Inside the huge mall at the base of this place, they have an aquarium they call Seaworld. Seaworld was a bit of a misnomer, but it was a pretty cool aquarium just the same. They did have a seal show and I watched the Penguins get fed, including the big Emperor Penguins. I also had a free servicing from doctor fish, the ones that eat your dry skin. They had holes you could stick your fingers in and have the fish eat your flesh. It was pretty neat, my cuticles needed some attention anyway, so it was nice. They also had a really cool otter cage. It looked like a hamster cage with those tubes going from one area to another. The tubes came out into the walking area and into two tanks you could walk around, then they could climb up a tree stump and go through another tube near the ceiling back into their larger cage. I watched that for 30 minutes or so. They had a sea turtle and huge catfish. There was a lady in a gown and tiara scuba diving in one tank and waving for pictures with all the little girls outside. It was weird, but I guess cool for the little girls. After I had my fill of the aquarium I decided to check out the worlds highest art gallery.
The Sky Gallery is also the observation deck on the 60th floor. The elevator, I will point out, is not for those that are afraid of heights. It sits at the edge of the building with a glass front so you see out the entire time your heading up the building. I thought it was awesome, but you have been warned! I was there for the view not the art, or elevator. I figured they put art up there for the record of highest art gallery and it would be crap, but the art was actually really good. It was mostly modern Asian art, usually Korean artists. My favorite thing up there was an Asian screen, that are usually covered in watercolor landscape painting traditionally, but this one had LCD screens on each panel with those same sort of elements but moving. One panel had a depiction of bamboo but they were swaying in the breeze and leaves would slowly fall down every now and then. It was really cool. There was Pop Art and other modern art styles, but a few pieces were more traditional landscapes and portraits.
The real view was the view out of the windows though. It was a pretty clear day so you could see for miles in every direction. From up there you can really see the scale of this city of 11+ million people spread out for what seems like forever. From this view you can really see how big that park is too. It is planned to circle the entire island, but it’s still being worked on. You can see the ferry dock and the restaurants down there on the water as well. You can also see the guy standing next to me in the reflection if you look close, but that wasn’t part of the ticket price. I thought the view was pretty cool, but I’m a sucker for heights and tall buildings, I may have mentioned that already. So after seeing the view 360 degrees around the top floor I decided to finish off my package deal tickets I bought and see the wax museum in the basement.
The package deal, if you were wondering, was 15 bucks for Seaworld (aquarium), Sky Gallery (observation deck), and the Wax Museum (wax museum) for us foreigners. I failed to mention that I actually live in Seoul, which would have made my tickets 30 bucks instead – sometimes it’s just best to let them assume since I’m white I don’t live here. So down I went to the basement.
The Wax Museum was interesting because the only ones I have seen previously have been in the West and depicted people I know from my history classes in High School, but Korea never seemed to show up in those classes and therefore their wax people were sometimes unknown people to me. They did have Obama at a podium with the Korean President and his wife sitting beside him. They also had a room of composers like Mozart and Bach. They had Che Guevara and Ichiro, not together. They had a room with wax figures from money and the bill, without their heads, behind them on the wall. They had Franklin, Mao, and whoever is on the Korean ten thousand ₩ note.
Halloween was coming soon, so they had set up a sort of haunted walkway you could go through as well. I was waiting my turn behind a mother and her two kids who both looked pretty scared of the whole thing, when one of them turned around and saw me and jumped with a gasp and quickly turned back around as his brother and mother made fun of him. Is it best to be loved or feared? Well, they finally were ready to let us in and this same boy was now clutching my arm because he was scared to enter. No one spoke English so we laughed and I adopted the family for my turn through the haunted walkway. It was pretty tame, but it seemed only slightly scary to the boys, who were maybe 10 at the oldest. They had dead people and all that, but nothing moved, the lights would just come on as you passed. Until we came to the end of it and there were two bodies on the ground. The lights turned on for a wax statue on the wall and one of the bodies got up. That’s when the two boys screamed. We then had to sidestep the two bodies four-abreast because they would not stop linking arms with me and each other. We made it out alive. The mother thanked me and we went our separate ways. It wasn’t the last time I had Korean kids latch on to me either – more on that later.