BUSAN, South Korea – There are two kinds of people in this world: those that love amusement park carnival rides and those who could care less. Well, maybe there are more kinds of people, but this is not about them. I love amusement parks and my love for rides big and small came about honestly.
When I was twelve years old my father took off to work full-time in a traveling carnival. My mother told us that she saw it coming and was surprised he hadn't left sooner. Lousy? Yes, but it was her way of comforting my sisters and I. To fill the void I soon found myself obsessed with that which caused me the pain: carnivals, amusement parks, and funfairs.
About twice a year, always in the summer, I would receive a postcard from dear old dad. Postmarked from some exotic sounding place like Laramie, Wyoming or Roachdale, Indiana. The postcards eventually stopped, and at the time of his death my father had been working for a few years as a technician on one of the largest wooden rollercoasters in the United States. I guess he hit the big time: an amusement park that did not move every week.
On my first visit to Gwangali Beach I barely noticed the amusement park at the far end of the beach called "Me World." Never having lived in close proximity to any kind of theme park, I set out to learn as much as I could about the place and perhaps a little about my father.
Modeled after Cosmo theme park in Japan, Me World opened in 2004. In the beginning they set aside half of the 10,000 pyeong piece of land for a waterpark, which included a pipeline from the ocean to pump in seawater. Plans for the waterpark were abandoned when neighbors complained about noise. The remaining 5,000 pyeong originally contained a gym, an Italian restaurant, a wedding hall, banquet facilities, and several other business. These days much of those business no longer operate, leaving the park to consist mainly of the rides themselves. There also remains a restaurant serving Korean food, hamburgers which go well with a cold beer from the nearby convenience store.
When it comes to rides, Hoon, *the CEO of Millak Entertainment*, proudly informed me that Me World’s four major rides all come from Italy. Apparently, the Italians not only make fine pasta, but they also sit at the top of the food chain when it comes to amusement park ride design and safety.
Me World’s four major rides are the Power Surge, one of those rides that kind of hangs seated riders out on an arm while it spins them upside down and all around; the Diving Coaster, a loopless rollercoaster, the immense fifteen-minute round trip ferris wheel, and the Shot and Drop, which straps passengers in using a chest harness and shoots them skywards. Only three Shot and Drops operate in Korea, making Busan kind of special in the realm of theme park bragging rights.
Every morning a team of safety engineers conducts hour-long safety checks and test runs on all of Me World’s rides. This includes all of the minor, elementary age rides as well. Even the Bouncing Castle gets a looksee. In addition, the government visits quarterly for inspections. Safety standards vary around the world at amusement parks, but a daily inspection sounds pretty good to me.
Theme park rides are definitely not for everyone, especially when they pale in size comparison to the larger parks around the world. *delete 'And' While Me World's more daring rides might not be your thing, a ride on the ferris wheel is sure to please anyone. It offers a perfect view of the Gwangan Bridge from a vantage point other than the patio of the myriad of cafes or a stool at Thursday Party. Once you hit the nine o’clock turn the brige almost looks like it belongs in a train set. The gondolas are perfect for romantic types, too, offering plenty of time and privacy combined with the unique view. Take that as you will.
Me World is open from 11:00 a.m. until *midnight seven days a week. One ride equals one ticket. Tickets cost 4,000 won for one, three for 10,000 won, and five for 14,000 won. They also sell an unlimited ride pass for 20,000 won.
Photos: Darin Novak & Chris Rae