▲ Characworld is the newest tourist fare on the island and offers an array of displays, interactive exhibitions and games inspired by famous cartoon characters. Photos by Susan Shain
Just in case you were afraid that Jeju Island would run out of cheesy tourist traps, fear no more; the opening of Characworld on Saturday, March 26 marks a new addition to Jeju’s already-crowded roster. Characworld, located near the Geomun-oreum in Jocheon-eup, is, ostensibly, a theme park dedicated to all things character. We all know Koreans love characters; they adorn school supplies, clothing, and signage and will surely elicit excited squeals from students if added to a PowerPoint presentation. Why not create a theme park to take advantage of this devotion?
Making the journey to Characworld, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What exactly were these characters anyway? I was hoping for a sort of lame Disneyland without the lines but was instead introduced to an assemblage of Korean cartoon characters mixed with a bizarre assortment of other attractions.
The outside of Characworld looks somewhat like a strip mall — a parking lot in front of a clump of gray concrete buildings. A massive King Kong bursts out of the central building complete with an enlarged fist in which you can take photos. Though an impressive greeting, he doesn’t reappear anywhere in the park. In a way, he is symbolic of the rest of Characworld: a series of tacky photo opportunities that don’t seem to have a whole lot to do with one another.
Within the buildings lies Characworld in all its brightly-colored, smiling-animal glory. Cartoons decorate every wall, and many characters have their own sections complete with glass cases filled with signature mugs and T-shirts. All of the descriptions are in hangeul, and though a few Western characters make cameos, most of the characters are unrecognizable to someone who doesn’t follow the world of Korean cartoons.
Some “interactive” exhibits include video and computer game stations, a virtual horse-racing game, an anime-filled reading corner, and a station with a variety of masks to try on. Sound random? It was. Most of the exhibits seemed to be included somewhat arbitrarily, under the vague guise of “characterness.” A further sampling could consist of a diorama of early Jeju, a giant dragonfly, a “black hole illusion studio” that was cool for about 2.5 seconds, and some wildly-popular dancing robots.
In addition to the robots, one of the most popular exhibits, and by far my favorite, was the “Body Dialogue Experience,” an exhibit to teach children about the digestive process. At first glance, it appears to be a regular slide, but upon closer examination, one realizes that the brown swirls of plastic at its exit are supposed to be piles of fecal matter and the slide itself is coming out of a cartoon boy with his pants down. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go down a poop slide, and you can be sure I took advantage of it.
Characworld did share one similarity with Disneyland: giant characters that wander the exhibits at will, much to the delight of the children – and parents, who frantically take pictures before the character walks away or their kids start to cry. The park further appeases snap-happy Korean parents with dozens of cheesy photographic opportunities – many even have benches on which to arrange subjects – easily enough to fill an entire “Day at Characworld” album.
Before my visit, the only thing I had managed to glean from the all-hangeul Web site was that there were ponies, and if the pictures didn’t lie, even dogs that rode on said ponies. This was one thing about which I was downright excited. Unfortunately, the pony-riding dog was nowhere to be found, and the ponies that were there didn’t look like they’d be able to offer a dog a ride even if one had been available. They were depressingly tied to a tree between the two buildings, and appeared to be almost an afterthought. Strangely, very few others seemed to take any interest in what were, in my opinion, the cutest things in a complex dedicated to cute.
On the weekends, you might find Characworld filled with children, making it perhaps not the best place for English teachers to spend their day off. Though my experience at Characworld was short and sweet, I would only recommend it to people with children who are interested in Korean characters. It is best visited by car, as the journey is long or costly without one. For everyone else, head to Characworld only if you are a Korean character fanatic or if you just have to check “going down a poop slide” off your bucket list.
Characworld (www.characworld.co.kr) Phone: 064-784-3500 Hours: 9 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. in summer; 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. in winter Admission Fee: Adults - 8,000 won, Youth - 7,000 won, Children - 6,000 won
From the Jeju Bus Terminal, a taxi will cost 18,000 won and take about 20 minutes. If you want to save some cash, a bus leaves the terminal’s third lane at :10 and :50 every hour; get off at Geomunoreum. From there, you can flag a taxi down.
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