Since November 2017, I’ve been part of the Reddit Gifts community, where you send a randomly selected member a gift based on the prevailing theme and you receive one in exchange from another member. I’ve scored a pretty good haul when participating in the Secret Santa exchanges the last 2 years so I decided to do another exchange…the Kitchen Goods 2019 exchange. The person I drew in the exchange was a n00b out of Europe. She mentioned that she had never had ramen before. I decided that I would gift her ramen but I didn’t want her first experience to be the cheap stuff I keep on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinet in case of financial emergencies. So I went to the local Lotte Mart and grabbed some of the authentic stuff. It was the first time I had been in one since leaving Seoul a little over 6 years ago. Being in the Lotte Mart brought other experiences with the Lotte brand to my remembrance…like my visit to the Lotte Mall in Haeundae or the Lotte Giants game I attended in the Summer of 2012 or the Lotte Cinema down the street from my flat in Pyeongtaek. The brand, well-known in Asia and to many here in the West who have spent spells in Asia, has a history of doing things the right way and the quality is always top-notch. Great experiences all around from my vantage but none of the experiences during my final Air Force assignment topped my first experience with the Lotte brand. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the Lotte World.
How I first came across this moment? My longest-tenured co-best friend took me there on the last night of my week-long Seoul debut in November 2009. We took Seoul Subway Line 5 from Mok-dong to Yeongdeungpo-gu Office, where we transferred to Line 2 and rode that out to Jamsil. It was like 20 stops between Yeongdeungpo and Jamsil…definitely something Seoul Metropolitan Subway should look at in terms of creating an express. Anyway, we paid the ₩40000 fee and went about navigating our way through the park. In total, we were in there for about 4 hours or so.
What it meant to me then? In the moment, I was just enjoying myself. The trip to Seoul served as a last breather before the final stretch run of my Japan assignment, which included a high-profile CBRN operational readiness inspection, my leading the CES Operations Management office, and everything that came with preparing to transition from points abroad back to the United States. It was a good week. I had seen a lot of the touristy stuff like Gyeongbokgung Palace, the National Museum of Korea, the War Memorial of Korea, and North Seoul Tower. I tried several of the native foods, which sent my palate into a frenzy. I met some interesting folks…all English teachers though they were from different countries and had different backgrounds. I got my first taste of what Itaewon was all about and Cool Man Bob’s presentation left an impression I’ll never forget. I even got a chance to see a couple of films—Ninja Assassin and 2012—at CGV, which totally transformed my expectations of how movie theaters should operate. Lotte World was supposed to the cherry on top of a great week…and man, was it ever. From the moment we stepped up in there, it was on. While we were standing in the ticket line, we drew followers—probably because we Americans in Seoul, probably because we were Black Americans in Seoul, probably because we were Black Americans in Seoul jamming to tunes from my iPod Touch. We had 3 people hang out with us the whole night as we navigated through. I remember riding front row of the French Revolution (the featured image is me looking out over the ride, which was below) and questioning why I allowed myself to get on the Gyro Drop. What I took away most from that night—and what meant the most to me then—was the differences in culture, even when it came to theme parks and good ol’ fashioned fun. The best example that comes to mind occurred while Jeremie and I were waiting in line for the bumper cars, we noticed how all of the locals were avoiding each other. They were literally going in circles like it was NASCAR. When it was our turn, we smashed into all of the other drivers. They were trying to avoid us like we were a plague.
What it means to me now? I visited Lotte World in my final month of the South Korea assignment. It didn’t have the flair of that night in November 2009. Maybe because it was a daytime trip and it was just me and I was really focused on getting the hell out of South Korea and the Air Force, at large. Today, the Lotte World trips represents how I should let my hair down, so-to-speak. I’m rarely as carefree as I was that night…even in moments where I think I’m carefree. That’s something I’m aiming to change going forward.