Friday, 5 February 2016

The COEX Aquarium


I love aquariums.

I mean, they terrify me, especially in any part with enormous tanks or underwater tunnels. I've seen one too many "mild peril" scenes in films where the glass cracks and all the fish escape to reclaim their domain from the tyrannical grip of humans.

But I also love them, in the way that I can just see thousands of different fish, going about their business being all colourful and...swishy. Fish are also disgusting and sometimes I freak myself out if I look too closely at them. Scales are weird, fins are weird...have you ever looked inside a fish's mouth or eye? Those are weird too.

I'm not really selling the idea that I love aquariums, am I?

I do. In the same way I love bugs but also simultaneously want them all to die. I find bugs and fish fascinating and could watch them all day, but at the same time I never want one less than 5 inches away from me without there being some kind of protective barrier between us. If I could exist in a bubble where nothing would ever touch me, that'd be ideal, yeah.

And no, I can't walk in the sea or on grass barefoot, thanks for asking.

Anyway, before we get any further into my weird, contradictory likes and dislikes I'm going to tell you about the time I went to the aquarium with my friend Kiegan.

I've mentioned the COEX shopping mall before. It's enormous, winding, and houses all kinds of amenities such as a hotel, casino, cinema, gym, exhibition halls, restaurants, cafes aquarium. It's basically a condensed city underneath Seoul. It's got its own subway station and everything.

So this is where our day out began. And it began ON TIME because I managed to break our running streak of always meeting Kiegan late. Like really, overwhelmingly late. Like the time we were supposed to go to Everland but got lost and ended up nearly 2 hours late...for her birthday. Erk.

ANYWAY. Forget about that. I arrived exactly, perfectly, astoundingly ON TIME. Let's focus on that. I was ON TIME. *repeats it 5 more time with increasingly larger font size*

It took us long enough to actually navigate our way through the shopping complex to the aquarium itself, but after that it was incredibly simple. Queue. Approach desk. Say the number '2' in Korean and hold up two fingers for good measure. Hand over your debit card and squiggle ineffectually on the digital signature pad. Squiggle again, randomly with your face reddening once you realise the cashier hadn't sent the payment through yet. Wonder if anyone will ever call you out on the fact that what you draw in no way resembles the true signature on your card. Wonder if you'll ever manage to sign when you're supposed to. Wonder about increasingly ridiculous and nonsensical non-problems until you realise the cashier has been trying to hand over your ticket for longer than necessary, but wasn't quite sure how to say "would you snap out of your existential crisis and take the damn ticket" in English. Take the tickets whilst debating whether to say 'sorry' or 'thank you' and go for the happy medium: smiling sheepishly and bowing awkwardly.

Sorry, I got carried away.

Three steps away from the ticket desk (five if you're short) there's a barrier and two smiling staff members waiting to take the ticket that caused all this stress in the first place and rip it to shreds thirty seconds after purchase. Okay then.

There's a nice area just past that with a few photo opportunities, maps in various languages, and lockers to store all of your rubbish in, which is an excellent idea, because I constantly bring far too much with me "just in case".

The first area is very simple, maybe just dipping your toe in to test the waters rather than throwing you in at the deep end like "LOL, SURPRISE!! SHARKS!!"

There were lots of little tanks filled with various types of fish. I'm not entirely sure what their aim was, but I think they tried to make a rainbow (each cylindrical tank held one breed of fish of each main colour) but also the different appearances those fish have at different stages of their life? Sadly it was the first time I'd whipped out my DSLR in a while so all the photos were blurry, so just take my word for it.

Seoul COEX Aquarium

Seoul COEX Aquarium

The next few rooms were standard, everyday fish like guppies, koi, goldfish, etc. Very cute and relaxing. The koi were in a hanok themed area, and they'd put some fish in surprising places such as kimchi jars and saucepans, as well as the very sweet recreation of the main pond at Gyeongbok Palace (I think).

From there, things got progressively...odd. The concept was kind of like "what if the sea levels rose really dramatically and suddenly fish were all over the place?" which was very funny, and cool, but also a little bit distressing (see: fish made to look like it's being boiled)

Seoul COEX AquariumSeoul COEX Aquarium
Seoul COEX Aquarium

There was also a "Doctor Fish" section in this part of the aquarium, which was basically a large, waist level fish tank with hand-sized holes in the lid, and hand sanitizer that you're encouraged to use before and after. Before and after what? Well it turns out these fish just love, er, nibbling dead skin off of humans. I'm not sure we should be imprisoning fish and then training them to like the taste of human flesh, but okay.

I put my hand in and it was the most bizarre thing. Dozens of tiny little fish rush up to your hand and start picking at your cuticles and whatnot. It's oddly satisfying. It's made slightly creepier by the fact the plastic lid is kind of cloudy from the warm water so you can't really watch yourself be eaten alive. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Seoul COEX Aquarium

After this point the aquarium slowly descended into the usual fare: big tanks with an array of fish and habitats swimming around. They grouped them based on what part of the world they're from and even themed a lot of the areas around each tank to match. I particularly liked the rainforest section, complete with jungle sounds being pumped in from hidden speakers. You first enter the area from the canopy, where all you can really see are trees and plants and people milling about somewhere below you. I think there were also some fruit bats, which is confusing because they are not fish. They're not even sea creatures. They're basically hairy birds. But anyway.

One part of it is all dark and covered to replicate the darker, deeper parts of rainforest rivers.
Who knew that piranhas were always so...festive?

Seoul COEX Aquarium

There are a few standard events and shows dotted throughout the day, usually animal feeds combined with an educational talk. It's nice that they don't really have any 'trick' shows.

The closest thing they had to something like that was a show where the ones doing tricks were the humans, really, it just happened to be in a tank full of sardines swimming around them, like dancing rocks in a river of fish. Weird analogy. Let's move on to photos.

Seoul COEX Aquarium

Seoul COEX Aquarium

There was some kind of storyline involving four underwater heroes (which seemed to consist of two synchro swimmers, Thor, and Captain America? I guess that explains their absence in Iron Man 3) and a comically Wile-E-Coyote-esque bomb that would...destroy the world? And they had to use their...sardine wrangling powers to save the day? Maybe I missed out on the finer details because of the language barrier.

To be honest, seeing people fart about underwater with more ease than I can on dry land is always entertaining. The divers make use of copious amounts of sardine food in squeezy bottles to direct them in certain directions and even surround them completely in a sort of squirming sphere. The kind you usually see in nature documentaries. Sadly my batteries died at that point. Boo.

I also adore seeing kids interacting with fish in aquariums. I can't really put it into any more words than that. It's very sweet and I wish I could still look at the world the way these kids look at a ray up close for the first time.

Seoul COEX Aquarium

Moving on (past the manatees and sea otters which sadly I was unable to take a decent photo of), there was a sort of education centre where you can see the life cycle of a jellyfish (baby jellies are SO TINY!!), learn about animal conservation, look at some tortoises and touch some sea creatures.

The idea of touching any thing that isn't cute and furry, or a snake, kind of horrifies me and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's my terrifying childhood experience with a hissing cockroach that drooled on me (which I'd just been informed, moments prior, was how they begin the process of EATING THINGS) and maybe it's just that a lot of textures freak me out. But once I saw what they had up for grabs in terms of, well...grabbing, I was all prepared to back out immediately.

However, here is proof that Kiegan did in fact convince me to pick up a starfish.

Seoul COEX Aquarium

Seoul COEX Aquarium
Don't be fooled by that angel smile.
This is a photo of her threatening to make me touch one of these horrific pineapple squirt things.
Onwards from there are smaller, tropical fish, weird looking fish, and sharks.
Or maybe I've just got all my photos mixed up.

Seoul COEX Aquarium
Here's hoping he's not the poor guy that got eaten the other day. (Topical jokes)

One of my favourite parts was the jellyfish area, where they would gently pulse different coloured lights into the tanks which the jellies would pick up due to their slightly see-through nature. These are the fish that started off in the education centre. Some of them get given as food to the animals that need to eat things like that, and others are free to grow into gangly, beautiful sea ghosts.

Seoul COEX Aquarium

Seoul COEX Aquarium

The last thing you see in the aquarium, before exiting via the gift shop of course, is a colony (flock? family? p-p-p-p-p-p-pick?) of penguins. They were very sweet and there was a chart with life-size cutouts of each breed of penguin in the world to measure yourself against.

Seoul COEX Aquarium
They were really fascinated by whatever it is Kiegan was doing...
There are more photos on Flickr if you want to see the axlotls and tiny tropical fish and seahorses (you can click on any of the above photos to get to the gallery) but we realised we'd been wandering around for at least 4 hours if not more, and had both travelled over an hour to get to the COEX in the first place. We were starving.

We remembered a place we'd seen on the way in and popped over to eat...

Yeah it's quite possibly the most evil I've ever felt for eating a huge platter of surprisingly delicious sushi (it was reasonably cheap and came with udon and other sides). Almost as if all that looking and learning was actually just window shopping. Hello salmon! Hello tuna! I'm going to eat your cousin!

Anyway, it was delicious and who puts a sushi restaurant a matter of seconds away from an aquarium anyway?!

Our final challenge was to find an ice cream shop we'd seen advertised on one of the many digital billboards dotted around the mall, where each advert only ever hangs around for about 5 seconds. Even though we made use of every map terminal we found, it took us forever to find the place, and then we initially assumed it was closed because of the time and the emptiness of the place, which was probably more due to it being tucked away in the most awkward to get to location in the whole complex.

We then spent way too long trying to choose one of these bizarre-looking ice creams and trying to work out how to order (I think it was a sort of 'build your own' place). I went with a 'blue hawaii' style dessert, complete with cocktail umbrella and edible sand. Kiegan had a salted caramel praline chocolate...something. I don't know the name but the bit I tried was delicious.

After all that, everything was starting to close and we both had a long way to go, so we both vanished off into the subway until next time. Sob sob.

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