Monday, September 06, 2010

Aquatic House Party

"Our department store is turning into an amusement park."

When Lotte opened a large department store in the Gwangbokdong area of Busan it didn't seem quite finished. They were still building a new section but it finally opened last week to reveal even more designer stores, and to try and balance the cultural vacuum they create, a large bookstore and 430-seat concert hall on the higher floors. The centrepiece of the new space features fountains and a waterfall. A Lotte Mart and Lotte Cinema are next to be built. Construction will be completed in 2016 with a large Lotte apartment skyscraper which will provide - possibly in breach of the Geneva Convention - a captive audience for all things Lotte. It's a cunning business strategy but you certainly won't catch me living there. Well, not until 2016 anyway.

I went to Gwangbokdong the day after the 'Aqua Mall' opened to take a look, not honestly expecting to see very much, but Lotte were holding an 'Aquatique Show' which you can tell was meant to be something special because they used a French word. Some foreign gymnasts - probably not French - were performing a floor show and there may have been clowns buried deep within the crowd to add to that slightly uncomfortable circus feeling.

It appeared that someone from head office in Seoul was visiting, but perhaps he was not a fan of the entertainment - "Our department store is turning into an amusement park. Is this so fascinating?", adding words to the effect of 'people in Busan are easily pleased'. No, let's be honest, what he actually said was "What a bunch of countryside people". His Busan colleagues then nudged him to be quiet. You never know who's listening, but I think he got away with it. Anyway, I shouldn't be too hard on him, he's only saying what most people from Seoul think.

If he thinks people in Busan are easily pleased, he doesn't know the people here I do. In fact, 74.4 percent of workers in Korea said they thought their jobs had driven them to depression in a recent survey. People need their distractions. Plus, it's not easy deciding which of forty designer stores to buy yet another $1,000 handbag from. Very stressful.

It's also easy to be blasé about the importance of what you have when you spend your day working in a regulation 26°C air conditioned 50% humidity environment. Many shoppers in the crowd had just escaped from the 34 degree 80% humidity outside and after that, the sight of fountains and cascading torrents of water falling from the ceiling is practically pornographic.

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