Clinton Stamatovich is one of The Elkhart Truth’s community bloggers. He was born in Bristol, Indiana, is teaching English in Busan, South Korea, for one year. You can read more about his experiences in South Korea in his blog, Living in Korea.
In April I was invited to help a friend film a video interview of a one-man band called JUNK! for an online magazine in Gimhae city, South Gyeongsang Province. We had decided on the abandoned amusement park, Gaya Land, as the shooting location. I took the metro, as Gimhae and Busan are very close, to the Gimhae University stop and caught a cab up Shino Mountain. The cab driver (whose cab was decorated with plastic toy animals) was justifiably confused that he should deposit us at the empty parking lot of a decrepit amusement park, but he conceded.
The first ones to arrive—my girlfriend, Conrad Hughes (the director and interviewer) and myself — had no trouble accessing the park. In fact, there were no gates, no barricades and no signs inhibiting passers-by from entry. We entered through the ticket booths, which were heavy with vegetation, and found the rest of the grounds to be in similar condition. Certain rides, stairs, concession stands and decaying borders and rails were teeming with ground covering plants, shrubbery and dead weeds. Nearing the first large set of stairs, multiple dogs could be heard barking together. The guard dogs are common knowledge among the foreigners who have made the trip to Gaya Land or know of it.
After investigation, the dogs, three small breeds I was unfamiliar with, a Cocker Spaniel and a massive white Pyrenees Mountain dog (maybe the biggest dog I’ll ever see in Korea, as Koreans have no interest in dogs larger than Yorkies) turned out to all be tied to posts alongside shoddy dog houses and a bowl for water and food, although they had no food at the time. Orbiting the large dog was one of the smaller breeds, who had broken his leash and roamed free, dragging the rope between his legs, too scared to approach visitors. The dogs, meant to be a trespasser’s aversion, were left alone in poor conditions, flea ridden and weathered. A large plastic barrel that collected rainwater for the dogs sat near the Cocker Spaniel. There were two dogs designated as watchers at the front stairs that were too terrified to exit their dog house when we passed, and the Cocker Spaniel was so scared/excited to have someone pet her/him that it urinated everywhere. Although the larger dog was, in fact, intimidating, I pet him/her, too, and he/she turned out to be friendly. His/her left hind foot was wounded, however, as his/her inner toe was dangling when he/she limped back and forth.
The rides were all inherently dangerous, but with plant growth, rust and decay corroding railings, steps and seats, were far more dangerous. One ride, where we set up base, was swan themed (the car on the tracks was a giant swan) and operated similarly to a paddle boat. There were no guards or safety nets, and the only thing that secured riders from falling about six meters was a seatbelt that could easily be removed by a child. One oddity was that there was still toilet paper in the restrooms—highly unusual for Korea, as most times you must carry your own materials to a public restroom.
A search for Gaya Land renders scant results other than foreigner blog spots and posts in expatriate forums. I was unable to find English information concerning why the park closed down — if there had been an accident or not — or future plans. The Gimhae city English website still lists the park as active. I messaged a Korean friend and asked her to search in Hangul (Korean) and see what she could find on Naver (the most popular Korean web browser). She told me that the park closed in 2011 because of financial problems — believable, as the park is quite small and contains a handful of larger attractions with small, quarter-per-ride rocket ships, elephants, etc. spread throughout the grounds. Among the larger rides were a Ferris wheel, a medium-sized roller coaster and a carnival-style boat that rocked back and forth called “Pirat” (Pirate). My friend told me that, despite the failure of the park, there would be a 2.15 billion won (won is Korean currency and this translates to about 2 million USD) rebuilding of the place, this time with four themes, a resort and pensions.
The park was more or less Disney themed, with slightly off images of Snow White, Dumbo and Mickey Mouse reoccurring throughout.
The rest of the party assembled, including our friend Will Preston, a single member of JUNK!, his girlfriend and friend. Conrad brought materials to make cream pies and super soakers filled with milk. The idea was to have a pie and dairy fight during the interview at the disregarded amusement park. After the preparation of pies, Conrad instructed me on using his tripod for filming and my girlfriend on operating a boom mic. Will brought his own camera for multiple shots, and Conrad wore a camera on his chest for first person view. Those involved in the project were adept with their instruments, but because Conrad conducted the interview, my extra hand was required (my level of competence with this type of equipment is less than amateur).
During the interview, the crew chased Conrad and Glen up and down steps, into operating booths, to the Ferris wheel (one capsule had actually fallen and shattered in the unkempt grass behind it) and finally up the length of the roller coaster as they pelted each other with pies. By the end of the interview their clothes and skin were thick and filmy with milk and whipped cream.
At the top of the roller coaster was the only time we felt unsafe at Gaya Land, as a fall would surely kill. Walking up the maintenance stairs, rusted and rickety, they seemed to sway and fear set in, but only from the anticipation of the height.
Conrad’s Tumblr can be found here. He’s a wiz with multimedia. Glen’s project can be found here or, if you’re ever in Korea, you can see him performing at bars around Daegu, a city cozied between a large mountain range.
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