“Are you afraid of heights?” Lotte Duty Free’s delightful Communication Team Senior Assistant Sunju Park (above right) asked me with a smile as wide as the Hangang river as we clambered into the steel cage lift.
“No, I’m fine,” I lied, deciding that any mention of the fact that I get vertigo from standing on a kitchen stool would not be helpful to her or me at this point.
We’re not talking just any old heights here – we’re talking 85 floors or 356 metres above ground in the South Korean capital of Seoul.
Sunju had kindly arranged a VIP tour for me of the Lotte World Tower, still under construction and set to become one of the world’s tallest buildings (with the second-highest viewing point) and greatest landmarks when it opens late next year. When completed it will be 123 floors or 555 metres high, towering above this sprawling city like a giant rocket in launch mode.
As the cage door closed, I realised we would be ascending up the side of the building with an eagle’s view of the ground below and the city beyond through the gaps in the tightly meshed steel construction. Quickly, very quickly, I began to see Seoul in an entirely different light from anything I had experienced in 25 years of coming here.
I suspect the meshed construction of the cage has been carefully thought out. The dreaded feelings of spinning, swaying and wooziness that you get with vertigo seemed to be absent. I tried to only look out but then couldn’t help but look down…………
Wow! Down and down and then down again. I felt like I was on a Korean Air flight. My goodness, we were high and moving higher. It was only when I looked over at the Tower building itself that I noticed how fast we were rising, the various storeys rushing by. The cars on the streets below had suddenly transformed into tiny model toys, while the vastness of the city stretched out all around us into what felt like an infinite beyond.
Sunju, who hadn’t experienced this trip before, was laughing with the exhiliration of it all. And despite myself, so was I. This was unforgettable.
The lift stopped. We had reached level 79. “We’re going higher,” said Sunju as we walked across a metal plate and into the building itself. In future you’ll be able to see the same amazing views as a Lotte Hotel will operate on floors 72 through 101. We got onto another lift, which dropped us off on the 85th floor, 356 metres up. It’s incredible to think another 38 floors have yet to be added, (though that’s as they say, another storey).
“There’s the swimming pool,” said Sunju, pointing to a long oblong construction structure. I imagined what it will be like to take a dip here, an infinity pool like no other, I suspect, like swimming out into the clouds.
“It’s very rare to see it so clear,” said our excellent guide Woo Seuk Choi (pictured top), Lotte World Tower General Manager Experience Center Team. So clear in fact that we could easily make out the distinctive high-rise skyline of Incheon City, 34km away. Over 55,000 people will live, work or stay in this building once it is completed. “It’s more like a city, not just a building,” he added.
Just look at the almost humbling power of these images, these extraordinary vistas. The age-old power of the Hangjang river winding its way through the capital and on to the Yellow Sea. The contemporary might of another kind of sea, one comprised of thousands of high-rise buildings. The mountains looming regally, eternally in the distance.
When it is complete, the US$3.8 billion Lotte World Tower will have 21 cinema halls (the largest in Asia), a hotel, offices, residences, duty free and other shopping and numerous other world-class facilities. But most of all, it will offer the most extraordinary 360 degree views of the majesty that is Seoul, capital of the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’.
As we walked around the bare concrete floors of the 85th floor, Sunju and I stopped time and again to gasp at the magnificence beyond. The outside of the building now bears a giant Korean flag, a reminder of just how important this building has already become to Korean national identify. As the promotional video we watched later proclaimed, “Korea’s Dream becomes a reality high up in the sky.” Few would argue with that.
I felt privileged to have been given the honour of a preview visit to this amazing facility. Vertigo or no vertigo I’m coming back when the building is finished and going right to the top. Just like that. 1, 2, 3.
Footnote: Look out for a forthcoming Blog and story about Lotte’s adjacent and highly impressive World Mall duty free store (which will be extended into the World Tower when the latter is completed).
["It's time to get back into your cage Mr Moodie."]