News and notes from around the world
SUWON, SOUTH KOREA • Nervous laughter fills the air as people snap photos and hover playfully over the attractions at South Korea’s latest contribution to the world of theme parks. It may not have death-defying coasters or people dressed as giant cartoon characters, but what the Toilet Culture Park lacks in thrills it makes up for in plumbing.
The new park, located in the city of Suwon, was the subject of much pre-debut speculation, with local media reporting that it would boast not only “sculptures,” but also, intriguingly, “hands-on sites.” Its July opening was attended by such luminaries as Koo Ue, director of the Japanese Toilet Laboratory; musical accompaniment was provided by members of the Suwon Philharmonic Orchestra.
Three days after the park’s opening, crowds of visitors move among its various attractions, pausing to inspect a rustic bucket or a massive replica of a contemporary unit. A particularly popular item is the “Apricot Frame,” an elegant, elaborate contraption used by members of the Joseon royal dynasty some 600 years ago.
Residents of Suwon, it turns out, have a long-held fascination with lavatories. The city’s former mayor, Sim Jae-Duck, was dubbed “Mr. Toilet” due to his passion for public bathroom improvement. In 2007, Sim built himself a $1.6 million toilet-shaped home in the city. Upon his death in 2009, the house was donated to Suwon and the motion for the theme park was put forward.
Visitors should enjoy the facilities here, says Lee Youn-sook, a park manager, but equally vital is education. “Toilet culture,” she says, “is very important in our daily lives.” —LESLIE PATRICK
MALIBU, CALIF. • Café Habana doesn’t immediately suggest Hollywood glitz. The décor is simple. Tuesday is Taco Night. Yet for reasons that even the staff doesn’t quite understand, this Cuban eatery’s weekly karaoke night has become all the rage with celebrities.
On a recent Wednesday evening, Kid Rock, David Charvet and Jeremy Piven stopped by. Kid Rock picked up Piven’s tab and left a big tip. Conan O’Brien bantered with Brody Jenner. David Beck-ham rode up on a Harley. Steven Tyler asked a waitress if she’d ever considered becoming a professional singer.
Helen Hunt, Rachel Zoe, Michael Keaton, Sean Penn, Gerard Butler, Wayne Gretzky, Serena Williams and John McEnroe have all revealed themselves to be karaoke buffs, taking the stage here with aplomb, if not vocal polish. Some do rock ‘n’ roll; others prefer ballads. “Kid Rock,” a staffer says, “even threw in a few rap lyrics.” —EMMA BUSSEY