In July of 2011, I hopped on an airplane and flew 6,543 miles to Incheon, South Korea. The sterile and serious environment of Incheon International Airport was off-putting. Numbers upon numbers of Asian businessmen and women walked quickly and professionally, staring straight ahead in their all-black suits as if on a mission. I’d never felt more out of place with my dirty blonde hair in a sloppy pony tail, groggily searching for baggage claim. Three days later, and I’m with my travel group on an island off the coast of Incheon. At first the pier resembled our own Navy Pier in Chicago; cute, small shops lined up next to each other, selling knick knacks and knock-offs; fancy-looking restaurants, and a cramped but varied plethora of carnival rides. The carnival rides immediately caught our attention. We gravitated toward this intriguing attraction, pulled in by the enthralled screams of ride-goers.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Nearing the object of our fascination, we encountered the masses of Korean youth clad all in the Urban Outfitters attire that seemed to be so popular over there, grouped around several different attractions. As we approached, we seemed to pass more street vendors, all of them with signs advertising strange foods in an unfamiliar alphabet. “Would you likey buy live squid? Only 3,000 won, live squid!” No thank you. At the peak of all of this strangeness sat the most popular ride, one that we unworldly Americans were unfamiliar with. It sat about 90 feet in the air, a huge, ceiling-less, circular room elevated above its many spectators, supported by an enormous mechanical rod. The inner edges of this room were lined with cushioned seats, and taking up each of these seats was people.
A booming voice could be heard from the loudspeakers overhead, and though I had no clue what was said, I quickly caught on when suddenly the circle room jerked to the left, making the people inside scream and grip their metal support bars tightly. Most of them were Asian, but I spotted a blond-haired couple sporting American college t-shirts. They seemed to be struggling more than the rest; the woman now had only one hand holding onto the rail, causing the rest of her to flail helplessly as the mysterious booth man in control continued to move the ride every which way. Sixteen seconds later, blondie succumbed to the wrath of the booth man, and after releasing her grasp, stumbled to the middle of the circle room. Her companion let one hand go, attempting to be the hero by extending his hand out to the woman, but he ended up joining her on the ground. As they flailed in vain to get back on their feet, Booth Man taunted them in Korean. “You OK, American?” and “Oh, Americaans!” thrown into the mix between his Korean monologue seemed to especially amuse the crowd.
It was teasing nearly to the point of being cruel. Korean viewers around us continued laughing as one after the other lost their grip, the snide voice of Booth Man harassing them. My travel group stared up at the show, our confused looks turning into more amused expressions. I cracked a smile. How was this not in the US yet? We stuck around for at least half an hour, watching as different rotations of people tried out the ride. I stood in the midst of the crowd, observing and laughing along with the others. An invisible border I had built between South Korea and myself had been diminished, and looking around at my surroundings, I felt a rush of excitement for what was to come.
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