On my 25th birthday my (awesome) friends hung posters around my house saying the 25 things they loved about me. Along with phrases like, “She’s the only one I’d go to an Indian buffet and then try on spandex with” (because it really happened), one poster read, “You can meet the strangest people on the street with her.” This is the result of many odd encounters on the street with strangers, but it also speaks to my general magnetism for weird situations. Granted, bizarre things happen to foreigners in Korea all the time, but I’m beginning to wonder if they happen to other people at the same frequency with which they happen to me.
I have been belly-poked by a pint sized Korean body builder; I have been made to wear outrageous costumes for an unexplained photo shoot outside a temple; I have been called obese in a health clinic and given mystery diet pills that made me sweaty; I have been nearly waterboarded in Korean swim lessons; I have fallen in a fish tank on a first date; and now, in the latest incident, a friend and I were forced to pretend-vote at a bamboo theme park.
Kellie and I were on our road trip to some islands in Korea and decided to check out a bamboo forest along the coast that I’d seen advertised in a pamphlet. Imagining a quiet stroll through some vegetation, we were taken aback to see hundreds of people herding through the gates under a sign stating, “Bamboo Theme Park”. Of course. Everything in Korea is a theme park. I mean, why not? It is a park, and you could say it is of a ‘bamboo theme’; so why not call it a theme park, add some attractions, and charge a fee? Gotta love the enterprising spirit of these Koreans.
As we walked through the entrance, a man beckoned us over to a table where we thought we would buy our tickets. They shoved a series of pamphlets at us and we attempted to hand them money, to which they only shook their heads. Oh great, so it’s free? we thought. There was much confusion. They continued to say lots of Korean words that we obviously were not understanding, until finally they threw in a few English words like “voting” and “you”.
Based on all the obnoxious campaign advertisements I’d seen throughout Korea for the past month I knew elections were soon, but I tried to explain to the man, “We are not Korean. We cannot vote.” We unsuccessfully attempted an escape; these people were persistent. For reasons I couldn’t understand, they desperately wanted us to vote!
After more confusing dialogue, I finally clued into the idea that they only wanted us to pretend to vote. This was apparently some kind “voting training center” where they ensured that people understood how to vote for the actual elections. Despite my continuous protests that we were clearly not Korean citizens and would not be able to vote in the coming election, we were led to some polling booths and given ballots and stamps to indicate which candidate we would like to vote for.
So we played along and stood there pretending to vote, while several of the personnel gathered around eagerly taking our pictures like we were the president signing in a bill. After we had stamped for our randomly selected candidates (gosh, I hope I picked the right one) we were shoved along to the ballot box to drop in our envelopes and pose for more cheesy photos.
We will never know why they wanted us to pretend to vote (in the entrance to a bamboo theme park on an island in Korea), though I wouldn’t be surprised if our faces appeared on some kind of instructional pamphlet someday. Look! If foreigners can learn to vote, so can you!
We walked away laughing, and I was glad that Kellie got to experience a dose of the weirdness that my life in Korea tends to be. And, to be fair, the bamboo “theme park” was a lot of fun and quite beautiful!
What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you abroad? I love stories!
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