Korea is not a scary place.
Maybe, “crowded with a weird geological interpretation of mountainous terrain” would be a bit more accurate.
But scary? This is definitely not the case.
Even if the neighbours to the North are a little unpredictable at times, the country as a whole remains cautious, ordered, and safe.
To prove this, fashion yourself into a naïve foreigner and walk alone through some unmarked alleys of bar-heavy Sinchon well past last call. And just for kicks, do so with all your valuables on your person.
It’s quite likely that the only danger which will occur at any point in the night is that which you have caused yourself. (Ask any foreigner who has made it out of this neighbourhood alive on a Saturday night. Their lost keys, glazed eyes, and empty wallets are all proof of this destructive generalization.)
But I’m getting too ahead of myself here.
Beyond the security of the dark streets and even darker bars, the blueprint of the country is also pretty harmless. Tall apartment buildings reveal little architectural differences except the three-digit addresses bricked into the walls. Streets and neighbourhoods have few identifying features which would distinguish them from any other intersection in any other mid-sized city across the peninsula of a country (well, save for the fact that maybe the Pizza Hut is on the other side of the street in that bordering urban sprawl). And the subway interior reads more like a literal translation of 50 Shades of Grey than a tempting colour palette by Benjamin Moore.
The point I’m trying to make here (beyond attempting to prove that I can still make literary references to books I have yet to, and probably never will, read) is that it is difficult to find places in South Korea which exist outside of the unspoken standards of homogeneity.
Not impossible, mind you. Just, difficult.
But finding a place in Korea which is even the least bit terrifying?
Now that is impossible.
Take for example, an undeniably scary place like a cemetery. I’m not even trying to be funny when I say that visitors to a Korean graveyard will more than likely consist of a three generation family celebrating their ancestral past rather than a typical group of misfits performing some ritualistic séance while creating voodoo dolls of the popular girls at school.
Again, South Korea is safe.
But Okpoland fell through the cracks.
Unimaginatively named after the drag of the city in which it is located, Okpoland was a pint-sized amusement park on South Korea’s second largest island.
In terms of amusement park requirements (which I by no means feign any sort of expertise in), Okpoland had a lot going for it. Sitting on the coast, the bumper cars had the city of Okpo to the left and the Sea of Japan to the right. It had a roller coaster which looped through the entire park. It even had a medley of animation characters linking arms on the entrance gate awning, only exemplifying the prevalence of copyright infringement in some Asian countries.
It also had some pretty imprudent safety standards.
But again, I’m getting too ahead of myself here.
As with all scary stories (or really, any story attempted to be retold by someone who wasn’t even there in the first place), the details are a little unclear.
There were a few injuries on the roller coasters themselves, including one fatality. A little girl died on a roller coaster shaped like a duck. Pending threats of being sued by the family (and consequent bankruptcy), the owner of Okpoland fled Okpo. And once he got to the bottom of the hill and entered the actual city of Geoje, he fled that too.
He left absolutely everything. Ticket stubs, turnstile entrances, and trick-eye mirrors. It all became the backbone of twining clematis vines which took no time at all to mark their territorial claim. But the speed at which these perennials could grow didn’t make Okpoland creepy.
And the abandoned amusement park definitely wasn’t creepy because of the slightly offensive (and poorly translated) English words spray-painted on the few remaining rides. That part was really just all the more discouraging for any expat teacher who could recognize the handwriting of the artist responsible for the “You Die Now” message scrawled on the back of basketball arcade game.
Okpoland was creepy because it was an anomaly.
It was a place which seemed more fitting for a city alongside a Soviet nuclear power plant than a countryside island in Korea. It was creepy because it was a fairly large piece of space hidden next to one of the two main streets in the city. Not “hidden” in the way a brochure writer would use this word while pairing it with nouns like “paradise” or god forbid, “gem.” But more so hidden in the sense that locals rarely knew details of the events or even seemed all that interested in the mystery surrounding the city’s main tourist attraction.
But like most scary stories, it is this element of mystery which becomes more central than the facts themselves. The questioning of how possible things were, the overuse of the word “supposedly” when it comes to almost facts, the lack of hits on Google; all of these things contribute to the mystery of the amusement park.
I got out of Okpo before my footprints had time to dry in the wet cement. Another expat who wasn’t so lucky, emailed me to tell me that the amusement has since been torn down and promptly cleared of all of those hydroponic vines.
Perhaps Okpoland cannot reign as ‘The Creepiest Place in Korea’ because it actually no longer exists.
But in hindsight, this just makes it all the more mysterious.