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Cast Away

By Jean Hyun Kim

There it was. The infamous Times Square. Flashing neon signs crawling against the walls of tall buildings like glowing caterpillars, the traffic like the cicadas screeching at night, and the people like ants, stepping over one another to get a slightly better picture with the “Phantom of the Opera” display. Amid these endless inputs was me, alone, staring blankly into the billboards, holding on to my phone for dear life while also trying to get better angles on the buildings surrounding me.

It was a solitary adventure. Thanksgiving break was here, and I decided to leave for New York City alone. The thought of it was frightening yet rejuvenating, alarming yet ecstatic. In a few hours, I stood in the center of Times Square, and I was, for the first time in my life, truly, alone.

Photo by Anthony Rosset on Unsplash

When I got to Times Square, I held my camera up wherever I went, taking pictures of everything that drew my eye. Just when I thought I was done taking pictures for the day, I realized that I had not taken a single picture of the most significantly insignificant subject there was in the middle of Times Square. It was something that stood alone in a forest of buildings, something that never appeared in my camera roll, something that I had been thinking of photographing for a long time but was too afraid to do so. It was me.

I looked at my phone. I looked at the button I was often so scared to touch. It looked like two snakes, chasing after each other’s tails, creating a circle. I looked around to check if anybody was looking. Pressing the simple “switch to selfie mode” button seemed like a criminal act to me; I might as well have been staring at the red button that would signal a nuclear detonation.

Then I pressed the button.

When I spun with my camera in selfie video mode, I was the center of the world. Everything circulated around me. Only I was in focus; everything else was blurred, becoming featureless pixels decorating the centerpiece. The selfie video lasted around three seconds. In those three seconds, you could see me smile, twirl, and look around before I frantically lower my phone and stop recording. This moment of pure “me,” totally alone in the middle of nowhere, was something I had never experienced before. Yet it was liberating. I had no one around me to tease me about taking selfies, no one to photobomb, no one to ask me to take their pictures, no one to remember seeing me twirling around alone in a fat jacket in the middle of Times Square. I was in a new world. I was in a place where I could take selfies.

Sometimes I rewatch the selfie video I took in the middle of Times Square. Yes, to watch myself ridiculously twirl within a crowd of strangers, but more so in order to look at me eyeing whether others are looking at me in the last millisecond. I like to think that I am the one looking at me spinning around, and that I was not eyeing others, but me, because I was not even in my own company, truly alone, free.

About the Author: Jean Hyun Kim is a freshman from Seoul, South Korea, majoring in Psychology and Performance & Media Arts. One of his favorite travel destinations is New Delhi, India, because it is full of good food, new experiences, history, and culture.

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Guac is an award-winning travel publication run by an interdisciplinary group of students at Cornell University. We aim to inspire our readers to celebrate cultural diversity and view the world with an open mind through delivering unique stories from people around the world.

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