An Exercise in Incongruity: Luminasia

When you grow up feeling out of place, it’s easy and probably healthy to grow a sturdy exoskeleton of disdain and ironic distance. We have to get out alive somehow, and if that means your default expression has to be a sneer of a derision for a while, well, then that’s what it’s going to take.

I think this is fine unless it follows you into adulthood. Some of my favorite people are the ones who came through hard times as teenagers and young adults; some of my least favorite are the ones who did the same but let those experiences rob them of their vulnerability and easy humanity.

As you might have guessed, I generally consider myself to be in the former category, something that took some work and distance to achieve. However, the legacy of a rich background of self-defensive contempt is that it can sneak back up on me without warning sometimes.

If you’re lucky, though, that makes certain things into that much more of a delightful surprise.

With that in mind: ladies, gentlemen, and everyone else, I give you Luminasia.

luminasia-0I decided to go to Luminasia because a certain online travel deal site had a special and because I was then able to talk my neighbor into going. He’s just as into the unlikely as I am, and I sweetened the deal by buying his ticket. These are the things one must do when one decides not to own a car. By which I mean: make awesome friends who are willing to spend a Sunday night doing something odd. And, joy of joys, another friend decided to join us too.*

We’d spent the earlier part of the evening joking about this, in full-on snickering mode about this weird vestige of the recently closed fair that remained in Puyallup. I mean, Puyallup, come on, right? We live in Seattle. Snort snicker snort snort bleh.

We pulled into the gravel parking lot and saw this:

luminasia-1Incongruity cue one. Of one thousand.

Do you see the crouched mountain lion through the pavilion? Check it out.

The official site bills it as an East-meets-West exhibition that brings the traditional art of Chinese lanternmaking into the 21st century.

Let’s see what exactly that involves.

luminasia-2These five-foot-tall light-up daffodils greet you by the entrance. There are lots more inside; tulips too. They don’t quite go with anything, but I tell you, if I owned these five-foot-tall light-up daffodils, I would also put them everywhere I could. A forest of them in the living room; a crop of them next to the toilet.

Then you enter properly through this:

luminasia-4By which I mean this:

luminasia-3And then you walk through this:

luminasia-5Let’s collect our thoughts here.

This is:

  • A very large
  • Illuminated
  • Wire-and-cloth
  • Accurately designed
  • Ferry
  • With a flashing rainbow tunnel scored through the middle
  • And a lighted, miniature-but-still-quite-tall Space Needle in the immediate background.


It was around here that my ironic distance fell in pieces to the cold asphalt ground, and things got exponentially more awesome, as is the usual way of that kind of thing.

You exit the ferry, and immediately to your right is a jewel-toned seascape, flanked on both sides by giant moving lotuses. (I’m going to stop describing things as illuminated, as I trust you have followed me to that foregone conclusion by now.)

luminasia-7“Hey, friend.”

luminasia-8“Come on in. The… tarp is fine.”

luminasia-9“Yeah, I don’t know what those ladders are for either.”

luminasia-11The tiny globed eyeballs.

luminasia-10This one I just stood and stared at for a good minute or two. I was raised hard on The Little Mermaid. This kind of thing touches some deep, primal point on my amygdala, and I know better than to fight it.

If you follow Deviation Obligatoire on Flickr (and you should, it’s pretty great over there), you’ve seen this already. But behold: the motorized, light-up lotus. That is also, seriously, like 10 feet tall.

Also, dat music. It gets more traditionally Chinese on the, well, traditionally Chinese side.

luminasia-12Oh, did I mention that there’s also an extremely large lit-up mountain? Look at those people I conveniently left in there for scale.

It’s surrounded by glowing totem poles and some of the East in East meets West.

Speaking of:

luminasia-13Well, hello there.

luminasia-14The more Asian-themed part of Luminasia is centered around a lagoon, which is bisected by this wonder.

I took a couple dozen pictures of this, trying over and over again to find just the right angle. I’ll spare you that.

Instead, I’ll give you this koi, who wants me to get out of its yard.

luminasia-15And this marvelous, weird little sandwich of East meets Northwest.

luminasia-16Because really, if you went to Luminasia with the sole intention of layering as many unlikely things into a single glowing image as you could, you’d have a mighty rich night.

luminasia-17Because of course.

This is where you stand to get your picture taken with the whole of the lagoon behind you. And by “you,” I mean “everyone else at Luminasia on closing night,” which is why this image is pointing up.

luminasia-18Oh, ok, one more try on the bridge.

The koi just seems sort of playful now, huh?

luminasia-19New friend dragon says so long til next year.

luminasia-20Optional but recommended: slightly watery but still delicious hot chocolate from the Pinteresty truck in the parking lot.

The Washington State Fair remains on the How Have I Not Done This Yet? list (which this blog is gradually chipping away at). But Luminasia… Luminasia has happened, and Luminasia will happen next year too, if I have my way.

State fair plus lighted extravaganza sounds like the perfect recipe for cheesy fun, right? But no, don’t go for that. Go to spend a cold October night watching the fog of your breath extend and vanish as you stare, stunned, at the rainbow of incongruent, enormous glowing objects before you, this curious last remnant of a summer fair extravaganza packed up and gone. Go to wander around giggling with friends, taking pictures of each other in front of so many unlikely things. State fairs are where earnestness lives, and it’s good for jaded city people to be immersed in that now and then.

Especially if it involves an oversized, glowing wire-and-cloth mountain lion on a cliff, perched and pondering.

*That is, “A Frenchman, a Chinese student, and a former Midwesterner are in an Audi, speeding down I-5 toward an apparently Asian-influenced exhibition of the electric light.”