Korean Faiths

I was in a cafe, where a Buddhist monk came to bang on his hollow wooden moktak for exactly three seconds before the barrista, a chubby man who had been chomping and slurping at his noodles like a ravening horse not five minutes before—shaking the windowpanes with the barbarous thunderous smacking of his tongue and his lips—ordered him to get the hell out, almost before he even started chanting, like this:

Monk: [to wooden knocking] Ha-may-ha-may-ha
Barrista: Fuck off!

It is possible that a Christian also came in to ring few little bells, but I only heard them, and didn’t see the ringer. A few blocks away from the cafe there is a temple (or at least a temple gate painted with a swirling red-and-blue taijitu) dedicated to Chondogyo, a Korean syncretic faith from the 19th century; and a few blocks away from that one may pay witches, wizards, and shamans from the ancient religion called Mu to cast about and find one’s fate. Their homes are marked by red swastikas, and there is a forest not five minutes away where a small shrine has been dedicated to the founder of the city’s royal clan, who hatched from a golden chicken egg that descended from on high.

On the bike ride over to this cafe I passed a man out on a streetcorner who was blasting a recording of himself justifying his claim to be god. He had taped laminated papers to the sidewalk which read, in Korean: Nanun shineeda; I am god. It was quite cold, and he was still there when I finished and went back home. There were no crosses in his display, though he was just about as crazy as the man I saw back in the western part of Busan who would ride the subway just so he could walk around and, loudly, bless all the passengers in the name of Mr. Jesus (Yesooneem). As I saw him many times I conceived of a fantasy which involved following him around and blessing everyone in the name of Mr. Devil (angmaneem) immediately after he had babbled out his joyous shtick, thereby canceling out his blessings. I still wonder what he would have done in response, and may even travel back to Busan and wait around on those stale fluorescent subways just so I can find out. Once a couple of ajummas cackled and said he was a crazy, stupid bastard as soon as he left their car.

There is a sizable but silent atheist bloc as well as Muslims and Hindus marked out only by their darker complexions; I am the only Jew in Korea I know of.

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