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Art&CultureHeritage
Finding the god’s homeSearch for a hidden treasure
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승인 2010.01.04  22:23:32
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▲ Writer Darryl Coote approaching the door to a dang, or home of a god, east of Seogwipo City. Photo by Brian Miller

“We’re lost,” said Brian Miller, a well-known Jeju photographer and a good friend of mine, as he looked up and down the main street of Bomok village while I stared at him and shivered on the first truly cold day of winter.

And he was right, more or less. For the past two hours, Miller and I had been driving around a five-kilometer square area east of Seogwipo looking for some-thing beyond my comprehension - the home of a god.

In September, Miller joined Song Jung Hee, a classical Korean music teacher and Musok (Jeju Shamanism) believer, in her search for dang (houses of gods) on Jeju Island. Together they charted the exact locations on a homemade map. Miller had become interested in dang while taking and compiling photographs for a photography book on Jeju culture. Since his involvement with Jung Hee, he had told me countless stories of superstitious townspeople, the history of the dang and the effect the search has had upon Jung Hee. I wanted to see it for myself.

However, as I stood there lost, ill-equipped for the cold, and with my motorcycle almost out of fuel and looking at Miller’s bewildered and confused expression, I was beginning to regret my impulsive nature.

Saturday, Dec. 5 was to be my first expedition with the pair, but unfortunately Jung Hee, who had the map, was ill and Miller and I would be the only dang-hunters that weekend.

We set off on a cold mid-morning, the wind was strong and neither of us was prepared for the conditions. We were both excited to begin and jumped on the bike.

I was riding and Miller rode behind me navigating as it was he who had a rough idea of where our destination was. It’s important to note that Miller is a tall man, more than six feet, while I, though not short, would be considered so when standing next to him. This isn’t normally an issue for either of us, but once underway on the bike, it quickly became obvious that we looked like something out of a Monty Python skit.

To add to the absurdity of the situation, the wind buffeted Miller like a sail on a yacht with every gust nearly toppling us.

On our way out of Seogwipo-si, going east on the street from Dongmun rotary, is a tangerine stand at a fork in the road that, for my navigator, was the key to our search.

“It’s left of that stand,” he said. We went left and from that left we took every side street, olle path and country road we encountered. I had lived in Seogwipo for more than year and had never before found a reason to travel these back roads. Even had I been on them before, the essence of the search gave new meaning to the tangerine orchards and stone walls. They were instantly transformed from being scenic into my adversaries. The cold made the tree branches rigid; the clouds made the stone walls foreboding. These once omnipresent images of simple beauty instantly became some-thing more complex and exciting. We went up, down, left, right, hating and loving the obstacles around us, but still the dang stayed hidden.

“I think it was right of the stand. It’s near a dry river I think,” said Miller, after we had exhausted all options to the left.

So we went right and from the right we did the same as we had done for the left. Up this alley, down that street, across this olle path and through wooded trails. There was still no dang. We stopped in Bomok when Miller finally admitted, “We’re lost,” and pulled out his phone to call Jung Hee, whose telephone English was too poor to be of much help.

“Let’s get some gas,” I said. “I don’t want to get stuck some-where without gas.” Miller got on the back, towering over me once again as I hunched over the handle bars to try and control our center of gravity. We went straight through Bomok, turning onto one street and off on another.

Eventually, I took a right on an inconspicuous side road hoping it would take me back to the 1132 highway and as I drove the road became a bridge, which went over a dry river bed.

Miller smacked me on the helmet, “A river bed! A river bed!” he yelled.
I stopped.
“Which way now?” I asked.
“Go right, go parallel to the river.”
So I did, having completely forgotten our ever-increasing need for gas. As we followed the river, the brush thickened and the street narrowed until it came to an end at a footbridge, which crossed the river bed.
“It’s here!” Miller exclaimed, and we got off the bike.

We crossed the footbridge over the dry river bed flush with green vines and red flowers. On the other side, up a steep incline, under the rotting roots of a large dead tree, a set of heavy metal blue doors marked the entrance to a cave. This was Miller’s lost dang. This was the home of a Jeju god.

The place looked completely unknown and forgotten, an appropriate place of secret communication between man and god. The cave made that connection seem tangible and as I opened the door to the nothingness that awaited us inside, this connection did not diminish, but seemed humble, honest and palpable. I felt like a trespasser who experienced nothing inside because I was not privy, as a non-believer, to this private world. There was nothing there for me.

Miller took pictures for his book and I walked around the area wondering if the cave was as holy as it seemed or if it had simply been the journey, Miller’s shadow hovering over me and cold lodged in my fingertips. Nearly four hours of driving within a small proximity, through the back streets and decrepit roads made true the old adage, you can only find a thing when you stop searching for it.

Miller and I planned to go dang hunting with Jung Hee the following weekend when she was well again.
There are at least 400 dang in Jeju but thus far, I had only found the one.
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