Being of Maori descent, the indigenous race of Aotearoa/New Zealand, I find myself quite at ease with the acceptance and appeasement of Jeju’s multiple gods and goddesses (18,000 seems to be the number but I’m not quite sure who counted). We also have our own gods and demi-gods responsible for different aspects of life and the physical world and the Maori quickly adopted the Christian God when early missionaries arrived, while not letting go of their own beliefs.
So when I find myself helping to pull a wooden cow down the city street to celebrate the coming of spring, or talking with local friends and residents about various gut, or Shamanic rituals, it certainly doesn’t seem odd or particularly heathen to me.
I also find I have a more developed appreciation of the surreal in Korea and am more accepting of things that I might not be in my home country. At times, I almost feel that the peninsula, and particularly Jeju, is my own version of the island on the television series “Lost,” where nothing works quite as expected but I might as well just accept it and enjoy the good and give up trying to understand those things that know I will never comprehend.
When I pretended to be a friend’s mother at his marriage because his Korean bride’s father thought it a loss of face that the real mother was too unwell to fly, I merely treated it as another odd tale. My handsome “son” (who is only 13 years younger than I) and his beautiful wife have lived happily in New Zealand for many years now. I assume that her parents are also happy.
Sometimes, however, I come face to face with how inured I’ve become to the difficulties that foreigners can face here. When a friend visited Korea on business for the first time during the Lunar New Year holiday, he found much of the experience so frustrating that I doubt he will ever return. From being unable to withdraw money from all but specific “Global” ATMs to constant misunderstandings and miscommunications with people even though they spoke English well, he found the country much more difficult than the many other parts of Asia he frequents.
And although I kept repeating that Korea has a different logic than that he is accustomed to, it was an eye-opener myself to see it from a newcomer’s perspective. I find the country vibrant and dynamic and exciting, but I must admit it can also often be difficult.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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