Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Day in the Life of Hannah Kim


I have been putting this off for a while now but I promised a couple of you that I would write this post so here it is.

About a month ago, I was on my way home from work when a stranger accosted me and said, "You have a very bright face. You look like the oldest child in your family." My first reaction was "Okay, psycho, what are you selling tonight?" Then, she proceeded to tell me about my family history (which were uncannily true). Then a short little man that came up to my armpit chimed in and said, "Do you have someone in your family with a bad back and bad knees because they are really hurting me right now." (My dad had recently hurt his back and my aunt was suffering from bad knees at the time.) So, yeah, they had my attention.

The woman asked if they could speak to me for a bit because they had something to tell me. I was curious so I said yes and we went into a cafe. She volunteered me to pay for the drinks and we sat down in a corner.

They peered piercingly into my face (which totally amused me) and the woman said, "You have a lot of ancestors following you around. You also have a lot of baby ghosts around you. Have you had miscarriages or abortions?" I said no. She looked dubious. "Well, your life is about to change," she said confidently. "It's not a coincidence that we met you today. You haven't been able to accomplish what you really wanted to accomplish because something always got in the way. That is going to change from now on." She was freaking me out with all the ghost talk but I liked what I was hearing so far about how my life was going to change. (I am gonna be rich and famous!)

She said the reason why my ancestors were around me because I was "the person" in my family that could help them. Because they are without bodies they couldn't repent for their sins and couldn't enter heaven. So if I would go to their temple, and pray for them they will be able to rest in peace and leave me alone. Finally, I realized they were Buddhists. I don't have anything against Buddhism and I am open-minded so I continued to listen.

"Why don't you come with us tonight and offer food and prayers to your ancestors? The reason why your life didn't go the way you wanted is because your ancestors got in your way so they could get your attention." I was hearing this for the first time and I was trying to think critically like an intelligent, full-witted person. But this was all new information and I just didn't know how to filter it.

They saw my resistance to accept their offer. I mean it was getting late, it was dark outside, and I was supposed to just blindly following these two strangers to some shady temple to pray for my ancestors? Besides, they told me I had to pay 490,000 won, about $450, and I couldn't tell anybody about this for 3 weeks. Anybody with a quarter of a brain would hear these stipulations and high-tail out of there.

Well, not me. I told them I would go (partly out of curiosity and partly because I thought I would regret it if I didn't go.). But I told them I couldn't pay the 490,000 won but I would pay 200,000 won (about $180). They accepted my offer and I clapped my hands and said "Okay everybody, let's go to heaven!" (Well, internally that is.) And off we went!

We took the subway train, got off and starting walking. I was looking for a Buddhist temple when they led me to a shady-looking karaoke building. The man said, "It's on the 4th floor of this building." So, we went up and I found a large undecorated space with several rooms. They had me bow to this wall (because apparently there was a god there. I wondered if he/she would have been offended if I walked to the wall and just sat there.).

They prepared the table of offerings as I changed into a Korean traditional dress they lent me (because that's how they roll there.)

FYI, that's not me.

After I changed into this outfit, a few people decked out in their outfits and I bowed constantly (for about 30 minutes) to some strange chant uttered by the woman who accosted me. It was in ancient Korean so I didn't understand a word of it. In the midst of all this, I kind of came out of this mental cloud and thought, "What am I doing here? I was just on my way home!" Sometimes I can't believe the life that I live.

But I did feel the presence of my ancestors and I felt at peace. I felt it was a good thing that I did. After the ceremony, the woman asked if I could come for 21 days and recite the chant that she had just recited. So I went back a few times a week mainly because I didn't want the ghosts to haunt me down and freak me out.

But each time I went, she tried to convert me to Buddhism. I told her I wasn't comfortable her trying to convince me of the realities of reincarnation and how we can wash away the sins of the dead through our good works here. It made me think a lot about the gospel and the plan of salvation.

She really got on my nerves toward the end so ghost or no ghost, I stopped going. And for a few nights I couldn't sleep or if I fell asleep I was woken up in the middle of the night in cold sweat because I thought my ancestor ghosts were coming after me. (I know, this sounds ridiculous but the woman really scared the crap out of me with all her talks.)

But I told myself that this is all psychosomatic and that I should be able to sleep in peace. And I have been. Just with the lights on.

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