Daeboreum Festival – February 10th – 20th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)
There is a local store just around the corner from where I live and outside stands one of those recreational machines where you lift objects by means of an automated hand and deposit the ‘prize’ in a draw which you can then open. The hand is operated by ‘left, right, up, down’ and ‘grab’ buttons and the prize is usually some fluffy toy. Well, not here! Here the prize is a small lobster. How horrid, being subjected to a game before being put into a pot of boiling water!
Last weekend I went to Pak U-chun’s house on a Sunday afternoon. They picked me up in their car and drove me the short distance to their house not far from Song So but in another valley which lays in the Dasa area (다사). Daegu seems to be one sprawling mass of small businesses with intermittent islands of towering apartment blocks which rise up at various points around the city. We had only been in U-chun’s house a few minutes when she asked if I would like to visit their church as they were having a festival. My bum hole quite puckered at the thought of having to enter a place of Christian worship and for a fleeting moment I thought that perhaps she was trying to convert me. However, I decided it was an opportunity to see a different part of Korean culture.
The drive took us about twenty minutes and we left the busy city, crossed the river and passed through the rice fields. The ground everywhere is parched and brown and rather bleak looking and I am looking forward to seeing Korea in the spring when everything is supposedly lush and green. I am particularly looking forward to seeing Korea during its brief monsoon period as the landscape must look very different to now.
There are many Christian churches in Daegu, both protestant and catholic. I actually saw some Korean, catholic nuns walking passed my apartment a few days ago. The churches are mostly small but cater for the immediate Christian population and are all marked by a small spire and a cross that at night lights up in neon red. This was one of my first impressionable sights when I initially flew over the city on my arrival. Often, the spires aren’t part of a church building but a small scaffold type structure on the top of a building in which are located various businesses. Apparently, Korea is approximately 50% Christian and 50% Buddhist. U-chun’s church, still within the Dasa area, was actually a building on its own and resembled a western style church in its architectural design. Outside, teenage boys, dressed in suits, played football. Surprisingly, the festival wasn’t for a traditional Christian event but one based on the Korean lunar calendar (daeboreum) – the celebration of the first full moon since the start of the Chinese, new year. This year it was the 15th of February.
I had been in Pak Jun-hee’s, Ji-won’s father’s, restaurant a few days earlier and they had given me food traditionally associated with this festival but at the time I hadn’t understood its significance. The entrance to the church had several ante rooms where older members of the congregation sat cross legged around a mat playing a stick game – the same one played at Ryo Hyu-sun’s house on New years Day. The main hall was very large with a small stage at one end on which was an organ, a grand piano, choir stalls a drum kit. In the basement was a large room where food was being served and so we sat and ate together. I was expecting a bit of a feed, especially since U-chun had described this as a ‘feast.’ The food, consisting of three grain rice, or was it five grain? I’m not sure, and spinach and mijok (미역), which is a seaweed soup, kimchi and moo kimchi was rather bland and uneventful.
The minister’s wife pressed me for some English conversation classes which I had to decline as I have almost no time to myself. The minister had spent several years at Durham University and spoke good English but he didn’t seem to understand what an atheist was! One thing that pisses me off about religions is that they generally consider a non-religious person as being in some way less moral. I often feel a sense of guilt when explaining to religious people like ministers or convicted Christians that I am an atheist. The fact is I probably have a more developed sense of morality than many Christians and it is reflected in my politics, personal life perspective and many of the things I do. The minister showed me around his church and in his vestry presented me with a bible and a large crucifix carved by one of his congregation. I quite cringed at this though his gesture was quite touching. It crossed my mind to perhaps come along to a service as I find the communality of congregations appealing and it is a sure way of making friends. I once considered doing this in Wivenhoe as it would probably have been a good way of getting some sex! Many religious people I consider mentally weak and sometimes the allure of a body and sexual gratification is as powerful as a crucifix and the redemption of Christ. The religious are often people searching for reason, explanations and rationales and there will be some who are easily lured into deviant sexual activities – they just need something to believe in!
Friday was a very busy day as I had to give Pak Dong-soo a lesson at the taekwondo school. On the way to the school I had arranged to meet up with this western guy called Gerry and then met up with U-chun as she wanted me to make a phone call to a friend of hers in the USA. I had to squeeze all this in to two hours. In the evening I went training and the session was grueling. Earlier in the week we had a session of taegookkwon (태국권) which is a form of Korean tai-chi and we also had a weapons session using sticks and nunchaku.