Shamanism.

February 4, 2010

Well originally I wanted to write about Korea’s first hospital, which was located on Jeju island. I might find out about that later. Apparently there is a TV drama about it as well.  I was almost also swayed by an article saying that serial killings are on the rise in Korea. Anyway, stick to shamanism. I know nothing about this, and I am just posting what I find on the net. So if I’m wrong, sorry.

In Korean a shaman is called ‘mudang’ (apparently this is more of a derogatory term) or ‘mansin’. In my old town of Taebaek, there was a shamanic presence. From what I could tell, it was mostly situated near or on Taebaek mountain.  Taebaek is considered to be a sacred or holy mountain. There are many of these within North and South Korea. The goal of the shaman is to be possessed by the spirit of the mountain or “mountain God” (산신).

Why become a shaman? My first guess would be, beliefs. It also doesn’t hurt that they are generously rewarded for performing ceremonies.  Whatever their motivation may be, this takes dedication as the spirit of Taebaek is well sought after. In combination with this, Taebaek has some of the coldest and bone chilling temperatures in the country. I have been up their a number of times, a few of them being in the winter. While waiting for a friend at the top on new years day (shortly after sunrise) I felt all my exposed skin starting to hurt, and the other parts that were not so protected started to follow suit. That being said, no matter the weather conditions you can always find someone banging a traditional drum or giving an offering in one of the many alters.

One of the previous Taebaek shamans, after being possessed by the spirit, correctly predicted that the recently deceased president Roh would be elected into office.  After this prediction she became more sought after than the Taebaek spirit. Performing rituals and making predictions for celebrities and businessmen alike. In 2008 she was put behind bars for taking bribes from major corporations. The bribe that landed her in jail was somewhere between 300 – 400 thousand dollars worth. Makes you wonder how much she racked up leading up to 2008.

Leading a life in Korea.

February 4, 2010

I am living in South Korea. I have been for one and a half years. The first year was spent in a small town named Taebaek  (태백) in the Gangwon Province.  It was a great experience to live there and I’m glad that I did it before making my transition to Seoul. Despite the fact that most people want to live in Seoul, there is always a little jealousy and disdain for the people that do live there. At least for myself, being on the outside.

Living outside of the sprawling mass of apartments, restaurants and hofs that seem make up the majority of Seoul, I can’t help but think, I’m glad I don’t live here. I then take pride in announcing to others that “I’m from Taebaek, in Gangwon-do.” The usual response would be, “Where?” After this question a quick response should suffice, “Oh this small town of 50 000 people.” As no one really cares where you live, since most people haven’t had the chance to leave the big city in search of what the rest of Korea might be like. Of course, I’m generalizing. But, if you live in the countryside you want to believe you made the right choice, to land randomly in some province you didn’t know existed before coming to Korea. In the end, I do believe I made the right choice, despite the fact that other people might have been having more fun, meeting more interesting people, meeting girls and guys in the same age bracket, I still had adventures. Perhaps even more than I have had living in Seoul so far.