No Country For Omens
Korea didn’t want me to come here. I’m not just saying that to be dramatic, but the facts speak for themselves. Through signals and signs and various episodes of bad juju it tried to keep me from making the trip; it tried to keep me home. Lets recap:
1. On December 10, 2007, a two oil tankers collided off the coast of Taean, a beach town just 30 minutes from Seosan, sending 10,500 tons of crude oil into the Yellow Sea in the nation’s worst oil spill. The catastrophe nearly collapsed entire eco-systems and will take decades before the coastline reaches it’s previous condition. It also rendered many beautiful beaches – the same beaches that helped sell me on choosing Seosan in the first place – completely useless. This summer less than half of the 30 beaches will be open for public use. This is a total bummer of course, especially when one considers how I love to flaunt my extensive collection of vintage tank-tops.
2. On February 10, 2008, the historic Namdaemun Gate located in central Seoul tragically burned to the ground after a disgruntled man set it ablaze. Originally completed in 1398, the landmark held such reverence in Korea that it’s officially labeled as “National Treasure No. 1” in their numeric numbering system. For 610 years it stood watch over the city. One month before I arrived it turned into the countries largest hibachi. A true travesty indeed. It’s the equivalent of someone destroying the U.S’s Lincoln Memorial or France’s Eiffel Tower. I hadn’t even set foot into the country and already things were falling apart.
3. Every country has their own superstitions, and Korea is no exception. While many Americans have a mild case of Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13), Koreans suffer from Tetraphobia – the fear of the number four. Turns out the Korean word for four, sa, sounds very similar to the Korean word for “death.” Same goes for countries like Japan and China. Here’s this little nugget from my dear friend Wikipedia:
In Korea, tetraphobia is less extreme [than in China], but the floor number 4 is almost always skipped in hospitals and similar public buildings. In other buildings, the fourth floor is sometimes labeled “F” (Four) instead of “4” in elevators. Apartment numbers containing multiple occurrences of the number 4 (such as 404) are likely to be avoided to an extent that the value of the property is adversely affected.
Well guess what? I live on the fourth floor. My room is number 403 – about as close as you can get to the crazy death number as possible. Maybe Korea is trying to tell me something?
4. Speaking of crazy superstitions, here’s one that I guess I carried over with me from the States. It’s known as the “Sign of the Devil” or “The Mark of the Beast,” and also to a lesser extent, “The Worst Number to Have While Waiting in Line at a Deli.” I’m speaking of course of that infamous sequence of digits, 666. I generally don’t give the number much thought, but here in Seosan, that’s almost impossible given to the fact that 666 is the first part of the city’s telephone code. You’ll see 666 on billboards for childcare services, schools, restaurants, heck, there’s probably even a church with a 666 on it somewhere. All this stuff is starting to freak me out!
Given the rate at which all these bad vibes are accumulating, I can only assume that tomorrow I will wake up, walk underneath a row of open ladders, past the the town’s broken mirror shop and shelter for black cats and into my school, where my fellow teachers will be waiting with open umbrellas.
If anything, all these bad omens have really only solidified one point: I no longer believe in bad omens. Why? Because I’m having a great time in Korea. I’ve made some amazing friends, enjoyed a welcoming city with generous culture and courteous people, and have had an awesome experience fumbling my way through teaching. As an added bonus, I’ve gotten really good at chopsticks too, but that is neither here nor there. The point is that omens, vibes, signs, signals, or whatever else you want to call them, are really just like those scary shapes you used to see in the darkness of your room back when you were a kid. Sure they look ominous and foreboding, but when you finally summon the courage to peel back the covers and turn on the light, you realize they’re just a pair of balled-up jeans and a wrinkly old t-shirt. My advice? Put ’em on and get out there!