On Tuesdays and Thursdays Paul and I eat dinner together at a little kimbap shop down the street.
I had finished shoveling down my dolsot bimbimbap, and Paul was transfixed by the TV in the corner playing Yu-Gi-Oh, so I said "hello" to the Korean man who had been desperately trying to make eye contact with me while I ate.
He and his lady companion gave out a little cry of delight, and asked me if I spoke Korean... in Korean.
They proceeded to explain to me in very limited English, that they worked at a church nearby (they gave a admiring gasp when I said I was from Canada) and they'd like to have me come by after work to have a coffee and a short talk. Now, usually there would be alarms triggered when someone from the Church offers you beverages and conversation in their place of worship, but being generally lonely as I am here, and always curious what it might be like to have someone attempt to "save" me in a second language, I took them up on their offer. Since I'm a foreigner I figured they wouldn't try any funny business, and I could pretty much bugger off whenever I felt strained.
So after work I met with the two clean cut, if pleasantly desperate looking (missionary types do tend to have a look do they?) and walked with them to the "church" which I'd passed by a million times before but didn't register. From looking at the little complex it was in, the place could have been any number of PC Bangs or shitty billiard halls, if not for the small letters that spelled out "World Mission Society" on the threshold.
We got upstairs, and walked into a very open, slightly chilly hall which looked pretty much exactly like any church hall you've ever been to in your life. I would have felt like I was going to a Cub Scout meeting to play soccer baseball, only I wasn't allowed to wear shoes.
I was greeted by an incredibly enthusiastic man (the right reverend whatever he calls himself) who had a fairly good command of English and urged me to sit on a cushion in the middle of the floor. He pulled up a small table that had a painting of the Last Supper laminated on it with some Korean text. The room was very bright, and there was a noticeable presence of nothing-in-particular. Halls like this tend to be built for capacity, so for small gatherings the stretch of teaky laminate floor from the cheesy vestibule to the obligatory kitchenette seems almost universally bland. It's the same in Korea as it was at your Sunday School or the Strawberry Suppers at the United halls down on the Shore.
As it turned out, there was no coffee.
A clever ploy O Lord...
But even better (since it would have been Maxim anyway...) was some wonderful sweet lemon and orange rind tea one of the young woman brought me.
The whole thing turned out to be quite an unexpected speech. The man was incredibly animated, so I had a hard time keeping my composure. More than once I had to stifle a chuckle into my teacup, which was graciously deep. He kept ending his sentences with an enthusiastic "OKAY!?" as if to make absolutely sure I was drinking long and deep of the truth.
Then the scrapbook came out, and with it the pictures of Kim Jong-Il and Roman Catholic conspiracy theories.
The yarn that was spun for me, and subsequently flossed through one ear and out the other, was that an impending clash between the U.S. and North Korea will bring about a nuclear apocalypse and the End of Days, as it were. This is the reason why there are almost no American teachers compared to Canadians these days (which I think is blatantly false). Apparently it's because "Bushey" (he says it too!) is planning his attack.
To prepare for this, I must find the facts of "salivation" (I had to fight down my snicker) and speak to the Mother God.
He flipped through his bi-lingual Bible from Revelations to Isaiah to Ezekiel, showing me all of the meticulously highlighted (in 3 different colours, mind) words to backup his claim that the Second Coming would be the decent of this secondary Mother God, and that it would happen in Korea: the land "far in the East" and "at the end of the Earth" as it is in a direct line from Jerusalem.
By this point my delicious tea was long gone, and I had been sitting on my feet for about a half hour. I started passive-aggressively looking at my watch, because I was still interested in his strange ideas, but I wanted the guy to cut to the chase.
"You know who the Devil is?" he asked me.
"Let's find it."
This is where he got to the conspiracy stuff about the Pope and how his "wonderful, expensive cap" and the latin "Vicarius Filii Dei" if seen as roman numerals ads up to 666, and that the crimson, purple and gold of the Catholic robes also describe the Whore of Babylon in Revelations, and a whole lot of other strange sectarian sputtering which I had heard tell of before, but never in a setting so strange.
So the Pope is the Devil, and Bush is going to end the world, and God is a woman? Tell me something I don't know man...
At this point I declined the offer to be Baptized in "only 3 minutes!" thanked the folks sincerely for the tea, which really cleared up my lingering sore throat, and went on my way, cheerfully declining a ride home since I really won't want them to know where I live.
An interesting evening.
Back home I used to deflect wandering Jehova's Witnesses by telling them I was a Scientologist. For Korea I think I need a new one...
Something along the lines of: "Seek salivation? No thanks, I just ate."
A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.