Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ack, Mormons!

They're everywhere, I tells ya!

So here I am, minding my own business, walking down the street about 7:00 pm or so, making my way toward the corner where I hope to find the rotisserie chicken truck and pick up a tasty dinner. This is something I have mentioned before, most notably here.

I'm walking along, and this young Korean starts to pass by me, does a double-take and smiles real big. "Oh, hello! How are you?" he says.

Now, most folks won't give you the time of day in this country, a feature of the culture being to ignore the masses of people all around you, except for the ones you already know. As a foreigner, I get my fair share of stares, mostly from the very young and the very old, and a lot of the "Hello, how are you? I am fine," kind of thing from middle schoolers. Occasionally, a college student will engage in conversation to practice his or her English, and that's what I assumed this was.

He asks to shake my hand, so we do. About then, I notice he is with another young guy, a clean-cut Westerner. Both are wearing black jackets with white collared shirts. 'Huh,' I thought to myself, 'the Mormons are here, too.'

We talk as we walk, mostly them feigning interest in me, with questions about how long I've been here, etc. Fine with me, as long they don't start preaching. Though I'm loathe to give them an opening, I eventually have to ask the American what he's doing here.

"We're missionaries," he says. Yep, I pegged that one. "We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; sometimes we're called Mormons," he explains.

Yeah, thanks for the explanation, I guess I look like I just fell off the mu truck. He starts to tell me about what Mormons believe, but I give him "I really don't want to get into a religious discussion with you. ... It seems to me that most Koreans already have a religion--sometimes two!"

They think that's reasonably funny. But true.

"So how many Mormons are there in Korea?" I ask.

"About 90,000." That's not very many, considering just the single Christian church congregation that my artist friend Cheonggi attends has 700,000 members. Korea also has spawned a few new religions, such as Cheondogyo. And of course the Unification Church, founded by Sun Myong Moon in Korea, has a few million adherents worldwide--you know, the "Moonies".

Anyway, we finally get to the corner, and my chicken guy is there, across the street. My new acquaintances are headed a different direction so we part company, but not before they give me a Mormon tract. Written in hangeul.

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