Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sometimes they come back

A Joseon-era public cemetery on Seoul's outskirts
Ancestral worship, and a propitiation of daemons or spirits, the result of a timid and superstitious dread of the forces of Nature, are to the Korean in place of a religion. Both, I am inclined to believe, are the result of fear, the worship of ancestors being dictated far less by filial piety than by the dread that ancestral spirits may do harm to their descendants. This cult prevails from the king to the coolie. It inspires the costly splendors of the Kur-dong, as well as the spread of ancestral food in the humblest hovel on New Year's Eve.

The graves within an area of ten miles from the city wall are among the remarkable features of this singular capital. The dead have a monopoly on the fine hill slopes and southern aspects. A man who when alive is content with a mud hovel in a dingy alley, when dead must repose on a breezy hill slope with dignified and carefully tended surroundings. [...] The amount of land occupied by the dead is incredible.
- from Korea and Her Neighbours, Isabella Bird Bishop, 1898 (p. 61)

One interesting thing about the second paragraph, as well as the photo above, is that those graves have long since been built over. I wonder if all of those within the graves were carefully reburied, or if... they're still there. Think about that next time you're walking around near downtown Seoul (and why has there never been a horror movie that brings this up, anyways? All you'd have to do is blame the Japanese, and you'd have box office gold!).

The main reason for this post, speaking of horror stories ( "How can he be back?! I - I thought he was (politically) dead!"), was because I found an article about Lee Hoi-chang. Above is an image of the GNP's greatest nightmare - Lee Hoi-chang comes back to life, devours all of Lee Myung-bak's flesh (taking time to pose with his skull), and hands Chung Dong-young the presidency. Okay, that's not what this article is about; it's about how Lee Hoi-chang has "relocated nine of his ancestors' graves in the hopes of winning his third run in the presidential election." The article goes on to talk about how the belief in 'Poongsoo (or Fengshui) and the location of graves are related, and how Lee is not the only person who has relocated family members' graves in the hope of better political fortunes. It's well worth a read, as it reminds you that behind the LCD screens and cellphones there are superstitions which were old when Isabella Bird Bishop wrote about them 110 years ago.

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