The Korean man and his wife wanted us “to feel their hearts.” And so, they took us on a tour of the Daejeon metropolis of Korea. The salt and pepper haired 40-ish man was on a mission to show us the things he loved about Korea. All five of us hopped in a church van and sped for two hours on a highway to a small town where we ate kimchi in a traditional Korean restaurant. Next, we went to one of the many Café Bene coffee houses where we sipped on café mochas. With unfinished drinks we rushed outside where he was motioning for us to jump in the van to head to our next adventure. He drove us past a sculpture park with giant stone art pieces and led us to the edge of a river where we climbed on a traditional Korean boat. As we floated down the river with other passengers listening to old Korean pop music we noticed a Buddhist shrine built on the hillside in the forest. We climbed winding wooden steps to the top where behind the shrine was a cave with dripping mineral water that, since we drank it, will make us three years younger. After ringing a large Buddhist bell I probably wasn’t supposed to ring and standing on the edge of the hill where several women jumped to their death to avoid servitude to a new king, and bowing to an old woman who sat next to the colorful shrine, I raced back down the stairs to catch up with our group. Next he took us to the Baekje Historical Museum to share this ancient Korean culture which existed 18 BC-660 AD and whose artifacts have been restored and recreated for future generations to rememeber.
I felt as if our young tour guide was helping us experience Korea through him as fast as possible. You see, doctors have done all they can for the cancer that plagues his body. And although his skin is pale and his eyes are beginning to hollow, he loves and lives and speeds through life to share all he is. He represents Korea for me; a country that has lived through the horrors of dictators and imperialism and still lives with humility, grace, beauty and vibrancy. He is a deacon in his Presbyterian church, a direct result of Western Christian missionaries who came to Korea approximately 120 years ago. He is a successful businessman who specializes in home design. His wall panels decorate many of the sky-scraping apartments found in every major South Korean metropolis. He is a husband; and like many traditional Korean marriages, his wife diligently serves him. She seems to be treasuring this precious time with him. He introduced us to the variety of Korean beliefs – Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism. Like many people on the streets and in the subways he is in a hurry, a hurry to embrace and experience all that Korea is right now. This is a golden age, a moment in Korean history without war, a celebration of traditional ways and modern technology, an enjoyment of cultural foods and French pastries. He is a reflection of Korea – embodying the tragedies and hope, the ancient and new, the simple and complex, the dark and the light.
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