I’m sadly going to have to postpone this week’s Word Wednesday because I’ve lost my voice. Or rather it’s still there, I just sound like a sixty-year-old chain smoking prostitute who’s deepthroated one too many times.
Instead, I shall regale you with the story of my Saturday night.
But first, some context.
On Thursday I went to Miss and Mr Coffee, otherwise known as the Teddy Bear Cafe, so named for its decor of teddy bears of all shapes and sizes.
I first went there with my co-teachers back when I arrived. Since then, the owner (at least I think he’s the owner, what with his distinct striped shirt and broad maroon tie) always recognizes me and asks how I’m doing and tells me to come back often. Which I do, relatively speaking.
Yet it had been a while since my last visit, so when a friend – AM – asked me to go for coffee on Thursday, I suggested we go there. Sure enough, the owner recognized me right away with a happy-surprised, “Oh!! Oh!!! You!” I asked how he was, and he asked if AM was my boyfriend – which I had to politely disappoint him about (as I’ve mentioned in my post on couple culture, Koreans are always sad when they find out you’re not a couple). We ordered tea and he gave us a piece of handmade cheesecake.
“Service, service!” he said.
I heaped the thanks on him, cuz srsly what a sweetheart.
Anyway, so when we were leaving, we said bye to him and he waved happily after us. Then as we started turning down the street, we heard an, “Oh!! Oh!!!”
We turned, and there was the owner running towards us. In his hand were two rectangular pieces of paper.
“Ticket, ticket,” he said. “Concert this Saturday, here!”
He thrust the tickets into our hands.
“Uhh, musician – very good guitar! Come from America, but Korean! He leave Atlanta and come play here. You come!”
How could I say no?
But he made me insist stronger. “Promise, promise? You come?” He held out his pinky finger.
I laughed. “I promise, I promise. I’ll be there,” I said, and hooked my pinky with his.
And because the pinky promise is the highest form of promise keeping out there, I found myself at Miss and Mr Coffee last Saturday night.
I’d been out all day chasing cherry blossoms (posting about that soon!), and AM could only meet up later anyway, so we arrived after the show had already started. We ordered our tea and AM tried to sneak upstairs inconspicuously to grab us a table while I brought up our drinks.
Except that “sneaking inconspicuously” in Korea if you’re a foreigner just plum don’t happen.
AM went up first and I heard the word “Yeong eo” (“English”) and then everyone clapping. I didn’t expect, when I followed him momentarily afterward though that we would be applauded. By a full room, might I add – there were over 50 people crammed in, sitting in rows of chairs, on tables, perched on window ledges (and cuddling teddy bears)…there was a lot of applause.
“What’s your name?” asked the guitarist – the friend from Atlanta, I assumed.
I blankly stared around, confused. “Err…Mar-Marta imnida.”
“Oh no, it’s okay, I speak English,” he said.
“Oh, cool,” I said. “Err then my name is Marta.”
“Marta. Great. Well so great you guys could make it! Everybody paksu!” (“applause”)
The owner came up to us, and shook our hands. “Thank you, thank you,” he said, and I coulda sworn a tear had sprung in his eye.
He guided us to two chairs on the far side of the crowd to two chairs occupied by mid-size bears and tossed them aside, pulling our seats to a prime viewing location (definitely perks to sticking out like a sore thumb).
So we sat and enjoyed the music (even though it was all in Korean).
I was just thinking how wonderful it was to be first-hand on a local art scene – Andrea and I have been wanting to see stuff like this for ages – when the guitarist switched to speaking English.
“This will be my last song, and it’ll be in English. It’s called ‘Our Saviour’.”
Then he spoke directly to AM and I.
“Are you Christian?”
That moment of panic in which I try to organize my face in an expressionless mask.
So this needs some context. We all know the Bible Belt of America; it’s probably the first thing you think of when someone says “devout Christian believers” and “Jesus worshippers”. Granted I’ve never experienced that part of the US first hand, but let’s just say Korea rivals the fervour of Faith of the deep South.
Andrea’s had more experience with this than I, and sadly these were rather bad experiences. She may or may not share these for various reasons, but in essence they involved fervent attempts at her conversion with an offhand threat of violence should she refuse.
Fortunately I’ve not had anything as bad as this – just some Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door a couple of times and the warning not to do anything Christmas related in my English classes at school because of some of the parents following some more extreme sects which ban their children from taking part in any of the commercialized holiday “propaganda”.
Anyway these were the things going on in my head when I heard the guitarist ask me that question. I don’t have a problem with other people’s religions, but I’m a proud atheist (seriously, I feel like I love science how others love God), and I can’t help but become defensive if I suspect someone might attempt to convert me. That said, I also don’t want to openly insult them because it’s a delicate subject and no one deserves to have their beliefs shit on just because someone else doesn’t share the same ones.
“Am I…Christian?” I asked to buy time, hoping I’d misheard.
“Yes,” he confirmed, radiating a warm and easy smile. “Are you a Christian?”
“No, no I’m not,” I said. I thought I could see AM shaking his head too out of the corner of my eye.
“Oh okay – what (if you don’t mind me asking) what religion are you?” I hesitated and he quickly added, with a, laugh, “You’re not an atheist are you? Tell me you’re not?” The entire room full of Koreans was looking at me.
At which point I could feel my face tingling with too many emotions to name; my brain garbled out a vague unintelligible answer of word vomit.
“It’s okay, it’s okay if you are,” the guitarist added seeing how flustered I was. “My best friend in Atlanta was a strong atheist and we were perfectly good friends. We both respected each other and…”
And he went on to explain a great deal about how they would talk about their beliefs together, and then about how much he loved Jesus and it was a message he wanted to share because he loved him so much.
“Imagine you’re a salesman,” he said. “In order to sell something, you have to truly believe it. You don’t want to buy something from a salesman if he doesn’t love what he’s selling. So that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m going to try to sell you Jesus.”
Well, I thought, there are worse things I’ve been sold by salesmen.
At that point AM made a joke about having bought insurance from a heartfelt salesman just that very morning. The guitarist laughed, translated the joke to Korean, and the whole room laughed too. The tension eased.
“Anyway,” said the guitarist. “My song is about Jesus and how much I love him, and maybe it’ll help you to find his love too. We’ll talk more before you leave tonight.”
Not going to lie, I dreaded that talk very much.
Still, it was clear the guy loved Jesus a hella lot, and despite a tad of exasperation at the presumption that I needed to be helped to find God’s love, I could respect his faith. After all, I could relate to wanting to spread the gospel of something that’s made him find a sense of purpose in life (as he later disclosed upon finishing the song). Hell, I’ve done that with books that rock my world six ways to Sunday and won’t shut up about them until people have read them or told me to shut up. *cough*cloudatlas*cough*
So I braced myself for our “chat” after the performance, pep talking myself that it was only because he wanted to shout it from the mountain that he loved God, and that he didn’t mean anything personal.
Except it didn’t come up at all.
First there was a raffle – gift certificates and books given out (he insisted on giving AM and I a book to share, despite it being all written in Korean), and then he announced the end of the evening to much applause.
When we spoke to him after, no conversion talk factored into it. He was a really decent guy who was just passionate about music – and wasn’t ashamed to say it was because of his spirituality that he’d found the strength to start pursuing a career as a musician three years ago. Which I can entirely respect, and told him so.
He was earnest about staying in touch – “I’ll be back in Cheongju soon,” he said, which will be after a concert in Seoul and elsewhere – and expressed his regret that he didn’t have any albums he could give us. (At that I had to emphatically tell him he really didn’t have to, and that he’d given us enough with the book and the kind words).
So we exchanged Kakao numbers (Korean chat app), and hey, who knows! Maybe I’ve found a new friend. Maybe we can even go to a park sometime and play music together once I get better at playing the ukuele!
At the very least, it made for a good story and a really wonderful night. I’m glad I honoured my pinky promise.