Gangnam. A busy district of over 500 thousand people. A place where the avenues are large enough to fit possible at least 3 full-sized school buses lengthwise. Where one of Seoul’s busiest stations, Gangnam Station, welcomes more or less millions of commuters every single day – evidenced by the tourists, shoppers and businessmen and women alike fervently scrambling to squeeze out of the pathetically sized Line 2 subway doors, possibly either fearful being late for appointments, missing the opening hours, or missing strict shift check-in times. The very antithesis of Wolgye-dong (also in Seoul) where I grew up.
A truly crazy district I might add, also described by PSY’s 2012 hit ‘Gangnam Style’: the night life here is really something to behold. It’s 10 p.m. in Gangnam, and I’m helplessly blinded by the bright billboards and the infinite amount of BMWs and Mercedes that dominate the 6-lane wide boulevards. The pubs reek of the distinct smell of alcohol from the Guinness they serve for about a couple of thousand KRW, and the sidewalks are lit with distraught businessmen burning away their woes and sorrows with Marlboro tobacco rolls. I hear a nightclub right beside the Alliance Française in Gangnam shamelessly pumping out trance music all the way up to 11 – perhaps up to 12 – and beside the entrance a few other smokers meandering about aimlessly. Quelle place.
A land of opportunity as well – I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of my wonderful college advisors and consultants in Gangnam. Getting a liberal education in the United States has long been a dream of mine (possibly after experiencing the innovative Canadian (or rather Québécois) programme d’éducation.).
Therefore it really saddens me that this vibrant mélange of colorful shops, picturesque skylines and cultural vigour has degenerated into a hot-bed for determined, religious, fanatical zealots.
One cannot count exactly how many times my precious time was wasted by these pernicious charlatans. No exit from Gangnam Station (there are 12 in total) is safe, as they are cunningly set in formation so that you have no choice but to bump into them, avoiding them made even more hard by the presence of hundreds of other innocuous people compacted on the sidewalk. Usually my unintended interactions with these folk go like this:
– Dude: “Excuse me, sir. Can I ask how I can get to Garosu-gil?”
– Me: “Hmm, sorry sir, but I don’t know much about Gangnam or its surroundings.”
– Dude: “That’s too bad. Say, are you a follower of any form of religion?”
– Me: “No. Good day- / *tries to leave”
– Dude: ” *grabs my arm / Why not come to our meeting place? We sure do believe that you have an open mind, and you will be accepting to practicing our customs with us.”
– Me: “I don’t practice religion, nor shall I plan to in the near future. I’m late for classes if you’ll excuse me.”
– Dude: ” *grabs my arm again / Seriously? You aren’t even going to give us the slightest amount of your time to pray with us? Come on, it’s just five minutes. It’s also best the sooner you are exposed to our religion – then you will achieve full spiritual enlightenment. We shall do what we call Jesa, giving sacrifices to your past elders.”
– Me: “Please, just let me go. I’m already late for my French class. I don’t even believe in the afterlife.”
– Dude: “Come on, five minutes? Why are people like you so busy all the time? Don’t you think there is a reason why we met? Clearly it was destiny – a calling from you from our elders in Heaven. You shall regret the day you didn’t join us.”
What blatant deception! To set up your conversation so you really have no other option but to react to the ‘martyr”s question (asking for directions? what a deceitful act!) then ruthlessly injecting you with their faux, snake-oil, dogmatic, repulsive, vindictive, religious horseshit. That day, I ended up being 15 minutes late for my bi-weekly classes at the Alliance Française. Sure, I could, in theory, ignore them and continue on with my life, but how can you say no to man who’s really trying to (or at least appears to be trying to) innocently ask for directions?
Of course, since religions are so vehemently intent on spreading the non-existant ‘Word of God’ in every fucking corner of our already scarce lands, even at the cost of human lives, I just had to meet one going back home the other day in the bus terminal at Jamsil Station. Again, same old fucking shit. More asking for directions, another pathetic attempt at luring me to their shamanist dogma. Mais ça suffit, voyons!
In the past March, I have met at least 15 of these ‘saints (oppressors) of the free world’, all of them around Gangnam. And here I stand, demanding to know “Where is it now, the Gangnam I grew up to love?” The Gangnam I grew up to embrace was never a training ground for dogmatic militancy. I remember the countless times I visited Gangnam with my mother. There, for the first time in my life, I mustered up the courage to talk to an American. It was my first encounter with a culture other than my own. It was probably 2005, I believe, when I first went to the Apgujeong area to get my eyes checked there. Memories of happily munching on Big Macs with my mom at the McDonald’s near the CGV movie theater bathe me in nostalgia. Gangnam was a true melting pot in this sense – a place where people from every corner of the globe would shop till they drop, indulge in Korean delicacies and probably have a couple of drinks with their mates. People happily walking down the streets, their faces filled with satisfaction as they effortlessly carry tens of shopping bags down Teheran Street. Couples, hetero and homo alike, holding hands in the streets without the fear of getting shamed. At night, the streets would be not only be blinded by the Tokyo-esque neon signs and billboards, but also deafened by the laughter from the Irish pubs conspicuously located within an endless row of noisy restaurants and cafés.
Or was it all just an illusion. Gone are the crazy laughters from restaurants and those soju bars. Smiles are nowhere to be found. The night lights, while still blindingly bright, fail to captivate me. Because in their places are the so-called ‘messengers’ who roam the streets, cached within a swarm of people and ready to pounce when college students like me walk right into their bait: Religion. Snakebite.
There is simply no place for religion in the 21st century. The new millennium should be all and only about scientific reasoning, empirical evidence, and logical conclusions built on the shoulders of that evidence. Religion, however, for quite an obvious purpose, seeks to curtail the ability for modern society to reason logically and replace it ‘with a better alternative.’ What better way to manipulate the masses than with dogma? They say that it is in human nature to demand simple answers to complex problems. There are no such thing – I shall call it ‘intellectual laziness’. And this is the inconvenient truth about religion – especially the institutionalized ones – it inhibits our ambition, our freedom to reach new heights, to make scientific innovations, and ultimately make our lives for the better. Dogma is the antithesis of reason.
And I can’t believe it is taking over the liberal, diverse, vibrant, energetic Gangnam that I grew up to love.
To quote my sage piano teacher :
Religion is dangerous for the sole reason that it introduces meaning, without a single iota of evidence, to evident falsehoods.
April 26, 2017 – Jinseob Sohn, LE POINT BLEU