Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years

Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years: Version 2.0!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Funeral House!

On our way home from the stream yesterday, we happened to pass a 상여집, or funeral house. It had recently been repainted and cleaned up, having a few 장승 or totem poles added.

It isn't that unusual to see these kinds of small houses for the dead in the countryside. Basically, the recently deceased are brought to rest there for a short time before being carried up the mountain for burial. Often, the house itself is on a special mountain, as the spirit of the deceased communes with the specific mountain spirit before being interred. Some of these small houses are sometimes used as a kind of small temple, but I haven't found out much about that yet.

June surprised me by sharing a story from her youth when I commented on how the village had done this one up nice. When she was a kid, these types of houses gave all the rugrats the heebeejeebees, with only the bravest daring to go near. One day a gang of them decided to rock, scissor, paper to see who would actually go inside. June lost the challenge, so made her way up. She was greatly relieved when she found nothing inside. I was impressed that she actually went through with it though, and was about to tell her so when she added:

So I closed the door and started to head back down. I looked up, and that's when I saw the woman.

She was dressed in white hanbok. She had hung herself. I couldn't sleep for days after. She quickly changed the subject.

Later, when the girls were asleep, I asked: why do you think she killed herself like that? She finally admitted that the story heard after was that the woman had killed herself after getting pregnant. The woman hoped her act would diminish the shame her father claimed had been wrought upon the family.

I couldn't say anything for a while. Then I said: He was just a mean old man. Most people don't think that way today.

She looked at me: It's just a sad story. I don't know why I told you. Forget it. She turned over and went to sleep.

My thoughts drifted for a while, unfocused. Finally I slept. I can't remember my dreams. But I woke thinking it was time to cut the girls more slack with the small stuff. I know there will be steaming piles of shit waiting for them to wade through later; I just have to make sure not a lot of them are made by me.

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