I may still do double take of the severed pig’s head that is waiting for me at the peak of a mountain, but I just stop and think sarcastically, of course that’s happening. Why wouldn’t that be happening?
There are certain places where you may expect to see interesting things like this happen, such as a Buddhist Temple, or Hanok Traditional Villiage, but here are some scenarios that I have encountered merely hiking up a mountain, attending a staff dinner, or walking into the grand opening of a new business.
In Korea, they have many superstitions about bringing luck and fortune to a person, their family, and their business. Imagine walking into the newest mart in your neighbourhood. As you approach the entrance your eyes are assaulted with giant plants,flowers, and tree branches all bunched together with colorful ribbons greeting you at the door. It is thought that the branches contain positive spirits to ward off bad spirits and attract good fortune.
But be careful, you may find yourself trying to re-adjust your eyes as you explore the interior of this new business. As you walk through the aisles, you may spot something brown and kind of shrivelled sticking out from the top of an air conditioner. Is that a…hmmmm…what is that? you’ll say. As you get closer you’ll slowly realize it’s three dried up dead fish bunched together and tied with a ribbon. You’ll then run away in terror with the memory of those little beady black eyes staring back at you.
One day, you may be on a scenic hike. As you approach a group of ajumas and ajushis you realize that they are having some sort of celebration. Upon closer inspection, you notice that there is the head of a pig sitting on a blanket in the middle of the group. There are 10,000 won bills sticking out of its ears, nose, and mouth.
All you can think is, who carried that pig head up here? To my understanding, this tradition is to cast away bad luck and attract good fortune to those participating in the ceremony. This type of thing is not exclusive to the mountains. I have seen this at Buddhist temples, staff barbecues, and it’s probably done for new business openings. The pig MUST be a smiling pig and it is rumoured that the bigger the smile, the more expensive the pig. Weird.
I often stop and think about how strange these ceremonies really are. Maybe not that strange. Just because I have never been exposed to this in my western life, doesn’t mean that it is strange. It is only strange to me. I’m the outsider looking in. Asian cultures more than likely visit North America and wonder the same. Like, Why are these lunatics always saying ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes? Koreans have no superstition about that, but don’t you dare step on the doorframe, it’s bad luck. These seemingly strange and superstitous traditions are really no different all around the world. They all ward off misfourtune and beg for good fortune. The only difference is in the manner of execution and how others interpret it. Maybe we’re all just strange.