Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Believe


I am waiting for the van to come and pick me up.

We are standing outside of the dormitory. There’s quite a number of the other foreign students here, but as such congregations tend to go, we are splintered off based on nationality and/or linguistic ability. Everyone here is here for one reason, though.

We are all waiting for the van.

Soon enough, the van turns up, and my coordinator, Jinim, is already waiting inside. She is a nice lady who tries her best to sort out things for all us foreign students here at the university; at the last count, there are around 80 students from outside of Korea who are enrolled into a number of different programmes here. That can’t be an easy job.

She does, however, have a habit of disappearing at certain times when some of the students need her most. But hey, I suppose I do that too every once in a while. I call it my Batman act, and the people in my office have exasperated to no avail in the changing of this act. It is nice to disappear into the cave sometimes.

That, however, is another story for another day. Today, though, the van we have been waiting for is finally here.

****

We all step into the place, knowing it well enough like the back of some of our hands. It is a bright, warm and cheery church. It’s nothing more than a few floors in a shoplot, but they do a good job with what they have.

In the earlier days, I had visited this church on a more regular basis. Upon arriving in Korea, I was picked up by a member of this very church, a friend of Jinim who had asked him as a favour to pick up this dude from Malaysia. On the ride from the airport, he was friendly and very active in trying to push Christianity on to me, perhaps even more so after I told him I am in Korea to study films and filmmaking.

“Passion of the Christ…what a great movie,” he exhorted at the time. “Yeah,” I started, “but in Malaysia, Muslims weren’t allowed to watch that film freely at the cinema.” What followed was a long explanation about how that situation came about, and I am sure, even for a normal Korean Joe (or Park, maybe) like himself, who are used to dealing with complex issues in complex ways (nuclear-armed neighbour on the doorstep, anyone?), was somewhat perplexed by it.

His name wasn’t Joe, though. His name is Peter. Today, the church is sending Peter off on a missionary trip to Vietnam, where he and his family will be settling down for the next few years, helping out the poor with a healthy dollop of effort, financial aid and spiritual guidance. The leader of the church, a smart and portly man whose name escapes me at the time of writing, starts to talk about the value of Peter’s work and those of others. As is the custom, the first sermon is in Korean, while the second is in English. I suppose this is because of the foreigners in attendance.

The content of both is not usually the same. For today, in the first sermon, he speaks of how the help granted by them will ultimately aid them to bigger and better things on the national scale. Here, a word about how the economic might of a certain group is strongly linked towards the strength of their faith in the lord, Jesus Christ. There, a list of countries considered by them to be poor for a number of reasons. He mentions Cambodia, but no word on our Arab brothers. That will probably contradict him on some level, I suppose. He goes on talking like this for some minutes.

I turn to Yong Sean. He is another Malaysian on scholarship at the university. He has been here far longer than me, and as such has had a bigger chance to sharpen up his Korean a lot more. He is a good friend who had taken the time to help me out when I first arrived here. I should drop him a line or two one of these days. For now, though, he turns to look at me, and that look merely confirmed what I think I had understood.

It’s a fairly condescending worldview to take, though it is not without its own set of evidence. This can easily be countered with a number of other things, but of course, now is not really the time or place for that.

For now, we’ll just sit and listen. Later, I’ll get my ttok. It’s a great tasting Korean snack and I am without shame in admitting this to be one of the reasons I (initially) come to this church for their afternoon gatherings every once in a while.

****

Steven ambles over to meet me. It has been a while. Though all the members of the church were very friendly, he is one of the friendlier ones, who constantly make time to ensure we are all doing alright.

Many of the church members have availed themselves to us, passing around their numbers for us to contact whenever we have the need to. I can’t recall ever doing that, but a number of the other students have utilised this to great effect. Usually it is some basic translation work that needs doing over the phone, perhaps something along the lines of “I don’t understand what this policeman is saying” or something like that.

Somewhere, Ridhuan Tee is orgasming himself in delight, probably taking this as the strong example of Christianisation he is talking about. At least, he might have done if he knows about this.

We talk for a while, Steven and I. I dig into my ttok. All around us, everyone else is mingling and having a decent time. A number of the juniors, those who came in a bit later than we did, are sitting around the tables with their Korean friends, who are helping them with some basic Korean homework and such. That’s another good thing they are doing.

Steven asks me about a recent international incident involving some Muslims. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it might have been. For some reason, Muslims have been branded as the same, one and all, and for many people, however educated they might have been, logic and reason goes out of the window in this never ending search for justice.

It includes the questioning of random Muslims. Of course, I am not at all suggesting that Steven is trying to lynch me or whatever (sometimes I wonder whether I should stop a random Korean in the street and say, “GET THAT SUICIDAL THOUGHT OUT OF YOUR HEAD, MR KIM!”, before continuing on with my journey). His line of questioning, while still friendly, suggests strongly that he expects me to defend the acts of people I don’t know from places I don’t really care about. This was way before Osama bin Laden was killed, so it might have been a bombing or another incident somewhere, I don’t know.

I trot out the usual, about how, while the world might have gone along with that particular marketing trick, the fact remains that Islam and Muslims are not the same things, and what people claiming to be Muslims might do may not be exactly the same as what Islam itself promotes.

He suggests that I make a film to promote better universal ideals. His eyes waver slightly, indicating that his attention level is not where it probably should be; I remember thinking what it was he wanted me, a Malaysian whose country has generally been very inoffensive on the international stage to the point of near-insignificance, to say. I blurt out something about socio-political factors that should be taken into consideration, as well as the different ways in which religion has been (re)appropriated for a variety of different purposes, but by now it is clear that he is not all that interested in my answer anymore.

Perhaps he just wanted to make some small talk. Hmm. I ask him whether he saw Girl’s Generation’s latest video, Oppa. He hadn’t the chance, he says. You should, I mention him. It’s great. For all the right and wrong reasons.

****

The above is not an attempt to portray all Koreans, all Christians and all human beings as one and the same. It is merely a flawed recollection of what happened a number of years ago, years during which time I experienced many different kinds of challenges in my life.

Some of this has included spiritual challenges. There were times when I did not really turn to God as much as I probably should have. I did, however, end up reading more of the Qur’an in a language I completely understood while those who were intent with the deification of their own discourses surrounded me.

There were people who were like me, and people who weren’t. I found people who surprised me, and people who confirmed some of my own thoughts and hypothesis.

In the end, though, the fact remains that each and every one of us faces challenges on a daily basis, however big or small they may be. In such times, I do believe that falling back on what we know, and holding on to the very principles that we have studied and learned is important.

There will always be people who want to push unto us their own agenda. Sometimes, it makes sense, and sometimes, it does not. This is where we have to use our own brains to decide as to how much of this bullshit that we’ve been fed on a daily basis by our friends, imams, teachers, the media and national leaders are actually true. I believe that God gave us this gift for a reason. Might as well use it.

****

Ridhuan Tee is right and wrong both at the same time. He has publicly claimed that Muslims should infiltrate churches to have a better understanding of what Christians truly say about Muslims in such enclosed environments.

That would actually be an interesting exercise; I do feel that even with all the crap flying around in the different forms of mediated ‘discussions’, we have yet to truly see and feel and know for a fact what other groups truly think of us. Just as I am sure the likes of Mr Tee and his friends have plenty to say at the mamak, I am also convinced that with different contexts, different agendas are brought to the fore.

Unfortunately, it is not all that likely we are able to set much of our own feet into churches as freely nowadays. The way society has developed both by and of itself has not allowed for such acts to be perpetrated, which is a sad indication not only of those who lead from above but also those who take the charge from the ground.

I used to laugh about how the Christian groups at KDU College and Monash University used to promote their events with the big words, “All are welcome!” Of course, that’s before you notice the tiny little asterisk that followed it: “Non-Muslims only.” These are the so-called educated people we’re talking about. That itself is yet another post for another day, but whatever it is, it is not as open as it probably used to be (though that depends on the romantic tint with which we view the past; it could well be that such tensions already existed from way back when).

Was my own experience a form of Christianisation? Maybe, maybe not. I’m inclined to believe that it’s just a group of people who have an agenda they want to be accepted on some level by many people, but you can apply that to pretty much everyone. I have no doubt that Christians try to convert people to the high heavens. I also have no doubt that Muslims, Jews, Hindus and many others, in their own ways, have very similar objectives carried out in very similar ways. That is one of the main ways a religion grows.

Here’s the key thing, though: was it successful? Absolutely not. It was not successful because I had a strong belief in my own faith and principles. I am able to consider these things in a more critical fashion because I believe I had been educated by my family and my teachers (amongst others) well enough to withstand whatever that comes my way.

That is also why Mr Tee is wrong. He talks about groups that have an agenda, those with objectives related to the overturning of our own ideas and ideals. He fails to consider that many people, maybe even most people, have a certain sense of what they want and what they don’t want.

This in itself can be dangerous; logic is potentially our own worst enemy, because we are going to believe in what we believe, cherry picking the various anecdotes and examples to counter others with “But my friend…”, “My uncle…” and any such variance that we can think of.

What this whole incident has shown, however, is how little we think of ourselves. The fear some segments of society has tried to generate is aimed at the belief that if we are ourselves weak. We do not truly believe in what we believe, and we do not truly fight for our own principles.

I totally and utterly disagree with that notion. Just because we are presented with a notion that is against what we think, it does not mean we accept immediately and completely these notions at the expanse of our own identity and character. We are human beings, forged out of the rock by the different discourses we come across and are exposed to.

That is not to say that we don’t change our minds. Of course we do. People have changed beliefs and faiths before, and that will continue to happen. However, that is a result of a combination of different things, the insurmountable and irrefutable mountain of evidence presenting itself bit by bit to the point where it is difficult to deny.

It’s the little things that occur in so many ways, before it finally…clicks.

What Mr Tee is saying is those who have an agenda will constantly try to undermine us, with especial regards to the Christian community. What I am saying is that we as human beings are better than that, and it is far more useful to think things over in a critical fashion to decide for ourselves, rather than letting others control that for us. It ain't going to be your friends, Mr Tee, the church or any films I make that will change your mind. It will be you.

Fight for your beliefs and don’t lose your shit over those who really have no power over us. Seriously, have a look at all these people who spout these things, and consider how much power they actually and literally (don’t) have.

Keep the faith, and everything will be fine.

The van is going to pick us all up soon anyways. And then we’ll find out the truth.

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