One of thousands. These crucifixes line the city skylines.
This is the typical layout of a building in my neighborhood. Mixed use commercial spaces organized without any rhyme or reason, hundreds of neon bulbs advertising everything from car dealerships to nail salons, and always, always God on top looking down on it all.
One of the first images I can remember seeing on the ride home from the Incheon Airport upon my immeidate arrival were crucifixes. Hundreds and hundreds of them, lining what seemed like every single building on the side of the highway.
I had always known that Christianity was a big part of many Koreans lives. The high school I attended was, when I last checked 45% Asian in population, many of those being Korean Americans. One of the common threads among the Korean American population that attended my school was active involvement in one of the many Korean Churches in town. Many of them played in church basketball leagues, volunteered with church groups, and participated in youth events like dances and church camp. I had also done some research into religious demographics before arriving here in Korea. I found that surprisingly, roughly half of the population does not self identify as belonging to any religious group. However, of of the half that does, 60% are Christian (40% being protestant and 20% catholic). Incidently, the next largest religious group are buddhist making up roughly 40 % of the religious population (I'm aware that these two groups add up to 100%, these are rough figures. The remainder of the religious population is miniscule in comparison and is comprised of small sects of confucianism, new asian religions, and Korean Shamanism.). Some other impressive stats are Korea is second only to the bible thumping United States in the number of Christian missionaries they send around the world and Korea also houses, by some accounts, the largest Christian church in the world, at last count in 2007 the Yoido Full Gospel Church had a congregation of 830,000 parishioners.
Last weekend when I went out with one of my pious christian coworkers I questioned her about how young Koreans typically meet one another and begin dating. The first answer she gave me was none to surprising. She told me that it was very common for friends to set each other up on blind dates. Okay, perhaps a little awkward, but really nothing too strange there. What came next didn't so much come as a surprise as it did a strange affirmation of what I had already expected. She told me that many young people meet each other in church groups and social events. Granted, this is coming from a young, relatively uncorrupted church going Korean woman, but still, with a country as pious as Korea, it's not hard to believe that her story is not so uncommon. Her response further peeked my interest. I asked her, "so, how many people go to your church?" Without any hint of self consciousness, she earnestly replied "about 7,000." Holy shit, indeed. She told me that the church services were typically broken up by age groups and other demographics that would likely put people of similar age and status into services together, hence increasing the likelihood of meeting a suitable date. Whoa. Pretty strange to me, but then again I'm not exactly a god fearing child of Christ.
One last note on the aesthetics of these omnipresent electric crucifixes: Why do they have to look so garish and gaudy. They look like they were designed by an 80's coke dealer. I mean there are strip clubs in Gresham with better neon signs than some of these churches. With congregations numbering in the thousands, you'd think some of these churches could shell out for a more timeless, at least less visually offensive sign. Feel free to weigh in.