The principal and I sit for morning coffee. He beings to ask me about the dolhareubang –what do I know about the stone grandfather statues that are the icon of Jeju Island? In the Chosun dynasty, he says, they stood outside the 문, the gate, of the 성, the castle. There are, in fact, three gods of Jeju. The grandfather, a female counterpart, and, as I understand it, some kind of spirit god. The word for the place where these gods are worshipped is called a 당. Would I like to see one?
I emphatically say yes. Why did we have to wait until my last week? But no one has really tried to explain Jeju shamanism to me before. He has a statue of a reclining hareubang that he uses as an example. Do I like it? Because we will go to where someone makes very good statues and make a set and these will be my gifts so that I never forget our school.
Mrs. Ji just had a baby so we take her minivan –me, the principal, Mrs. Jang, Mrs. Ji, and Mr. Kang, and drive to a sculpture park that I went to once with my first host family. I meet the 77-year-old man who is the number one human treasure on Jeju Island. He makes the best sculpture and every piece here is his work. All hand made. We have coffee at a table outside the little shiktang there while rain drips off of ivy that has eaten the building. The catcus are blooming big yellow flowers.
He tells us he has given statues to 40 world leaders. I will recieve a dolhareubang just like ones owned by Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev. He put special work into it, he says, as I notice the traces of long faded tattoo ink on the back of his arm. He’s a very small man, dark and weathered, with that impenetrable ajassi face whose only detectable expression is a tightness around his eyes and at the most extreme corners of his mouth that I could not legitimately call a smile, but that makes me want to smile. He seems spry for 77.
So I will literally have rocks in my suitcase. We thank him and return with the statue in bubble wrap. In the car the principal insists that I pinky-swear, with the thumbs “for sure,” to become an important person like Bill Clinton one day.
So I guess now I have to.