Double Take

If there's one thing you, me, and Indiana Jones can all agree on, it's that Nazis are bad news. We might argue over whether certain illicitly liberated artifacts actually "belong in a museum," but there's no disputing that when you see this:  

swastika-7.jpg's time to grab your whip.

Except not.

As newcomers to Korea, we could not get over all the swastikas. Seriously, they're everywhere. Our disoriented brains went straight to Indie mode, overlooking the fact that these were the wrong color, angle, and orientation to reference the Third Reich.*


The swastika is an ancient symbol associated with multiple religions across the world, including Buddhism. (And, if you go back a ways, Christianity.) About a quarter of Koreans are Buddhist. To them, this isn't a symbol of attempted genocide; it's the Buddha's footprint. The underside of Buddha's feet are covered with symbols, including a tiny swastika on each toe. It's also used on maps and buildings to indicate temples. Along with lotus flowers, the swastika is the most common Buddhist symbol we've seen.


If you think about it, swastikas are a pretty basic doodle. It's not really surprising they turn up all over history, from Navajo weavings to ancient Greek pottery. Just last week the BBC ran an article on the diverse history of the swastika. It turns out they could once be found all over America, from Boy Scout badges to Coca Cola adverts.

While it weirded me out to see Coke swastika photos on the BBC, I hardly notice them around Korea anymore. We spent a few hours hiking around a temple this weekend, and we were on our way out before I noticed the handrails we'd been walking along.


I didn't even see this one until we looked at the pictures.


So it's just as well Indiana Jones never adventured in Korea. The poor guy would've had a paranoid breakdown.


*Not that Buddhists are the only one freaking out westerners. Korean Christian churches top their spires with blood red, neon crosses. Against the black night sky they look frankly satanic (the opposite, I imagine, of what they're going for).