Nothing funny about this wisdom“I don’t wanna call it nirvana because that would be too easy. You don’t have to go to the temple to be a monk. Just be one.”
That’s what Itaewon’s newest homeless person, and quite likely its first of the foreign variety, will tell you when you ask why he’s been sleeping outside. Then he’ll hit you with some worn-out Bob Dylan line from “Like a Rolling Stone.”
A Canadian, Geoff Viljama has been homeless for a few months, after having worked in Seoul, and lived indoors, for nearly 10 years as a marginally legal expatriate.
Maybe you’ve seen Geoff already ― he’s hard to miss. His base is at the crest of that narrow road climbing west from Pizza Hut. That’s where he sleeps, drinks and accosts passersby with wisecracks. His vagrant uniform ― a ragged T-shirt, saggy sweatpants and laceless army boots ― projects the appropriate slovenliness. His alcohol-to-food ratio, rising since he hit the streets, has rendered him rather gaunt and wobbly.
Now, while Geoff is nearly bereft of worldly goods, he’s never poor when it comes to words. Give him an opening and they flow in torrents.
The U.S. troop relocation? “They say they’re leaving Yongsan,” he’ll say. “But you know what? They were never there. That’s all pristine land. It’s kept that way to remind Koreans that they can’t really have what’s theirs.”
When he exhausts himself on a topic, he falls back on spirituality: “I’m starting to believe in God and stuff. I used to go in for all that ‘God is dead’ crud. But the fact is, when it’s all said and done, Nietzsche’s the one who’s dead.”
Like other religious types, Geoff now prides himself on renouncing material goods. But the generosity of his friends gets in the way. “I try to give it all away. The problem is, it all comes back.”
Giving it away, he says, is one of two things he needs to do before he can quit Korea’s shores. The other is to make his mark. “This is my home. I’ve been here 10 years. I want to do something here, something big. I want to make Korea better.”
Actually, the shopkeepers around Geoff’s patch know what he can do to make Korea better. The local ajummas say it when they grimace at him. The owners of the two Indian restaurants there say it when they hint that he’s hurting their business. The proprietor of the exclusive Mu-Art Cafe says it when he shoos Geoff away.
Until a couple of weeks ago, when he wore out his welcome, Geoff was wont to wander into the Mu-Art, pick up a guitar and entertain the high-class patrons. “I played, I played for rich people,” he’ll explain. “They were all nice enough, and I had a good time playing songs for them, but they were all missing one thing ― heart. Those people have no heart.”
Whether you’re rich or not, before you bid Geoff adieu, he’ll ask you to buy him a bottle of something. Soju will do, he’ll say.
Don’t call it nirvana.
by Mike Ferrin