In Jeolla, laughs are in the mail

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In Jeolla, laughs are in the mail

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Postman Kim Cheon-su, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer five years ago, gets a laugh from his fellow postmen near the Central Government Complex in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, after attending a postmen’s luncheon at the Blue House on Nov. 25. By Byun Sun-goo

The senior citizens’ center in Jeongeup, North Jeolla, echoed with laughter on a recent afternoon as they watched a man pull a red rose from his empty pocket. When he had finished the trick, the 10 or so seniors gathered there clapped in delight, with exclamations of “Amazing!” ringing out through the room. Next, the man covered a grain of rice with a cloth and then swept it back dramatically to reveal a bunch of rice crackers that he then passed around to his audience.

The man behind the magic was Kim Cheon-su, 48, a postman by trade and an occasional magician with a license to laugh.

Every day, Kim circles his 90-130 kilometer route around Sannae and Sanoe Townships in Jeongeup, delivering 800-1,000 pieces of mail and parcels of laughter to those he meets along the way, for he is also a licensed laughter therapist and party magician.

“When things are difficult, try laughing like [actor] Choi Bul-am. Here, try this,” Kim said at the senior center, throwing his head back and letting out a hearty guffaw, after which his elderly audience joined in.

But the jovial postman could not always find a reason to smile. In fact, five years ago, he had little reason to believe he would still be alive today.

Kim, who loved drinking, smoking and talking, was told on March 27, 2006, that he had stage four rectal cancer and 21 days later, he went into surgery. At that point, he said he thought he’d give up everything to live.

A year later, he saw an Internet ad for laughter therapy that said, “Conquer [your fears] through laughter.”

Inspired, Kim started studying to become a laughter therapist in Gwangju and within six months received a level-one certificate.

Though he initially thought he wouldn’t have anywhere to use his skills, except in his own life, he later started thinking about the elderly people living alone in the area. So he started visiting senior citizen centers there. He laughed and the elderly laughed along. In the process, he helped heal both himself and those he visited.

Afterwards, he studied party magic, learning simple tricks he thought could bring people joy. He also became an expert on voice phishing scams, which often target the elderly.

This February, five years after his diagnosis, Kim was told he wouldn’t have to return to the hospital for a year because his cancer was in remission. Later on, Kim received an award for outstanding service as a postman.

In a phone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo last week, Kim said, “The world looks different now. It’s like I’ve been given a second life. I thought I was helping others, but good things happened to me .?.?. I was the one who was helped. In the morning, I want to wake up an hour earlier and in the evening, I want to sleep just a little later. I want to be with even more people. Because of the people around me, I am living life all over again.”


By Go Jung-ae [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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