Fresh, thoughtful journalism and creative works produced by students
of the School of Art, Communication and English at the University of Sydney.

Pious “joker” in Chinatown : injured South Korean elder dreams of building a church

“I’m already 88 years old now, I’ve experienced a lot, ” said Elder Paik. “Yet I believe love always exists.”

Most people who go to Chinatown in Sydney will see a busker standing at the intersection of the sidewalk and the road, dressed as a clown with a couple of thick books, a hula hoop, a colourful necklace of flowers, an advertising paper on the ground and a violin case. Different from other buskers, this man doesn’t sing or dance or display his special skill like vaudeville. Instead, he just plays a hula hoop or leans against the traffic light and reads his books when he feels tired. If they come closer, they would be surprised at the rough old face with deep wrinkles hiding under the clown makeup. The many years past have carved on his face rudely like a dagger.

“He almost comes here every day,” said Nini, who works in a milk tea store opposite the traffic lights. “I have a full time job working here and I see him nearly every day. He usually comes to the traffic lights at noon with his hula hoop and books. He can stand here the whole afternoon till six or seven in the evening.”

This old man, Paul Paik, is from South Korea. He was a soldier fighting against North Korea during the Korean War. There is a bullet hole in his right leg and his right finger is completely twisted because of the war. But he doesn’t show any hate or rage against this world. Instead, his dream is to see South and North Korea united. He believes that one day people from each side will treat each other like a family with love.

“North Korea and South Korea should be together. China, Japan… Same! We are together. There should not be war any more!” said Elder Paik.

He also has a Chinese name, Bai Nanzhe (白南喆), given to him by his father. “My father gave me my English name too,” Elder Paik smiled and explained. “Paul! It is from Bible!”

Coming from a Christian family, Elder Paik has been a pious Christian for nearly 80 years and he deeply believes its doctrine. Despite being injured during the war, he chooses to bring smiles and happiness to people. As a clown busker in Haymarket for over ten years, he thinks his existence can make this world a bit more colourful. Besides, he has the faith that love is the key to saving people’s souls and save them from pain and misfortune.

“Everybody likes me!” said Elder Paik. He loves to pose for photos with passersby or tourists. If he sees any children waiting at the traffic lights with their parents, he kindly asks if they want to take a photo with him. Although he can’t speak English fluently in full sentences, he tries his best to explain his understanding of the Bible to anyone who is interested.

But Elder Paik has another dream: he wants to build a church in his home country. Luckily he has the support of many people and agents. Together with his hula hoop and violin case, there are seven Bibles in different versions beside him on the ground, one donated by the Central Baptist Church near Chinatown.

“I’m from CBC and I can honestly understand his optimism to the world,” said Jane, who has become Christian for 15 years. “Years ago I have experienced a really really dark time and I thought I ain’t gonna make it… I mean, really, I may probably kill myself without the guide of god. So I think that ‘s why he chooses to be so kind to the world even the world was not that kind to him… That’s the power of God and that’s the power of being a Christian.”

Except the bible, people from either CBC or passerby will give Elder Paik food and daily use sometimes. For example, one day there’s a KFC snack box with two bananas next to his prop. “Two kind Spanish girls gave this to me.” Elder Paik smiled, “ they are beautiful!”

“It’s a very normal thing for us…even this old man is not a member of us. Because God emphasizes that there should be love… As brothers and sisters in membership we pray together, we emotionally, financially support each other… Besides, we are definitely willing to support whomever is in need. Although building a church is not that easy… You need to get enough money and most importantly you need to have fundamental group of people who have the same aim and work with you… Anyway, at least I can bring him some food and have chat with him. That’s what I can do to help…” Jess added.

We don’t know when exactly Elder Paik can finally make his dream come true, but there’s one thing for sure: this 88-year-old South Korean man has already brought his love, his optimism and his pious belief to people around.

“Remember, kid.” Elder Paik said sincerely and earnestly, “When you go back to your country, remember to build a church there!”

There is a bullet hole in his right leg and his right finger is completely twisted because of the war. But he doesn’t show any hate or rage against this world.


Zoe Wu
Zoe Wu
Zoe Wu (Wu Ruoyi), an international student studying media and communication in The University of Sydney. Aged 20, Cantonese, book lover, film lover, writing lover who used to be a rebel. Always be keen on observing people around and digging their stories behind.

Want fresh, thoughtful journalism in your inbox? Subscribe to Salience.