First, some back story to explain how in the world we ended up at a place informally known as penis park. Last summer, getting restless with our tiny temporary apartment space, Nick and I required our poor children to do some online research and create powerpoints (not-more-efficiently called "PPTs" in Korea) about city/locations we could visit in Korea. They did so and gave truly informative family presentations on Pohang (where we live), Daegu (1 hour west, also known as Land of Costco), Busan (2 hours south), Gyeongju (ancient capital, 30 minutes south), and Jeju Island (the Korean version of Hawaii, about 5 hours southwest, now infamous as the destination for the ill-fated Sewol ferry).
And that little summer homework is where we learned that Jeju features an outdoor sculpture museum/park (which, showing great wisdom in recognition of more tender readers, I shall neither name nor link here). Said park/museum embraces (exposes? exaggerates unto fearsome proportions?) all the wondrous (and heretofore unimagined) facets of human lovemaking. We were stunned (and not least because a child had stumbled across this in an innocent research project). Beyond that, we were baffled. How could this sort of place exist in a culture where public affection is nearly taboo, sexual innuendo doesn't appear to exist, and sexuality is relatively rare in the media (see previous blog)? Inexplicable. And, to the dismay of our ever-curious minds, no one would talk to us about it (pretty understandable, in hindsight, as we're new to this Christian campus and asking about Korean sex museums could possibly strike folks as a bit strange).
|The boys admire a replica of a traditional totem that's found at Jeju. |
I'm not sure what Elisabeth is doing or to whom.
Now you have the back story. In March, son Sam, 18 years old and nearing his date to return to the US, was quite interested in checking items off his Korea Bucket List. We had learned of Haesindang Park, just 2 hours north, rumored to be populated by many totem-pole-like sculptures depicting penises of immense proportions and features. This ranked high on the man-cub's bucket list, and I had some purely academic curiosity about this unusual aspect of Korean culture.
So, yes, when it comes right down to it, I took Sam to a penis park,. Which puts me either in the Coolest Mom Ever Club or the Let's-Take-the-Crazy-Lady-Away Club. Anyway, we drove north toward Samcheok to find this park. We boldly eschewed smartphones and GPS, having studied google maps before our departure, and thus we eventually found our winding way to Haesindang. On the way, we enjoyed some baffling yet wondrous sights.
|Getting closer: The coastal road acquired a new name in not-too-bad English; a lovely harbor and town near the park; a gigantic golden Buddha looms over the highway; a small temple's elaborately-painted entrance gate.|
Here goes the legend:
(1) Boy from fishing village drops lovely girlfriend at a nearby rocky island so she can pick seaweed (perhaps for a romantic dinner).
(2) Big storm comes up; boy can't get back to girl; she drowns.
(3) Girl's spirit is embittered and as a result, there are no longer any fish for the villagers to catch.
(4) Village decides to try appeasing the dead girl's spirit by erecting very large, wooden phalluses that face the rocky island where she died.
(5) Girl's spirit was apparently appeased and fish became plentiful again.
Now, I can't decide if it's harder to understand the belief that a dead girl's spirit would ruin the fishing industry (the big storm seems far more reasonable) or that planting 10-feet-tall phalluses would make the dead girl happy enough to return the fish. Sam and I had a good deal of fun pondering that for awhile. At some point, we realized that Christians believe things that non-believers just can't swallow, so it's interesting to be on the other side of that religious coin.
|Sam nobly sympathizes with the sad plight of the grieving boy and his about-to-be-drowned girl.|
Ok, let's go. So we stroll down the winding, bricked mountain trail, noting the spring buds and greening grass, hearing the birds...WHAT? We turned a corner and saw our very first sculptures, standing hugely but quietly amongst shrubs and flowers and benches. There was nothing subtle about the phallic forms, even when women's figures were clearly carved onto the pole. I'm not sure why we were so surprised, but we were. And laughed and pointed and wondered and took a million pictures, most of which shall not be seen until long after I, for one, am dead.
|We were still giggling at this stage of our journey, with only 20 totems down and 300+ to go....|
|Even better than the totems were Sam's mixed reactions of delight, horror, and confusion.|
|My favorite sculpture (with a plexi window showing a photo of a baby); a child carved onto another totem pole;|
an angry frog (why does this help with fertility? I have no idea).
To sum up thus far: We had a good deal of fun, pointing and posing... but after 50, then 100, then perhaps 300 phalluses, we were weary. Sam declared, with characteristic directness and humor, "I am penised out." His goal having thus been sufficiently accomplished despite the apparent miles of paths and poles yet undiscovered, we returned to visit the Village Fishing Fork (er, Folk) Museum. There we walked through displays about the history of local fishing and saw a few small aquariums.
|The wonderous backside of the Fishing Village/Folk/Fork museum; skeleton of a minke whale; |
a preserved (or papier-mache-with-googly-eyes) mola-mola, which creature our family inexplicably adores,
perhaps because it reveals God's enormous sense of humor;
Sam cuddles a preserved penguin (why is this here? penguins don't live in this hemisphere) which has been loved nearly to feather-less-death; a sign's typo that a previous grammarian gently corrected.
|This section of the mural seems to portray proper burial of a fellow (dead?) seaman; his Christian halo kind of threw me, but the smiling fish overseeing the whole thing set me off on a long giggle.|
And, the awkwardness was far greater than even we had expected. Hundreds more statues, figurines, and painting depicted evidence of (or desire for) both male and female fertility in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and wind chime arrangements. It seemed that nearly every country or world region (Indonesia, Greece, Africa) was represented here except, noticeably, North America. Many of the displays had been fondly handled, leading to significant discoloration and other wear-and-tear. Eew.
|Approximately 98% of our Folklore photos shall not be shown in any public venue. And at the end of the day, Sam concisely summarized his feelings in the museum's guest book.|
P.S. The day before Sam was to leave Korea, we drove to Gyeongju to buy some souvenirs and gifts. Getting turned around and pulling into a parking lot to get re-oriented, we quite by accident discovered the Sex Museum and Love Castle. We had no desire for a tour, but we did manage to find some fun in the parking lot: