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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Haesindang Park: Or, Fertility Central

It's been about 6 weeks since Sam and I visited Haesindang Park, and I believe I have recovered enough now to write with mature analysis and wise insights rather than just hoots and giggles.  (Then again, we'll see how that goes. No promises.)

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.
But, as if to tease our unsatisfied curiosity, we've since seen internet whisperings of several such museums/parks around the country. Also, in our travels so far, Korea, being wonderfully fond of public, traditional art, has revealed to us a number of totem-pole-like sculptures frankly depicting, ah, maleness.  And even this: late last summer, outside a rather famous nearby temple, sidewalk ajummas were selling bottles of oil (?) with a very distinct male shape. I passed by quickly, not believing my eyes; I definitely didn't take photos. David and Elisabeth didn't notice at all; Nick and Sam snorted for weeks.

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.

Road Trip (clockwise from top left): We happily entered crab restaurant territory's creative ad zone;
despite the spring weather, the mountaintops still showed off a lovely dusting of snow;
a squid restaurant ad rather boldly foreshadowed our visit to the totems of Haesindang;
some clever ajummas turned a semi-trailer into a portable fabric/quilt shop for road-side sales;
the pickup-truck-cattle-transportation method looked rather fun for the cows.

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.
Finally, we found Haesindong Park's small parking lot and got out to stretch, taking in our surroundings and locating the bathrooms (we are so smart now that we bring our own toilet paper, courtesy of gas stations' free gift packages when you get a fill-up).  Or perhaps we were just stalling, putting off the awkward moments when mother and barely-adult son would venture into the land of very tall totems.

Many Korean cities have cartoon-ish mascots and English slogans (e.g., Powerful Pohang, Dynamic Busan, Beautiful Gyeongju) and Samcheok now wishes it had used spellcheck; the area map showed a nearby "Fork Museum" that intrigued us in a country of chopsticks; the park's entrance arch; a boarded-up restaurant's less-than-helpful description.
Ok, it's time.  We entered through the arched entry, each paid 3000 won (about $2.80), then wandered down the winding brick mountain path, wondering what exactly we might find.  But before we get to the parts and pictures you're most curious about, I must relate the legend that supposedly explains this park. And I got this from a brochure, so don't go accusing me of making this stuff up.

As a sinful human being, my favorite part of this brochure was the carefully-corrected typos, covered with stickers.  Disappointingly, the "fork" museum got a completely new makeover as a "folk" museum; the plural "phalluses" was incorrectly corrected as a singular"phallus."   And for the careful viewer, you can see two of the totems.

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.
{Note: In later consultation, Nick insightfully suggested (from a religio-social-cultural-historical worldview perspective) that we need but read between the lines to fully derive this legend's meaning. Thus: If girl = ocean goddess, and ocean = infertile, an offering of some mighty powerful fertility options (with requisite rituals and sacrifices) may indeed restore the proper relationship between the divine and the human.  Whatever the explanation, the legend continues to be celebrated to this day (!) with annual spring festivities, and we've already witnessed a ritual for the sea god's blessing (see previous post), so I'm trying to remain open-minded.}

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....
After recovering from our initial shock, we continued eagerly down the path, encountering many, many more poles, each uniquely carved with faces, animals, or even multiple (and anatomically quite optimistic) depictions of well, you know.  Dead girl spirit appeasements.

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).
In addition to the totem poles (and benches, see-saw, and other creative places to depict enormous phalluses) we found a traditional-style Korean home on display.  Bending down to look through the open paper-and-bamboo doors, we saw life-size models of people going about their daily...wait a minute.  A partly-clothed couple were making love in one room while their son (?) peeked at them from the next room and a guy in the third room was puttering about his workshop.  Oh.  Awkward moment with son.  Continuing on.  On a hillside we came up behind three life-sized fishermen standing as if peeing (a pose I was actually not familiar with until I had sons); as we approached we noticed that their exposed anatomy was distinctly disproportionate to their height.  Suffice it to say that Sam enjoyed striking a similar stance alongside these hearty menfolk.  Further along, the 12 Chinese zodiac symbols were each carved into stones that were themselves in the shape of...well, it's probably obvious by now.

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.
My favorite part of this place was undoubtedly a mural that appeared to show proper ocean-going ship behaviors.  We couldn't understand a word of it, but the pictures were priceless.

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.
After happily touring the fishing museum's first floor we headed upstairs and entered--WAIT A MINUTE!  It seems that the "Fishing Village" part of the museum's tricky title refers strictly to the G-rated floor displays and the "Folk" (fork?) part of the title refers to the R- and X-rated displays located upstairs in the Sex Folklore Information Center.  Not ones to pass up a chance at free education, and having seen a life's-supply of phalluses in the last few hours, we ventured fearlessly forth.

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.
We drove home, thoughtful and more than a bit overwhelmed with all that we had learned and the many questions that our experience had generated.  I'm still not sure if I got the Cool Mom award, but my curiosity about this particular aspect of Korean culture has been thoroughly quenched.

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:

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