The tiny fishing village of Haeshindang appeases the tortured spirit of a young woman who died a virgin…with hundreds of penis sculptures.
But first, it’s Chuseok, Korea’s Thanksgiving. Families spend the long holiday traveling to their father’s family’s home and paying respects to their ancestors with ceremonial bows, preparing a traditional Korean feast and exchanging gifts. Along with most of the other 30,000 expatriates currently working in the ROK, I used the time off to travel and took my fellow teachers up on a coastal weekend trip in Samcheok. The main attraction being one of Korea’s culturally puzzling destinations, “Penis Park.”
What’s strangest to me isn’t so much the type of park it is, but where it is. Korea is very conservative; you can’t wear sleeveless shirts without risking a fine for indecent exposure, there are funny little signs forbidding PDA on subways and buses and I know a lot of young adults who feel like they have to hide the fact that they’re dating someone. Men and women check into discrete love motels to be with each other secretly and teens use DVD rooms to rent and “watch movies” in since they can’t invite each other over. So a public park dedicated to sex? Out in the open? You never cease to surprise me, Korea. It takes six hours in all to travel from Cheongju to the Gangneun hub to Samcheok Station. And on a particularly balmy day, trapped on a bus full of loud vacationing foreigners and disgruntled natives, enduring the smothering fog together through endless winding valleys, it feels every bit of six hours. This post is probably not safe for work. So this is your warning. Also my travel companions aren’t very shy when it comes to posing with giant erections, so scroll at your own (dis)comfort.
There are several versions of The Legend of Auebawai. It goes roughly like this; 400 years ago a newlywed husband left his virgin bride on a rock close to shore so she could collect seaweed while he went out to fish. He promised to be back before long but a terrible storm set in and the man (for one disputed reason or another) was not able to keep that promise and she promptly drowned at sea. Soon the fish in the region disappeared and fishermen were not making any catches. The village believed that the unsettled soul of the woman must have felt robbed of her marital rite and now haunted the area, scaring away all the carp. Fortunately one night a drunken sailor stumbled out of a beerhouse and relieved himself (again, in one disputed way or another) into the sea. Curiously, more fish returned than the fishermen knew what to do with and their families made fortunes. The villagers surmised that the ghostbride must have liked what she saw, so to continue soothing her spirit, and thus maintaining the burgeoning stockpiles of fish, the people carved wooden phalluses to display along the coastline. Each year visitors have come to the park to celebrate with carving new statues as a traditional folk event. However, the fishing museum posted that last year was the final ceremony after a group of American tourists were disturbed enough to have the event banned, instead of just skipping the visit to the eccentric park.
If you look past the sculptures, Haeshindang is actually a remarkably beautiful coastal park.
Ladies and gentlemen, Penis-heng.
Playing golf while we wait forty minutes for the next bus back to Samcheok.
Dried squid for sale in the market.
Pool. Harmless enough. This is the last photo taken before we started getting complimentary drinks from the hall owners and rampaged through the streets of sleepy Samcheok. A guy got hit in the face by a half-eaten microwaved cheeseburger. Not America’s finest representation. And not by me, for the record. I chased frantically behind at first, apologizing to every local that had the misfortune of coming in contact with us (surprisingly with more fluency than I’ve ever had sober). Until that burger slap. That guy objectively deserved that. No not really, he was totally innocent, but there was nothing to be said at that point. We just had to run.
Deep, back-of-the-bus discussioning going on here. You tend to get to know people when you start talking on the long rides home.