I expected the worst from South Korea. Most prospective ESL teachers are fed horror stories about the monotony of life, of architecture, manners, and, well, really just about everything. In my head were impressions of traffic clogged roadways and a dour and demure populace. Research on websites and youtube videos seemed to confirm a rather colorless existence. ‘Sacrifice a year and make the money’ as one message board post read.
Luckily, I wasn’t sacrificing a year, merely five weeks to work in an intensive ESL summer camp. The pay was great and the children were fun, but the hours were intensive, 8 hours a day 6 days a week, which left little time to explore the country.
Despite the hours, a co-teacher and I decided to spend one of our short weekends out of town, and made a bee-line from our Seoul address to the town of Samcheok on the eastern coastline.
While I had read a lot about mundane industrial areas, I had heard next to nothing about South Korea’s coastline. I was surprised to find that it was beautiful and rugged, and even more surprised to find along that coastline a park filled with statues of penises. Not just a few penises, but lots and lots of penises. Stone and wood penises, penises with penises, penises with built in vaginas, a zodiac chart with penises, and finally just statues of Korean men…with really big penises.
The place is called Haesindang Park, and overlooks a pristine blue ocean. Even after the four hour bus ride from Seoul with the expressed interest of visiting a place literally called the ‘Penis Park’, it is hard to be prepared for the imaginative ways Koreans have thought of to demonstrate the power of the male genitalia. A double-headed penis as a directional marker was a personal favorite.
Outside of notorious areas in SE Asia, I had normally found traveling through Asia to be (at least on the surface) a sexually tame area. Tradition and protocol seem to dictate that people keep modesty and save face. So it was a bit of a shock to come across such blatant eroticism in South Korea — which of course begs the question as to why all these penis icons exist in the first place.
Local legend tells the story of a virgin swept out to sea in rough waters. Her lover fails to save her and she tragically drowns. The villagers were devastated, and when the local fishing industry soon after goes to ruin, they believe a curse has been placed upon them. One day, a forlorn fisherman out in his boat masturbates, his semen falling into the ocean, and miraculously the villagers’ fortunes start to revive. They discover that the virgin’s restless spirit can be appeased and the townspeople set to work building sexually potent statues in view of the shore.
We spent the day wandering among these outlandish statues, laughing and taking ridiculous photos. The dark colors of the penises blended beautifully with deep azure of the Pacific Ocean. After the park we walked along the beach and along with dozens of other families we frolicked in the shallow water, some cold beers in our hands. As the sun slowly set and we made our way back to the bus stand, our brief voyage into the world of South Korean dicks came to end. I pondered how a park like this would be received back in parts of the USA, and I realized that maybe South Korea wasn’t so prudish after all.