Haesindang Park, Korea
The day was beautiful. It was a bright, cool morning. I had coffee in one hand and an organized bundle of schedules, maps, and notes written in Korean in the other. I arrived at the bus station far too early in anticipation. I had big plans for the day. Unusual plans.
To pass the time I tried to decipher Korean ads and schedules plastered to the bus shelter. I impatiently kicked around rocks in the station lot. As the bus approached a big smile came across my face. I eagerly boarded the vehicle that would take me to one of the weirdest destinations I’ve ever made the effort to see.
As the only foreigner on the bus, I couldn’t help but wonder what the bus driver and locals thought of this western girl going alone to that place. Of course, they knew exactly where I was going. Just outside of Samcheok, a charming, mid-size city I was staying in, there is a place of unmentionable parts.
Getting there was pleasant and easy. Surrounded by pretty countryside and roads endlessly lined with so many cherry blossoms that at a glance they could be mistaken for snow, I found myself lost in the wonderland of the scenic surroundings. I became mesmerized by the beautiful waves that crashed below me as we rounded rocky hillsides. Tall, thick, green trees whizzed by like smeared paint against a blue canvas as we made our way down the ebbing coast. About forty minutes later the bus slowed and the driver politely waved to let me know I had arrived. I scanned the nearly empty bus of mostly elderly locals and consider their thoughts before I said thank you and excited.
I stood alone in the road, no traffic, no people. I had been dropped off in the middle of a coastal highway on the edge of the small fishing town of Sinnam. I crossed the road to an empty parking lot that led me to a seemingly abandoned, tiny booth. I found a man behind a plexiglass barrier who sold me a ticket for a whopping 3,000 won ($2.70) with a smile. He excitedly pointed me in the direction of an arch that looked like it had been drawn in the air with magic markers. Bubbly cartoon figures indicated the beginning of the path into the park. It felt more like a Disney set and not what I expected of Haesindang Park, the Penis Park.
I followed the curved path downhill. Immediately, I was caught by the landscape around me. No, not the penises, not yet. From the top of the hill, the view was spectacular. The ocean saturated the horizon with a deep, opaque, blue. Pretty birds singing songs fluttered from cherry blossom to pine. The only thing missing was Bambi and Thumper running around the perfectly placed pathway.
The erections are made with a variety of material but mostly wood with faces carved into them. There is an array of expressions represented, some silly faces, some scary, some happy and many creative takes on anatomy. It’s a strange feeling to stand alone in a perfectly picturesque spot with peaceful views, still air, and have looming phallic figures frown and smile down upon you.
Though the park was relatively empty when I was there, though, every now and then groups of Korean tourists could be heard giggling and seen snapping pictures of each other riding giant penises. This park is not meant to be experienced alone. After all, it takes two people to ride a penis seesaw! And when you tire of that, you can relax on a bench with a friend, just watch where you sit. So many jokes, and no one to share them with. Shame.
Legend has it, once upon a time, a young virgin found herself stranded on rocks out in the ocean while her lover fished. She was swept away by a sudden storm and drowned. After that, the fish supply all but vanished. There were no fish left to catch and the fisherman blamed the tragic incident. Their desperation inspired the creation of phallic statues hoping that would please the woman who lost her life to the tumultuous waters. They believed she made the sea absent of fish. Miraculously, fish began to return and they continued to build the statutes and hold ceremonies in honor of her spirit.
It amazed me how gorgeous the gardens and landscaping were. The upkeep was meticulous. I couldn’t get past how strange it seemed to have equally as carefully crafted and perfectly placed penises everywhere, especially one that waves…
Bye bye, Haesindang Park, that was super weird.