Penis Paradise. Palgongsan National Park
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life in Korea, it’s that cocks can turn up in the oddest places and at the most unexpected times. Of course, if you’re a westerner you might be surprised as we so often perceive Korea as conservative in its values. Well of course it’s freaking conservative! If you’ve been socialised and educated in one of those degenerate moral and ethical cesspits, such as the UK or USA, you cannot fail to perceive Korea as naive and innocent. Most westerners, myself included, are so used to cesspit values we hardly notice the toilet paper and bits of turd clinging to our bodies as we travel the globe. Being British and from the land where teenage pregnancy and STI’s are at ‘epidemic proportions,’ in Korea, with one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world, 2.1 per thousand, it is quite natural to perceive the country as conservative and even innocent. Ironically, despite Korea’s low rate of STI’s and teenage pregnancy, the existing figures are a current social and political concern! I am neither religious nor particularly moralistic but, I prefer my students, especially ones under 14, to be innocent as opposed promiscuous, predatory, precocious, tarty and cheap.
In Autumn last year, I visited Palgongsan National Park, on the edge of Daegu. After a very delicious smoked duck barbecue, I took a little troll around the restaurant grounds only to discover 42 penises, (yes, I actually counted them!), all poking skywards and congregated in an area about the size of a large living room. This little patch of cock I endearingly referred to as Penis Paradise. On my initial trip, I’d forgotten to take my camera and all year I’d been planning to go back and capture, albeit it on a digital, the only cocks I am probably likely to get close enough to touch between now and the grave. You can imagine how gutted I was when I enthusiastically arrived at my little paradise, tucked away in some obscure corner of the mountains, only to discover all but one cock remained. The adjoining restaurant had made some alterations but even after trolling around the building and snooping in tucked away corners, it became apparent I’d missed my one and only opportunity.
Where a patch of proud penises had majestically stood there remained one solitary cock which poked up pathetically from a surrounding pile of junk robbing it of any remaining grandeur. Up closer it retained an air of pride despite probably being the poorest specimen with a shaft looking hacked, holed and even split as if old or simply unfinished. The other ones had been smooth, perfected and each imbued with particular qualities suggested by both the nature of their wood as well as their individual design; qualities that only someone who likes natural wood and cock could appreciate.
Penis Paradise had originally stood outside a carpenter’s workshop/gallery and inside I found another penis. It was a big fat number, somewhat interesting but with a face carved on one side which I didn’t particularly like but it had the bonus of and added appendage ….yet another cock.
Knotted and gnarled were the qualities that had enamored me when I first encountered that patch of penises. Korean wood is invested with a strange quality probably induced by struggling into life in quite difficult surroundings. Back in England, near where I live, are some examples of the most enormous oak trees and in a five-minute cycle I can be stood under trees that Constable himself painted. Korean mountain forests exude a sense of gargantuan Bonsai and walking in one, especially when daylight is ebbing, is like wandering through a Mahler symphony, most especially, his fourth. It’s a dark, warped, and knotted world, with craggy imposing crops of rock, mossy and lichened, the perfect background for goblins, ghosts and other imaginary forest creatures. There are no immense oaks on those rugged rocky slopes where every tree has had to fight its way into existence with roots seeking out and voraciously burrowing into nutritious gaps and fissures in that dense, granite-like base. Tress are wind swept, stunted, knotted, gnarled and twisted in manners which betray both pain and tenacity.
In my last high school, the top class of first, second and third year students, were called, ‘so-namu’ (소나무), ‘pine tree, classes,’ and the boys affectionately called, ‘so-namu.’ ‘He’s ‘so-namu’ would be used to describe and explain a boy’s exam success or identify the fact he was in the top class. That pained-tenacious existence, evident in Korean forests where life has been fought for, exists on other plains: you see it in the bodies of old men and women, bodies muscled and knotted, damaged and strengthened by an arduous life, yet supple enough to sit cross-legged, all a rarity in the west. I have seen old grannies who cannot stand up straight and are forced to walk with a right angle between their spine and legs, bodies damaged by a lifetime of carrying children or heavy loads on their backs, sit into a cross-legged position, and rise, without using their hands or moving their feet. Even at forty, I had to get on all fours to escape this position. Sometimes you see it in the bodies of younger children, but this is without doubt rapidly disappearing. I have several nine-year olds, usually ones whose hobbies are taekwondo, hapkido, or komdo, with six packs and thighs looking like they regularly squat. You see it in the faces of students as they trudge, bleary eyed from school to haggwon and on to another haggwon and then to the reading room, life a constant round of tests and assignments. Pain and tenacity are features of Korea which are engraved into the education system, their martial arts, encapsulated by the popular phrase ‘fighting!’ and also a reflection of their history. Penis Paradise was intriguing because wrought in the bodies of each penis, in both the nature of the wood and their design, was a sense of that pain-and tenacity – the struggle for life and triumph at its persistence.
Only one cock stood, an epitaph to its vanished members. Where had they gone? In fact, they’d been sold for exhibition at the Haeshindang Folk Village, Samcheok, also known as Penis Park.
With only one cock standing, the juicy aroma of barbecued smoked duck, attracted my attention. Putting my camera away, I went and enjoyed a wholesome meal. It’s no substitute for the real thing, but here is the menu: