Elwood 5566

The Rose of Sharon – 무궁화 – National Flower of Korea

Posted in plants and trees, Quintesentially Korean, seasons by 노강호 on October 21, 2010

Despite the ‘Rose of Sharon’s,‘ grand, popular names, ‘the immortal flower’ and ‘everlasting flower,’ I always have a slight loathing when I see one, which is everyday as one grows right outside my one-room. My loathing is totally unfounded.

Korea’s national flower, ‘the Rose of Sharon‘ (Hibiscus syriacus), comes from a deciduous shrub the flower of which bears a striking resemblance to that of the tree mallow ( Lavatera arborea or Malva dendromorpha) which is native to much of Europe.

flower of the tree mallow

National flower of Korea (무궁화) 'Rose of Sharon.' This was actually the first flower of the year on this plant (July 5th 2010).

Both plants are shrubs and have soft pink flowers of the same size set in a five petal arrangement.  The five petals are significant  in terms of the ‘Rose of Sharon’ as they symbolise Korea and appear in numerous official and unofficial emblems.

 

the five petals of the Rose of Sharon

an important symbol

The Korean name for the flower, mu-gung-hwa (무궁화), combines two words, ‘mu-gung’ (무궁) meaning ‘immortal’ or ‘everlasting,’ and ‘hwa’ (화) meaning ‘flower.’ It really is the case that the flower is long lasting and the same flowers will bloom all summer and into autumn, closing every evening and bursting back into flower as the sun rises. The ‘Rose of Sharon,’ associates the plant with Syria, where it supposedly originated but personally, I prefer the Korean name as it reminds one of the tenacity which is reflected in so many aspects of Korean culture and landcape. ‘Tenacity,’ is both one of the tenets of  ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) and WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) taekwondo, and a theme in my post on the  wood carvings I photographed in Pal-gong-san National Park, Daegu. Historically, The flower was first cited in Korean text around 1400 years ago and hence has a long standing  historical tradition making it ideal for its reference in the Korean National Anthem.

flower variations

I watched the mu-gung-hwa outside my one-room all year, from the appearance of the first buds until mid-August, when some blight shriveled the leaves and killed the flowers. Given its association with ‘immortality,’ this was a disappointment serving to remind me of the realities of life.

My one-room mugunghwa in May

June 15th

July 5th and the first blooms

in full bloom

And why do I have an irrational loathing for the mu-gung-hwa? Because it so closely resembles the tree mallow which is a prolific shrub especially in coastal regions of Southern England.  Several years ago, a friend gave me a small cutting which I planted in my front garden and within three years it had grown into a  large shrub, blocking the light in my front window and necessitating constant pruning. No matter how vigorously you prune it to the ground, it springs back in mockery and within weeks needs to be re-attacked.

Footnote

The mugunghwa-ho (무궁화호), is the cheapest type of Korean train service and is often  the only service on some lines.

 

 

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

 

 

Penis Paradise. Palgongsan National Park

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Daegu, Entertainment by 노강호 on May 19, 2010

Highly recommended

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.

純 순수한 - 'Innocent '

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.

Surrounded by junk - Sacrilege!

A badly hacked shaft in need of some oil!

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.

Two for the price of one

The epitomisation of Korea

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.

'Tenacity' is often a key concept in Taekwondo, Hapkido and Komdo tenets

A reflection of Korea on many levels

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.

Family Fun at Penis Park

Penis Park, Samcheok, A Collection of colossal Cocks

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:

Smoked barbecued duck a specialty