Sunday, May 18, 2008

An island idyll part one - looking for Loveland

Unlike many Hagwon teachers, I'm lucky (and/or persistent) enough to get three weeks of independent holiday time this year. I decided to spend my first week on Jeju-do, a large volcanic island off the South coast of Korea, which is often compared to Hawaii, for its climate, palm trees, and relaxed atmosphere. It is also famous for its oranges, spring water, and strangely phallic , traditional statues called Dolharubangs, which have become the most famous symbol of the island.



Jeju has long been a popular destination for Korean tourists, especially honeymooners, and features a number of classy resorts, a variety of natural beauty spots, and an overwhelming array of man-made attractions, mostly with a distinctly skewed sensibility.

After arriving in Jeju-si, the island's largest city, and sampling some curry at the very welcoming Baghdad Cafe, I headed to Jeju Loveland, one of the must-see attractions on the island, and the only one open until midnight.



Like almost everything in South Korea, from takeaways to government buildings and entire cities, Loveland features its own unique cartoon mascots. Like most mascots, they're whimsical and friendly, although in this case they're cheeky animals, robots or aliens, but a penis with arms and a red nose, and a vagina wearing a fetching pink bonnet.

Along with these cheerful characters, Loveland's website features a description of the as the only a 'sexual theme park' in Korea. While this may conjure images of rollercoasters and teacup rides with an erotic twist, Loveland could more prosaically be described as a sculpture park, with a focus on celebrating the joys of sex in a selection* of its many forms. It was created by Seoul-based arts graduates, with the intention of 'instigating your sexual imagination', and has quickly become a fixture on any Jeju trip itinerary.



The park is situated on an otherwise deserted stretch of country road, just outside Jeju-si. At night, the park is strangely beautiful, with bright white sculptures, dotted in pools of warm light around winding paths and suggestively shaped pools, with even more suggestive fountains. The artworks are playful and inventive, often in a cartoonish, though detailed style, with explicit, sometimes outlandish couplings interspersed with more abstract interpretations of the theme. There is also a space for temporary exhibits, a shop showcasing the work of local (and generally phallocentic, of course) artists, a slightly cursory display of sex toys, and, thoughtfully, a crèche area.



There's nothing shabby or smirking about Loveland - everything is upfront, and none of the artworks seem designed to cause offence, but rather to remind visitors that sex should be fun and creative, and to poke fun at the excesses of human desire. Visitors can survey the exhibits while standing on the tip of the 'most big penis', and take in a vista that includes sections focusing on sex around the world, encounters between masked carnival revellers, and a power struggle within a 'typical' Korean marriage.



Though there were only a few brave souls perusing its delights on the blustery April night that I visited, Loveland appears to be thriving, with well-maintained grounds, and a general air of professionalism. With its quirky approach, together with the obvious care and attention lavished on its creation, it seems to encapsulate a lot of the appeal of Jeju as a tourist destination. What could easily have been tacky and exploitative is instead wry, inclusive, and genuinely celebratory, with plenty to make visitors smile, and hopefully even to open a few minds.





*The artworks in Loveland are entirely based around heterosexual sex, which is a little disappointing, although understandable in a country where homosexuality is often described as 'not illegal, but not legal'. There has been a slow shift towards increased openness and acceptance in Korean society in the last decade, so hopefully this could be reflected with future additions to the park.


Links:

Jeju Loveland website
Gay South Korea: A Paradigm is Shifting, from GlobalGayz.com

Photo Galley:
Jeju Loveland

2 comments:

Andrew said...

Dirty. Filthy. Dirty.

Dana said...

Beautiful! And funny :)