Seoul Sonnet

How do I love Seoul? Let me count the ways.
I love the smell, the sight, the touch, the sound,
Of subways and shopping malls kept underground;
A fun way to spend time during commute delays.

Up above ground, under a clear blue sky,
I love the city parks in which to play,
Where Seoulites can relax and spend the day
In nature, away from traffic nearby.

A love the combination of old and new,
Aged palaces and temples sharing space
With modern high rises in the same place.
And I love the Han River flowing though.

I love the parties in the streets of Seoul,
The many festivals and fun celebrations
That unite people from different nations.
It's these occasions that make a city whole.

There's so much more that can't be counted in lists,
Like the joy in finding new places to explore,
Or the change in oneself that can't be ignored.
But perhaps what's most important is this:
No matter what I do or where I roam,
I love how this city always feels like home.

A Walk in the Woods of Taman Negara

Sunburned after my day on the beach in Cherating, I decided a retreat to the forest was in order. Taman Negara, a national park, is one of the oldest rainforests in the world and one of Malaysia's biggest attractions. So, after a taxi ride from Cherating to Kuantan, a bus ride to from Kuantan to Temerloh, a bus ride from Temerloh to Jerantut, a speedy cab ride from town to the dock, an angry cab ride back to town because there was no accommodation available near the dock, a few phone calls to book a tour, and an overnight at a hotel in Jerantut, I was finally en route.

I booked a tour through the hotel I stayed at in Jerantut, and the man who booked the tour for me, Addy, also turned out to be my guide. He and his friend drove me to the park in their card, speeding the whole way. Despite the sharp corners, wild passes, near-miss with a bus, and interesting maneuver where the driver lit a cigarette as he steered with his knees, we made it to the boat in one piece. We met up with the others members of our group: a French family with two children, aged 5 and 8, and an older German man who was also travelling alone.

The tour started with a boat ride down the river, and the view was fantastic. I, unfortunately, didn't learn my lesson in Cherating and added some more colour to my legs. The forest, at the start of our hike, was similar to those in Canada, with ferns, big trunks, and open skies. Four kilometres in, we stopped at a small cave for a meal break. My backpack, although emptied (I left most of my clothes in storage at the hotel), was heavy due to the three litres of water I was carrying, and my shoulders craved a rest. After the break, we continued on our way to the big cave, where we would spend the night.

The landscaped quickly changed; it began to look more like a rainforest. The undergrowth became thicker, the canopy above closed up, and the sun disappeared. I saw "Tarzan vines" that, for me, identify a true rainforest. The hike was difficult. There were lots of downed trees on the path that we had to pass over and under, and our footwork was further complicated by the mud.

The day was supposed to be long but easy, but having two young children in our group made the day even longer, and I certainly didn't find it easy. "This area has many tigers," Addy said when the sun started going down. "We must arrive before dark or..." He didn't finish his sentence. He didn't need to.

We got out our flashlights and soon they became a necessity. It wasn't until 7.30 that we finally arrived the big caveand, boy, was it big! There were several groups already there, but there was plenty of room for all of us. Addy made dinner for us while we relaxed on the mats and talked. After dinner, we went outside to a nearby stream to brush our teeth and "shower"the whole time I was checking for animals with my flashlight. Soon, all the flashlights were turned off and we all settled in for a night of camping in a cave.

I woke up to sunlight streaming through the cave opening. It was one of those scenes that make you think, Wow. This is why I travel. With the sunlight, I got a good look at the cave. It was one big "room" that was about 40 metres tall and could handle about 300 people at a time. There were two openings: the bigger, higher one (near where we slept), which was almost at the ceiling, and a smaller one to the left that served as the main "door." A big rock sat in the middle and divided the room; people used to rock for privacy when it came to changing clothes and using the "toilet" facilities. Someone, somehow, managed to put a Malay flag high up on the cave wall. It smelled of dampness, fire ashes, and moss inside the cave. I loved every minute of it.

During breakfastbread with Malay jam: coconut with eggAddy told me he couldn't sleep because he thought he heard animals. "I thought I heard animals during the night, too," I said. "It sounded like bats to me."

"Not bats," Addy said. "I think tigers."

After talking with the other guides, Addy seemed convinced tigers were out last night. I doubted it, but the idea certainly added some excitement to our upcoming hike through the woods. Since it rained during the night, mud would be more of a problem, plus leeches would be out, and maybe tigers, too.

The day was supposed to be shorter but more difficult than the day before, and the difficulty part was certainly true. The hike was a challenge. The mud was a mess, twigs scratching my legs burned my rosy legs, and there was always something to crawl over or squeeze under. We crossed rivers on fallen logs, and trailblazed our way through thick underbrush. Biting pain on my ankles or spots of blood on my shorts alerted me to that fact that leeches had decided to join me on the hike. It was so much fun. But, with two small children, the day was not short. The little girl, aged 5, had a lot of problems, so her dad carried her as much as he could. We took a lot longermaybe twice as longas we could have without the kids. I didn't mind, though; I liked being in the woods.

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.
— Edgar Abbey

Visiting Aiins World

Phileas Fogg may have travelled around the world in 80 days, but at Aiins World, you can do it in just 80 minutes...

A friend and I recently visited the Aiins World theme park in Bucheon, a city located halfway between Seoul and Incheon. It's a funny little park filled with miniature replicas of famous buildings from around the world, and a fun place to spend an afternoon in the sunshine.

Read more about our afternoon in my Hi Seoul website article: Aiins World Adventure

A Day Trip to a Penis Park in Samcheok, Korea

A girlfriend and I decided to escape from city life and our guy problems for a night. We left Saturday in the late afternoon for Samcheok in the east coast of Gangwondo Province, where we could find a cave I read about in one of my guidebooks. Arriving in Samcheok after dark, we ate a ramen/instant spaghetti dinner at a GS25 convenience store, found ourselves a little hotel, and played cards until we fell asleep.

We woke up early Sunday morning to head to Hwanseon Cave. This cave is said to be one of the largest in Asia; something worth checking out. It was a quiet, hour-long bus ride to the cave from Samcheok. Our guidebook noted the "steep" path from the parking lot to the cave entrance -- and it wasn't kidding. We struggled. We tried to ignore the Korean ladies in their cute high heels who were making the hike, too. It took about half an hour of hard climbing, but we made it.

After visiting both Meramec Caverns in Missouri and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico this past summer, I have to say I wasn't as impressed as I might have been. The lighting at Hwanseon wasn't as dramatic as the broadway-style lighting at the American caves. Instead of a "please be silent" policy, as there was in the American caves, we were surrounded by children stomping around on the metal walkway and screaming as loud as they could.

The highlight of the cave for us was the signage. The chosen names for the bridges, walkways, and viewpoints were hilarious. I was paying attention more to the signs than to the views! We were welcomed by the Palace of Dream, Summit of Hope, Valley of Desire, Fountain of Life, Bridge of Love, Valley of Hell, Bridge of Confessions, and Bridge of Galaxy. Our favourite was, of course, the Bridge of Confessions. On this particular bridge, we were greeted by a sign that told us to confess our sins here, after which: "You are now free of sins. You can now live the rest of your life happily." Oh, how nice. If only it were that easy.

On our breezy walk down the steep hill, we noted that we should have come here a few weeks earlier, when the leaves would have been decorating the trees with their colours.

We made it to the parking lot before we realized we didn't know how to leave this place! But, we quickly remembered that we took a city bus here, so there must be a city bus back to Samcheok.

In Seoul, bus schedules are generally written in both Korean and English. Not so, apparently, outside of the city. So, for the first time out of necessity, I read the Korean signs and found the bus that would take us back to the city.

When I first suggested to my friend that we should visit Samcheok and check out the cave there, she said, "Samcheok? Isn't that where the penises are?"

Um, excuse me? "I have no idea, and believe me, if I had read about something like that, I think I would have remembered it!" I said.

But she was right, and we scheduled the "penis park" for our Sunday afternoon. Hey, what else would two single gals see on their weekend away, right?

We hopped on a bus that took us right by the park, and the driver let us off just outside the site. Somehow the driver knew exactly what we were looking for. We paid our entrance fee, received our information page, and started laughing at ourselves.

We weren't the only ones there. There were couples, friends, families with children. Wonderful! A place the whole family can enjoy! The path through the park overlooked a beautiful, rocky coastal scene. But for the most part, we were distracted by the (literally) hundreds of phallic sculptures everywhere. Wood, stone, metal. Big, small. Still, moving.

As the legend goes, a young virgin was engaged to a fisherman. One day, she was stranded on a rock in the sea while he went fishing. Before he returned, she was struck by a wave and drowned. After that, the sea no longer provided the fishing town with the same large catches it had before. The town didn't know why, all of a sudden, fish had left their waters. One day, a fisherman relieved himself facing the ocean. Then, the waters suddenly were full of fish again! So, the fisherman concluded that, of course, the woman who drowned before she was enjoyed by a man was sexually unsatisfied.

So the town immediately set about creating phallic statues in honour of her. There was even a festival until a Christian group stopped it. But the statues remain for all to enjoy.

shrine to the woman who started it all

shrine to the woman who started it all

There is a zodiac calendar, in penis form. Phallic statues by ponds and in forests. Benches of penis design. Penis fence posts. A penis statue that moves up and down on a hill. We took some pictures, of course, but it was the old Korean women who created the most sexual poses. They were getting dirty! We couldn't hold our laughter in.

At the end of it all, there is a museum. We were at first disappointed that the museum referred to the fishing aspect of the small town, but the final exhibit is a representation of sexual art from around the world.

We two satisfied, refreshed females caught the bus back to Samcheok, then slept our way back to the big city.