In 2001, I came to Hawaii with $100 and no plan. Through good fortune and good luck, I somehow became the manager of the most rocking backpacker hostel in Waikiki. The Polynesian Hostel Beach Club in Waikiki. It was a terrible time for my liver, but the rest of me enjoyed it immensely as I made friends from all over the world, fell in love with Hawaii and beautiful people from everywhere on the planet, and somehow managed to survive it all over the course of the next two years. These are some of the pictures I took during that time. I will leave it to facial recognition and people who know to identify those in the pictures. I am grateful to the former manager who stole a bunch of money and left the owner in the lurch needing a manager, I’m grateful to the owner who trusted me to become that manager, and I’m grateful to the people who came as strangers sometimes became staff and with a few glaring exceptions left as friends.
As a child, I was fascinated by the pyramids and the culture of the Egyptians. I used to sit on the floor of my grandmonther’s house and look through her vast collection of National Geographic magazines – it was the pyramids and Egyptians that fascinated me. Maybe it was because of Leonard Nemoy and that show he hosted in the 1970s ‘In Search of…” which obsessed about the mysteries of the pyramids, who built them, and how they were…impossible.
Or maybe it was being forced to go to church – the only interesting part of the bible for me was about the Egyptians, the pharaohs, and Egypt. Later, in my twenties, I became enamored of tarot cards – which generally are thought to have come from Egypt and encompass a lot of the esoteric lore connected there.
Lawrence of Arabia was my favorite movie for much of my life. The romance of the desert. I married my wife in the Sahara. All of it connected with these ancient wonders. I had my chance to go to Egypt just after the Arab Spring. Tahrir Square was still in turmoil. Tourist businesses were suffering – there were no tourists – except me. In the Egyptian Museum, I was alone except for the guards who followed me – whether to keep me from being kidnapped, to make sure I didn’t steal anything, or out of curiousity about what kind of person comes to Egypt at a time like that – I don’t really know.
There were seemingly far more guides than tourists – I picked one who was probably the same as many. My first guide was a driver, probably in his late fifties – he drove me to many locations where I seemed to be the only non-Egyptian. I went inside ancient tombs and wandered around freely. My driver was friendly, worried about the future. At Giza, he waited for me while I found a horse and a horseback guide. The young horseback guide was disinterested. We rode to the great pyramids. On the way, we saw five or less tourists – I probably could have climbed the pyramids – there were no guards – but there were signs- so I didn’t.
I walked around the Sphinx – I didn’t climb it either. None of it seems very real now…like a distant dream. I look at these pictures now though and I realize – I was there.
In 2012 – I took a short trip to South Korea. I’d never been there and I wanted to see as much as possible in a short amount of time…I didn’t expect to see this much….
South Korea can be a surprising place – it is a fairly conservative culture but not in every way. For example, you can pay a visit to Haesindang Park (Penis Park) in Samcheok, South Korea.
When I heard about this, I realized I would have to go there. Why? Because it defied my North American imagination that a place like this could even exist..
The legend says that a young couple were engaged to be married in the fishing village of Samcheok. Before they could be wed and before pleasure of the penis on the wedding night, she was swept to sea and drowned, thus dying a virgin and without the penis she so desired.
After her death, the seas around the village stopped yielding fish. No one could figure out why, but one night, a drunk fisherman took a leak facing the water, thus exposing his sizable genitalia to the water (and presumably to the ghost of the virgin). Apparently, she liked what she saw and after that the fish were plentiful. The villagers, understanding intuitively what they needed to do, began exposing themselves regularly and then they began to build larger than life statues of giant cocks to satisfy the nymphomaniac ghost. Over the years, the collection of phallic art was expandend and enlarged and the seashore became swollen with dicks.
Getting there was a bit tricky. I took the bus from Sokcho and then a second bus from another town and a third bus to get to Samcheok. I was sitting next to a very pretty woman in designer sunglasses and I asked her if she knew how to get to the Penis Park. Fortunately, she spoke some English. She said yes, she knew. She told me which stop to get off in Samcheok and then she suggested we get a cup of coffee and wait for her friend who would be able to better tell me how to get there. Soon a second girl showed up and her English was even better. They told me just to sit and wait. Fifteen minutes later a man in a minivan showed up, he was girl #2’s father. The three of us piled into his mini-van and we all headed to the Penis Park on one of the strangest family outings I’ve ever been on. A father, his daughter, her friend, and a strange American man they all just met on the bus and off we went to the Penis Park.
Rather than being filled with gay pickup artists, the park was filled with Korean senior citizens all posing next to the giant phalluses (or on them) and enjoying the scenic beauty of the rocky seashore and the huge collection of giant anthrpomorphic cocks. The father insisted on paying my admission and we all posed together for pictures with the many penises.
At the edge of the park we ate the flat, dried fish which the old women were cooking there. After that since they knew I needed a place to stay, the father dropped me off at his favorite love motel – a topic which I will write about in another post.
And that, my friends, was my wonderful day at the Penis Park in Samcheok, South Korea. Below are some further details and a few more photos to motivate you in case you get the chance to visit. I highly recommend it.
Haesindang Park (more commonly – and creatively – known among Westerners as ‘The Penis Park’) is around 20km (12 miles) from the centre of Samcheok, and is, as the name would suggest, a park full of penises!!!
Entry Fee – this was small, around 2,000 won. There is a ticket desk at the entrance, which also displays a return bus schedule in it’s window. It’s worth having a look to see what your options are for buses back to Samcheok. The stop is right by the road, you’ll see it when you come in.
Phone – 033-570-3568 (for the Korean-speaking Fishery Village Tradition Exhibition Centre)
Getting There – A frequent 50 minute bus will easily take you to the park from the Samcheok Express Bus Terminal. Ask for Haesingdang Park at the ticket window, and they will know what you’re talking about! Come out of the door that they will point you to, and turn right. You’ll see a little bus stop. Just wait there until the bus is scheduled to come. When we went, the bus didn’t actually come over to the bus stop – it just stopped in the middle of the concourse, and everyone walked over to board it. You may need to just check with the driver that you have the right bus, before getting on, especially if you can’t read Hangeul. Let the driver know that you are getting off at the park, and he’ll be sure to make a commotion about your stop when he comes to it at the side of the highway. (In terms of landmarks, the stop is just past the small park dedicated to local Olympian Hwang Young-Cho, who won the marathon event in both the 1992 Summer Olympics and 1994 Asian Games.) The drive itself is lovely, and you will see some great scenery and coastline. If you go at the right time of year, you will also pass the famous yellow rapeseed fields, and see people posing for photographs amongst rapeseed almost as tall as themselves! You can get off the bus here too if you so desire.
“Trust in Allah, but Always Tie Your Camel” this is the punchline of an ancient Arabian proverb. There is both wisdom and humor in the idiom, but at a more basic level – this is a lesson in survival. These walking ships of the desert provide a lifeline to those who survive in the vast reaches of the Sahara and if they should disappear, life becomes much more difficult or in come cases – impossible.
My wife and I were married in a Berber wedding ceremony in the Moroccan Sahara. That’s us in the picture above.She is Moroccan and so when our wedding party mounted a caravan of camels and set off into the massive dunes surrounding Erg Chabi and Merzougha, it was really just another ordinary day and a different family outing.
Yeah, right. It was magnificent and something that mesmerized every one of us from her mother and sisters at the front of the caravan to our Berber nomad guides who had never seen such an astounding juxtaposition of the traditional ways of the desert with the offbeat ways of a romantic American and his Moroccan mountain family. You see, my wife is not of the desert – she is a shepherd’s daughter from the mountains.
Her mother and sister’s were not pleased when we announced that we would be deviating from the standard traditional mountain wedding celebration and instead taking part in the customs of the Sahara – and yet – as they rode camels for the first time – their smiles and laughter lit the early evening sky even before the last light of the day disappeared. Her mother, the one I thought would have the most trouble with the camels settled onto the oddly shaped saddle and allowed the weight of her sixty years to stabilize her better than any of the rest of us. My mother-in-law was built for camels. The rest of us, not so much.
With everyone mounted, I threw out a quote that none of them recognized “If the camels die, we die.” Peter O’Toole playing T.H. Lawrence in one of the most magnificent movies ever made. He shaped my romantic images of the desert, the quote is attributed to one of Lawrence of Arabia’s guides and since most of our party spoke no English, it was only my bride who understood – “Let’s not think of such things,” she told me with complete seriousness. It was no time for me to explain.
Camels are not comfortable creatures to ride – despite the ease which my mother-in-law seemed to take to it. She had never been on a camel before, but you wouldn’t have known it as she sang and laughed to the purple and scarlet sunset. But a look at my sisters-in-law or the other members of our caravan showed it clearly. The Berber Nomads weren’t on the camels – I asked about it later and one of them Assou, told me “It’s very uncomfortable to ride them. We prefer to walk and let them carry things for us.” Huh, imagine that.
It turns out that Peter O’Toole also struggled with riding camels while filming Lawrence. The story goes that he used washing sponges to make the ride more comfortable. At first there were laughs at his expense but by the end of the film, the Beduins had realized how much more comfortable the sponges made things and they copied him! I don’t know if the Beduins of Jordan use sponges today, but I can definitely tell you that in Morocco they do not.
The magic of the Sahara was more than enough to move beyond the discomfort of the camels though. As darkness fell I looked out to the dunes and became transfixed by the eerie quality of nothingness stretching further than I could imagine. As a sailor, it is the sea that soothes me and brings peace when my soul is tormented and in those moments, I realized the allure of the desert. It is the same. The desert is a place where the world can be forgotten and one can come to terms with one’s true inner self.
There is much more to calling camels ships of the desert than simple transport. The metaphor also paints the image of the desert as a vast sea of sand, constantly shifting, containing treacherous shoals, and vast reaches where men (and women) can perish if the simplest mistakes are made.
“If the camels die, we die.” There was really nothing funny about it. It was true. I understood why the Nomads who spoke a bit of English had not smiled when I said it.
If you’ve come this far, perhaps you’d like to see some not-so-ordinary wedding photos…Enjoy!
I’m going to start using the Saturday Slideshow to showcase some of my travels to different places around the world and around the USA – but that will be next week. This week – I’m going to share some splashes of amazing tropical flower power to brighten up the cold and rain that I know are hitting most of the United States and much of Europe. This is how I share a little Aloha before the holidays!
Come to Hawai’i and visit Oahu – the flowers are for everyone – just remember the secret code of the flower – behind the left ear means you are taken, behind the right ear means you are available, behind both ears means that you are taken but willing to consider upgrading…:)
Oahu continually blows my mind with its beauty and awesomeness. Whether it is the North Shore, the West Side, the Windward Side or the South Shore this island’s beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. When you go into the mountains or into the center (the piko) of the island, you find stunning and scenic wonder – and if you get lucky enough to venture into the water you will find plenty above and below the surface to keep you smiling in delight. All of this and then you have the man-made beauty of the historic district, downtown, waikiki, the plantations, and the various statues, memorials, and more. But I don’t want to make you too giddy with the power of Oahu – so just enjoy these for now.
King David Kalakaua was the last king of the Hawaiian Kingdom. His sister, Queen Liliuokalani was the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, overthrown by American sugar planters and American military interests. King Kalakaua built the palace as a symbol to the people of Hawai’i and a message to all the nations of the world that Hawai’i is an educated, civilized, and advanced society ready to take the place as one of the biright lights of advanced human civilizations.
King Kalakaua had met Thomas Edison and arranged to have electric lighting installed into ‘Iolani Palace as early as 1887. After meeting Alexander Graham Bell, he had a telephone installed in the palace. Indoor plumbing (with flush toilets) was original in the palace when it was completed in 1882. ‘Iolani Palace had a telephone, indoor plumbing, and electric lighting before the White House had any of the three.
To tour the interior of the palace you must first visit Hale Koa aka the ‘Iolani Barracks – this is on the palace grounds and should not be confused with the Hale Koa Hotel (House of Warriors) in Waikiki which is for U.S. servicemen and women. ‘Iolani Barracks was moved from the Diamond Head side of the palace grounds to where it currently sits. It was built in 1870 for the household royal guards of King Kamehameha V. Today it is where the gift shop, the ticket office, and a small video theatre are located. It was designed by Theodor Hacek, a German architect who also designed Queen’s Hospital.
On the ocean side from ‘Iolani Barracks is the Coronation Pavilion built in 1883 for the coronation of King Kalalkaua and his wife Queen Kapi’olani. On the grounds are large banyan trees originally planted as saplings by Queen Kapi’olani and a large kukui nut tree (candle nut) planted by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.
‘Iolani means royal hawk in Hawaiian language. The palace itself is built a a unique architectural style called American Florentine. The tour is a poignant reminder of all the Hawaiian people lost. Their kingdom, their monarchs, their self rule, and for many years – their heritage. There are docent tours in the morning but later in the day you can take the self guided audio tours provided. Tour and admission is $27 for adults and $6 for children (5-12). Babies and toddlers under five years old get free admission and there are discounts for kama’aina and military. You can also download the Iolani Palace app here. This is a surprisingly kid friendly tour and our seven-year-old had fun seeing where the real King and Queen of Hawaii lived. She was also livid when she found out that the conspirators charged Queen Liliuokalani with treason and imprisoned her in her bedroom after the kingdom was overthrown. Plan on spending 2-3 hours and if you bring a picnic, you can eat your lunch on the palace lawns after (or before) your tour.
One of the best things about living in Hawaii – and in particular living on Oahu is that IT RAINS SOMEWHERE ON THIS ISLAND EVERY DAY and it’s also sunny somewhere on this island every day. When you put those two things together you get an ancient legend about how when it rains – It’s actually Waikea – the God of the Heavens making love with Papa – the Goddess of the Earth. It’s sacred procreation and it’s also beautiful creation that gives us the explosions of colorful and wonderful flowers, green verdant jungle and foliage, and rainbows. There are rainbows every day in Hawaii – all you have to do is find them. I don’t take pictures of every one I see – I don’t take pictures of most of them – but I take a moment and feel some warmth and gratitude to Papa and Waikea and this land of beautiful rainbows. Here are a few of them I’ve taken pictures of recently – the rainbows here are something you really have to feel to appreciate – I hope you can feel these.
In Hawai’i we have a local language called Hawaiian Creole or Pidgin for short. You’ve heard it when you’ve watched Hawaii 5-0, you’ll hear it on the new Magnum P.I. You’ve heard it on Dog the Bounty Hunter and if you’ve been here – you’ve heard the bus drivers, valets, maids, surfers, beach boys, and other local folks use it. You probably didn’t understand it – and that’s okay. It has a sing-song quality that varies from island to island and consists of words from a dozen languages plus a bunch of made up words that are usually onamatopia. Example: Brah, like go kaukau? Or Howzit? Or Hoh, Lucky live Hawai’i. Yea, Lucky live Hawaii, Lucky live Oahu, Lucky live Honolulu. That’s what I’m feeling – this week’s slideshow might show a bit of why.
It’s no secret that I love Honolulu. It’s an incredibly walkable, bikeable, and public-transportation-able city. The weather is perfect. It has fantastic architecture and wonderful distinct neighborhoods – not to mention beaches, rain forest hikes, and more. But let’s get back to that architecture – I will get into the nitty gritty of the art deco, moorish, modern, and classic styles you find here in the future – but for now – I’d just like to share a gallery of pictures of buildings I’ve snapped in Honolulu. These are just pictures I’ve taken as I go about my daily life…and I think they illustrate a bit of why I love this city as much as I do.
For now just enjoy the wonderful architecture of Honolulu and ahui ho!
I love living in Honolulu. I work all the time and still don’t make enough money to pay all my expenses. I rarely have time to go to the beach. I have a smaller and much more expensive living space than I’ve had in a decade. I am stuck in my car looking for parking all the time. And still, I love living in Honolulu. There is no better place in the world as far as I’m concerned. Yes, it could be better, no it’s not perfect, yes, I run the risk of running out of money. It’s hard to explain…if these social and economic conditions, the crowding, the traffic, the expense, the need to work so much…if these conditions were somewhere else, I would be miserable, I would probably be suicidal – but here, I put a record of some goofy tiki-beach songs on or I step outside and see a rainbow or an old auntie crossing the road so slowly in her mumu that I end up being late for work or some gnarly looking truck driver just stops and tells me to go in violation to all traffic rules and common sense – or a homeless guy sitting in the median is playing his ukulele as I drive by or there is an art exhibit in city hall where the employees and their kids are the ones who have their art on display. I’m not kidding. I love living in Honolulu. It’s not easy – in fact, there’s nothing easy about it. Free time is hard to come by, it’s loud at night, the homeless make me cry, the zoo has gone downhill, the lines are long, the prices are insane, the beaches are crowded – and yet…there is no place like it in the world. I am so happy this city is my home.