A few Fridays ago was Foundation Day here in Korea--a national holiday celebrating the mythical foundation of Korea by the god-king Tan'gun in 2333 BC. This mythical foundation story is also part of the central creation story of Taejong-gyo, a particular breed of Korean shamanism, and the Foundation Day holiday is celebrated as a religious feast by those who still practice this ancient religion today.
But for most folks these days, Foundation Day is an excuse to get out of the city for a little while during one of the most pleasant seasons of the year. Our Foundation Day excursion brought us to Herb Island, about 40km northeast of town.
Herb Island defies description. In theory, it's a botanical garden devoted (you guessed it) to herbs, and that reason alone makes it one of the nicest-smelling spots within an hour's drive of Seoul. In reality--well, Nana described it best as a sprawling Cracker Barrel, in Engrish.
At first, the afternoon started out just about as normally as an afternoon can in Korea, in a little hilltop cafe, with an "herb pizza" (actually quite good) and a "beauty tea."
You'll have to tell me if it made me more beautiful.
After lunch, we perused one of the greenhouses and a few of the herb-themed shops. The Herb Bakery was a bit of a disappointment (for some reason, people here can't seem to make bread without sugar on top), and while the herb candy (below--the sign says "eucalyptus") was good, it was also ridiculously marked up.
From there, though, the afternoon took a nosedive into the weird. First, we stumbled upon this unexplained--nay, inexplicable--life-sized witch.
Then, we lost thirty minutes wandering through a labyrinth of country kitsch . . .
. . . which, for whatever reason, included an impressive collection of antique or antique-looking phones, scattered throughout the grounds.
Needless to say, most of these were for sale.
The weirdness escalated when we found, tucked away on a big deck at the back of the complex, a row of little pavilions with top-down, 3D dioramas built into the walls.
Hands-down, though, the weirdest sight of the afternoon was this hanging blue Santa twisting, lifeless, in the wind. In front of a 15-foot man-made waterfall, of course.
Which even the statuary found a little perplexing.
We capped the day off, naturally enough, with Herb Island's mascot--a giant, anthropomorphic persimmon.
I never thought I'd see the day when a five-foot fruit was more shocked to see me than I it. Yes, that persimmon is covering its mouth in surprise.