Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Seoul Museum of History

The Seoul Blossom Festival is on over the next two weekends, and that's where we'll be heading today after a Gangnam lunch with a Suwon friend. We had wanted to go yesterday, but thy weather was sufficiently shabby to deter us and to defer the festival to Sunday.

Yesterday however, we did have a chance to check out the Seoul Museum Of History. There are a lot of museums in Seoul - everything from The National Museum of Korea (the 6th largest museum in the world, apparently, and one that you need at least 3 full days to visit properly), to the Seoul Museum of Chicken Art, which by the way is on the list, and I would imagine is exactly as it sounds.

I was looking forward to the Seoul Museum of History though. I really like this city. I know it very well, and I like playing tour-guide when I head out exploring the city with actual Korean residents of Seoul who have lived here their whole lives, but stick to their own neighbourhood enough to not know the city as a whole as well as I do.

So, this museum sounded like a good way to spend the afternoon. The Seoul Museum of History is located out of exit 7 of Gwanghwamun Station on the light purple line. It's right across from the giant statue of the hammering man, which I had never seen up close until this year.

Overall, I have to say that the museum was a bit of a disappointment. Seoul is such a dynamic city, and it has changed so much and so quickly in recent decades. I was expecting to see lots of photographs and interactive displays dealing with the planning of the city through the centuries, the changes it went through during Japanese occupation and the Korean War, as well as its huge transformation afterward until now.

Aside from a handful of really interesting displays, the museum was honestly a bit of a bust for me, I'm afraid. As the building houses mostly artifacts from the Joseon Dynasty (royal seals, clothing, writings etc.), there seems to be little room for anything else. Honestly, what is shown here can be experienced as a smaller part of the whole on any visit to the National Museum of Korea. The huge sweeping periods of change I mention above are each dealt with in one paragraph towards the end of the museum path. I really wanted to read and see more, but it appears I might need to do some more reading on my own if I really want to dig deeper.

The museum does have a couple of highlights that are worth the 700 won ($0.70) admission price to the museum though. Less than a year ago, the museum installed a 1/1500th scale model of the city of Seoul on the 2nd floor. It's fully lit and perfectly to scale (the Yeoksam 63 Building is maybe 15 cm tall). The room dims to show a rapid sunset, and then areas like Gangnam and Myeong-dong light-up with neon and street lights. It's pretty impressive and gives a very good sense of the city's size. It's fun to walk over the city and point down at your house or those of your friends.

There is another slightly older model of the downtown core as well - this one entirely made of wood and unpainted. The effect is very striking, though it does look a little bit foreboding with it's rusty hues in the season of yellow dust.

Today will be clear day however, and we are looking forward to some flowers, a trip to the bike shop, and some more time to catch-up on studying before my next class on Tuesday. Spring has sprung, and the yellow skies are turning blue.

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