Taking an Excremental Journey

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Taking an Excremental Journey

When people say to Yoo Jun-seon, director of marketing at Seoulland, that his work is a piece of crap, he just smiles proudly. After all, how could anyone have known that one of the most popular exhibitions in Korea this summer would be dedicated to one of the that most foul offenders of the olfactory.

"It was just a joke at first," Mr. Yoo said, referring to a marketing meeting held in June 2000. The Seoulland marketing team was at their weekly conference, brainstorming ideas for the theme park's first exhibition to be organized in-house.

"What about dung?" someone suggested.

"What about it?" someone answered. "Belongs in the toilet."

After the laughter died, the notion was brushed aside.

Yet as bizarre as the dung idea sounded, it just kept reappearing. Feeling as if he had latched onto something, Mr. Yoo said, "If done tastefully, a dung exhibition might really be education for children and adults."

The Seoulland group reviewed 1,300 Web sites dedicated to all things fecal, and began developing a space for real dung, international toilet culture and interpretations of dung dreams. It took four months, but the muckety-mucks in charge finally gave approval to go ahead with the exhibition last October.

Ordinarily, such an exhibition would not have gotten off the ground. But these days, there is a craze in Korea for all things yeobgi, or bizarre. In fact, the more yeobgi, the better, it sometimes seems.

When the exhibition opened in April, it was impossible to take in a leisurely viewing of it because of the large crowd. The exhibition was supposed to close at the end of August, but by mid-August, the total number of visitors had surpassed 400,000. Mun-gong Publishing approached Seoulland to publish a children's book called "The Rediscovery of Dung" ("Ddongui Jaebalgyeon").

Since opening night five months ago, the fascination has subsided from a rolling boil to steady simmer, but it surged again in August due to a great and sudden interest in interpreting dung dreams. So organizers decided to extend the exhibition through November.

Seo Bu-cho is standing in front of a cutout of an elephant's backside in the second section of the exhibition. The fifth-grade student flips a knob on the elephant's derriere and giggles at the sudden appearance of excrement larger than a grapefruit.

There are seven rooms to the exhibition, each with a different theme. The first section shows a map of the world with dung written in various languages. The second section may be called "Safari," but it smells nothing like the great, natural outdoors. The 30-odd animals, from deer to gorilla to tiger, range from child-size to taller than 160 centimeters, but they are not exactly sized true-to-life.

Each animal comes equipped with flip knobs by their back ends. Inside a glass case behind the knobs, is the real stuff, which has been "baked" to get rid of the smell. A special task force put on gloves to paint the baked goods back to their original color.

"We scoured all the zoos in Korea, and then some, to find these," said Mr. Yoo.

Bu-cho whips out a notebook and pen, and copies the decription: If you were to weigh all of an elephant's excrement from one day, it would be 80 to 100 kilograms.

Alongside her, her sister Seo hui and friend Myeong Su-hui also are taking notes. Bu-cho and Su-hui attend different elementary schools, but both are at the exhibition on classroom assignments.

The fall semester for primary schools began at the end of August. During the summer, teachers wrote letters urging the organizers to extend the exhibition into the next semester. "Students are a big part of our audience," Mr. Yoo said.

After comparing animal facts in "Safari," a visitor walks through the mouth of a snarling tiger into "Digestion." Here, one travels as a piece of food would, into an esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. An assimilation parade.

"We were inspired by 'Pinocchio,'" said Mr. Yoo, recalling the story of a wooden doll swallowed by a whale who then burp the doll back out. When you pop out from under the tiger's tail, you enter a section about recycling. There are dung bricks, dung paper and dung pillows. The dung paper, shipped from Africa, is actually quite beautiful, with the veins of undigested plant leaves showing through translucent sheets. The pillows, made from dried caterpillar pellets, are reportedly good for soothing headaches.

Other stops include the Culture Room, with facts from around the world, including a "Believe It or Not" section. Here, you find out that the history of the bidet began in Medieval times, when knights used to joust. Their armor was too heavy to take off, and too bulky to maneuver in, so a different method of cleaning was developed.

About those dung dreams... According to Korean folklore, dreaming about dung is very lucky.

by Joe Yong-hee

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