Museum madness: 5 unusual collections

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Museum madness: 5 unusual collections

What comes to mind when you hear the word “museum?” Ancient artifacts or endless school trips? Rows of paintings from previous centuries or sculptures missing body parts? Love it or hate it, high art is the only thing deserving of being placed on the hallowed walls of museums, no?
For the owners of five museums in Seoul, that’s a resounding “no!” They might not be as large as most national museums, and they might not have priceless ancient treasures, but they’re wierd, wacky or just plain fun. Most are run or owned by a single collector or small group that cares about one thing, be it owls or kimchi. Sure, they’re unusual, but they can also be informative. For example, does the U.S. one-dollar bill have a picture of an owl?
There’s a museum to let you know the answer.


The Kimchi Field Museum

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The Kimchi Field Museum was established in 1986 by the Pulmuone Corporation to exhibit the history and culture of Korea’s most beloved dish: kimchi. It’s a fun and interactive museum where visitors can learn about the food’s history, varieties, recipes, storage and its nutritional benefits. There is even a tasting room that serves up several different types of kimchi. Add to that displays of ancient documents written by scholars during the Koryo Dynasty that expound on the nutritional value of pickled cabbage.
The museum bombards visitors with charts, illustrations and minature-and-life-sized models, which show the evolution of kimchi from prehistoric times through the Chosun Dynasty (1394-1910). There are even detailed explanations about the origin of red pepper. One except reads, “An established theory is that hot pepper was introduced by old Japan around the time of the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592. However, the report on hot pepper as an ingredient in food was not found until 100 years later.”
The “Types of Kimchi” section exhibits 80 different kinds of kimchi models and explanations of the ingredients and recipes. In the center of the museum is an informative diorama, which shows an old-fashioned scene of a Korean family preparing kimchi for the winter.
The Kimchi Field Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The museum is located on B2 of the Coex Mall in southern Seoul. The nearest subway is Samseong station, line No. 2, exit 4 or 5. Admission is 3,000 won ($3) for adults and 2,000 won for children. For more information, call (02) 6002-6457 or visit www.kimchimuseum.or.kr.


The World Jewelry Museum

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This museum’s director, Lee Kang-won (also a poet and essayist) started collecting jewelry more than 25 years ago while she moved around the world following her diplomat husband. She has been to around 60 countries, including Colombia, Argentina, Ethiopia and Costa Rica.
Her modern, three-floor museum, designed by Kim Seung-hui, a professor at Seoul National University’s Department of Architecture, is far from a humble collection of random antiques, however. Her collection features an extensive array of jewelry, much of which comes from important historical eras. Knowledgeable curators accompany visitors and explain the significance of each piece.
The museum is separated into themes. On the first floor, visitors see amber ornaments, most of which are from Africa, plus gold jewelry from Latin America in the “El Dorado” room. There is also a “Necklaces of the World” room, containing things like a marriage necklace from Somalia and a crocodile teeth necklace from Indonesia. One of the most impressive rooms in this space is the “Alter of the Cross,” which has over 100 crosses from Ethiopia that were made before the 20th century. Icon images are displayed among the crosses.
The second floor has the “Modern Jewellery,” room with art nouveau and deco pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries, the “Beads and Sculptures” room has beads and ivory from as far back as the 12th century, the “Mask” wall displays masks made of ivory and jade, and the “Ring” wall and the “African Sculptures” room have sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin.
The World Jewelry Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from Tuesdays to Sundays. The museum is located in Samcheong-dong, northern Seoul. The nearest subway station is Anguk station line No. 3, exit 1. Admission costs 5,000 won for adults, 3,000 won for students and 2,000 won for children. For more information, call (02) 730-1610 or visit www.wjmuseum.com.


The Owl Museum

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The owner of this museum, Bae Myung-hee, describes herself simply as a “regular housewife who loves collecting things that can never be found again.” Ms. Bae started collecting owl-related arts and crafts when she bought her first owl ornament during a school trip in middle school.
“I thought it was just the loveliest thing,” she said as she sat at a table drawing an owl picture with colored crayons. The museum, which started three years ago, is nestled into a quiet street in Samcheong-dong, northern Seoul. Its walls display around 2,300 owl objects from about 80 different countries. It looks like the kind of eccentric shop one might see in the movies, with secret closets and oriental treasure boxes. Along its cabinets and shelves are owl-shaped craftworks made with such materials as crystal, glass, wood and rock. There are also thermometers, cigarette lighters, ashtrays, phones, china and even piggy banks ― or rather owl banks. Imagine an object, and Ms. Bae probably has it in the form of an owl. There are even little notes hung here are there which include trivia questions about owls. Yes, the bill has an owl on it.
The entrance fee of 5,000 won, about $5, also covers a cup of coffee or tea. While sipping a hot drink, visitors can browse magazines and books on owls, such as editions of National Geographic magazine, children’s books and encyclopedias.
The Owl Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., every Tuesday through Sunday. It is located near Anguk station, line No. 3, exit 2. The admission fee is 5,000 won for adults and 3,000 won for children.


Museum of Korea Straw and Handicraft

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The director of this museum is In Byung-sun, the wife of the poet Shin Dong-yeop. The museum was located in Chungdam-dong in southern Seoul for eight years but relocated to Myeongnyun-dong, northern Seoul, in 2001. As the name suggests, it showcases Ms. In’s devotion to straw handicrafts; straw was after all one of the most popular materials in history, whether one was building a house, weaving clothes, fashioning ornaments or making shoes. Before opening the museum in 1993, Ms. In researched how straw was used in Korea by traveling to all parts of the country, and then went to countries like China, Egypt and Japan to learn about different straw techniques throughout the world. She has also published books on the topic. The handicrafts on display are as diverse as one can imagine: shoes, houses, picture frames, pot holders, fans, dolls and coasters, among other things.
The Museum of Korea Straw and Handicraft is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays. The museum is located in Myeongnyun-dong, northern Seoul. The nearest subway is Hyehwa station, line No. 4, exit 4. Admission is 4,000 won for adults and 3,000 won for students and children.


The Fun Museum

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The employees at the computer software company, Valution, had an ongoing arrangement: They had to buy each other unusual, unique presents every time they go on a business trip abroad. They wound up accumulating a huge amount of unique presents,so an employee suggested to the company head, Kim Deok-yeon, that they open a museum to display the collection.
That’s the origin of the Fun Museum, which opened its doors in January 2005. The museum has about 300 objects on display, most bought overseas or online. The museum is divided into five themes: sound, lifestyle, science, light and moving. The museum is usually filled with children during weekends, but there’s enough there to stimulate and entertain adults as well.
For example, the “lifestyle” section is full of little inventions to make everyday chores a bit more interesting. Examples include spaghetti forks that rotate on their own, socks with pockets for extra change, eggshell removers and umbrellas that can be attached to the shoulder, as well as pillows shaped like either a woman’s lap or a man’s upper body.
The “light” section includes displays such as a fiber optic lamp that looks like the night sky, while the “science” section has fun experiments involving a miniature steam engine, solar energy ovens and a reversal mirror. Children’s books on science and scientific trivia are displayed throughout the space.
Despite the employees’ worry that the modestly-sized museum might fail, the museum has done quite well so far. In fact, it had two temporary exhibition spaces, near Hongik University and Seocho-gu, which have now been combined into a permanent exhibition space at the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan, central Seoul. There is also an annex in Busan. On good days, this small museum receives 700 or more visitors.
The Fun Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Tuesdays to Sundays. It is located at the War Museum of Korea in Yongsan. The closest subway station is Samgakji station, line No. 4 and 6, exit 12. Admission is 8,000 won for adults and 7,000 won for children. For more information, call (02) 792-8500 or visit www.funmuseum.com.


by Cho Jae-eun
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