Upon my return from Korea about a week ago, I wrote about the International Journal of Intangible Heritage that is the reason for the annual trip. I also wrote about this year’s temporary exhibit at the National Folk Museum of Korea and the delightful and beautifully-presented catered lunches (see Feb. 23 post). The two evenings of our business meetings, we joined museum staff at two restaurants near our hotel Somerset Palace, (https://www.somerset.com/en/korea-south/seoul/somerset-palace-seoul.html) a lovely suite hotel centrally located in Seoul.
The National Folk Museum is located across the street from Bukson Hanok Village, a warren of narrow streets and alleys that meander up and down. It’s an old part of the city still filled with small traditional houses or hanoks. Lots of cute shops, small private “museums,” coffee shops (the Koreans love their coffee), and a wide variety of restaurants populate the neighborhood. My dilemma is that this annual Korea visit in the heart of winter; it’s cold and there’s often snow. Not so easy to meander around in the evening when we have free time!
After a long initial day of work on the journal we convened at Binari Restaurant for dinner. This is a grilled meat restaurant, see below.
The second day ended a bit early, so we returned to the hotel for a little rest. A while later, we met and walked up to the road to a restaurant that specializes in mandu, Korean pork dumplings. Unfortunately, because I do not eat pork, I’m not able to eat much of what is served. Here goes anyway.
The second half of our stay in Korea usually comprises of a carefully planned educational tour. We have been introduced to aspects of intangible heritage, to museums, and to regional specialties on these outstanding excursions. This year’s trip was curtailed because of the coronavirus. We remained in Seoul on Tour Day One and thankfully had a truncated tour on Day Two.
Tour Day One: Our first Seoul destination was the Korean Stone Art Museum, somewhere in the hills north of the National Folk Museum. Some years ago, the only year that I missed our meeting, the excursion went to a nearby Furniture Museum.
The Korean Stone Art Museum is a private museum, beautifully located on a hillside overlooking Seoul. Sculptures fill the museum galleries and also the gardens. One large gallery/shop/café is set aside to display of Korean needlework, the collection of the owner’s wife. The owner has been collecting Korean stone sculptures for many years. Through the his efforts, a number of sculptures stolen during the Japanese occupation of Korea have been repatriated to Korea. He has donated a number of sculptures to the National Folk Museum, with more than enough remaining to fill this museum.
We returned to the city center for a Temple Lunch at the Balwoo Gonghang Restaurant run by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It is located across the street from the main temple and temple museum. This was a multi-course and delicious spiritual vegetarian meal.
The afternoon continued at the Seosomum Shrine History Museum, located on a significant historical site, an execution ground in the Joseon period (1392-1900). During the 19th century, many “religious people, thinkers, and leaders” were publicly beheaded at the site of today’s museum. Sometime in the 20th century, a large parking garage was built here. The site’s was transformed into a museum with three stories underground eight years ago. It is considered the Korean Catholic church’s largest martyrs shrine.
The permanent exhibitions and historic material relate to the history of Catholicism in Korea. We saw a few of these pieces because the permanent exhibits were closed for restoration. Consolation Hall is a large enclosed space into which images promoting meditation and encouraging thoughtful consolation are projected. Also on display were a number of large-scale contemporary sculptures, “A Trend of the Korean Contemporary Sculpture,” as part of the Connecting and Embracing project that combines the permanent collection with special contemporary art exhibits.
We ended the day at the day at the National Museum of Korea where the Director, a former member of the journal editorial board hosted us. I had actually spent the afternoon after arriving in Seoul in the museum. The Director of the Museum, Bae Kidong, greeted the group warmly. Then we toured their special exhibition, Gaya Spirit, Iron and Tune, exploring one of the older kingdoms of Korea.
We enjoyed a great meal at one of the museum’s many cafes.
Tour Day Two: Our group was beyond happy when an abbreviated tour was reinstated. The first deestination was Museum San (Space, Art, Nature) in the mountains of Oak Valley, Wanju, about a one and one half hour drive from Seoul towards the center of the peninsula. Of course, we had to make a truck stop for coffee and famous walnut cookies – small walnut shell-shaped cookies filled with red bean paste and walnuts cooked on a waffle iron. One of my favorite Korean snack foods.
I had visited the San Museum on a late spring/early summer day in 2014. We returned on a wintery day. The museum was created by the Hansol Cultural Foundation. The building and grounds were designed by Japanese Architect, Tadao Ando. Another museum Ando-designed in Korea is the Bonte Museum on Jeju Island.
How to describe the San Museum? Visitors are welcomed into the Flower Garden willed with sculptures. The Water Garden, still ice-covered in several places, surrounds the building itself. Behind the museum, on the way to the meditation hall and James Turrell exhibitions, is the Stone Garden. Unfortunately, the Turrell exhibits, where I lost my heart on the first visit, were closed on the day of our visit. Nevertheless we were all amazed by the site, the building, the sculptures, the Korean art, the history of paper exhibits, by everything at the Museum San.
Lunch was in Wonju City where we ate Wonju Mulberry Leaf Rice, among other healthy food.
Next our coach very skillfully wound its way up the mountainside to the small yet rich Woodblock Prints Museum created by Han, Seonhak, a collector, Ph.D. in museum education, and monk. Located overlooking more mountains in the Wonju area, the museum also includes a small temple and an extensive library on woodblocks. We were warmly welcomed by Dr. Han and lovingly shown the museum.
And then the Museum itself, an exhibit of prints from Korea, Japan, and China.
Then tea in the library with the museum director.
It had been a long, enjoyable day in winter Korean countryside. A day very worth the efforts of our kind hosts.
In closing, I love the variety of foods in Korea. They are so distinct from foods I’ve eaten elsewhere. I also enjoy seeing American stores selling to the Korean market. This year it was Krispy Kreme donuts. No, I’ve never been tempted to taste!