The world is a wonderful, if very wacky, place to be.

Archive for January, 2011

Eye Level of the Beholder

So far, everyone has had something that really excited them about Seoul.

Volucris was delighted with the snow.


Aquila was elated to dress up as a Korean queen at the Children’s Museum in the Korean Folk Museum.

Lyra was enchanted by the exhibits at the Samsung Children’s Museum.

And Sagitta is completely fascinated by the front loading washing machine in our apartment.


Who knows what adventures await us during the second half of our stay?


Catching On.

Remember these?

Dorothy, you're not in Tel Aviv anymore.

I don’t mean the girls, we haven’t been away that long (have we?). I mean the cartoon characters. We met them when we got off the airplane, and took advantage of the photo-op. After two and a half weeks here, I can tell you with confidence who they are.

The bunny is meant to represent the Year of the Rabbit, which begins this Thursday with Chinese New Year, a lunar calendar celebration. Here in Korea, people get time off from work starting on Wednesday so that they can get home to their ancestral villages to celebrate the holiday according to their tradition. I am told that Seoul will become a ghost town. This is very, very hard to believe, because there are over twenty million people in this city, and last Friday I was on a subway train with every last one of them.

The penguin in the aviator glasses is Pororo. He’s a native Korean character, the star of the most amusing cartoon we’ve seen in a long time. If you have a minute, or kids… check this out:

Don’t worry if your kids can’t read the subtitles. You can watch the videos that are Korean-only, and still understand the story.

And now we are looking for something for Volucris to do tomorrow. Aquila and Lyra are sick, so we will be home. But Volucris has a cell phone and subway card. The city is his!


Aside from hotels, corporate housing, an exhibition center, an aquarium, and a mall, Coex (we are staying in Coex) is home to the Kimchi Field Museum.

This one was a dud with the kids, even for Volucris, who can find something interesting in anything. There are only so many plastic models of someone else’s dinner you can look at before you begin to wonder why your mother dragged you there.

As it happens, I am feeling under the weather, and we all wanted to get out but stay close to home. The kids had more fun afterward in our building’s playroom, playing with the Wii.

I, however, found the museum fascinating, and not just because I’ve been doing some experimentation with fermented foods.

In Korea, kimchi is served with every meal. There are lots of different varieties of kimchi, and some don’t even contain cabbage. Kimchi is Korea, the same way Israelis identify with hummus and Americans with apple pie, only even more so. In some ways, Koreans see kimchi as the very underpinning of their entire civilization. There are folk tales that discuss “how we learned to make kimchi and became civilized”.

But there’s a foreign influence in today’s kimchi. And foreign is dangerous. (This isn’t just run-of-the-mill xenophobia. Korea has a history of foreign invasion that sounds remarkably familiar to anyone who has studied Jewish history).

You see… in modern times (modern meaning going back to the 18th century. Korea has an ancient culture), people have been adding hot peppers to kimchi. So much so that it’s become “traditional”.

But kimchi is Korean. And red peppers are not.

Much of the museum (and it’s not a big place) was dedicated to a talmudic-like discussion on why using a foreign interloper was acceptable in this most Korean of foods.
1. Kimchi already had garlic, and garlic is spicy, and hot peppers are also spicy, so it wasn’t such a radical change.
2. Red peppers turn the kimchi red, which is one of the traditional colors for food.
3. Red peppers increase the storage time of kimchi.

Who knew a simple ingredient could be so fraught with existential conflict?


Let’s mix some metaphors, shall we?

It's world famous for the name, alone.

Somehow, I’m not buying the “authentic” claim.

Intelligence Re-Reframed

Doesn’t this look like Aquila is enjoying a lovely exhibit at the Samsung Children’s Museum?


And she is. Scenery, costumes, a monitor where you can see yourself as you perform. Perfect for kids.

Except. Oh, except.

It was part of an exhibit on Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory.

For kids.

Kids had the opportunity to explore exhibits of professions as seen through the lens of multiple intelligence theory: musician, actor, psychologist, architect, athlete, astronaut, copy writer, computer security engineer. There was even an area where you could print up a business card, naturally. This is Korea, after all. The business card is key.

There was very little signage in English, but I found this:

Did I mention this museum is for kids ages ten and under?


Because it’s never too early to start.

High Aptitude for Cuteness.

But seriously,

Doesn’t this make you want to have a little chat?

"So... tell me about your mother."


Samsinging Your Own Praise

When I say Samsung, the first thing that comes to your mind is the Children’s Museum, right?

Well, maybe it is if you read the previous post. But the first thing that comes to my mind is “big televisions and small cameras”. I didn’t realize they did anything else. That’s because before I came to Korea, I did not know what a chaebol was. Essentially, a chaebol is a giant conglomerate (which is why my cucumbers are Hyundais). And chaebols wisely have foundations that contribute to the community. Including one adorable children’s museum.

Now, as a fellow Westerner, you might think that this would mean that the entire museum would be covered in branding. I assumed that they would not let us forget for one moment who sponsored our lovely afternoon of educational and character building play.

I was wrong.

In the entire museum, only one exhibit in one area had any sign of branding, and even there it was unobtrusive. Score one for Asian modesty.

Another thing I noticed?

It was somewhat crowded.

Regardless, it wasn’t noisy. And the kids were kind and well behaved.

It made me a little homesick, really.
Also, the children at the museum were quite surprised when my kids weren’t able to speak to them in Korean, like civilized people.

Another thing that we noticed is that the majority of exhibits were geared toward children working together in order to get optimal results. The subtle emphasis on teamwork was refreshing.

(Somewhere out there, there’s a Korean mother who just went to a children’s museum in the US and blogged, “the subtle emphasis on individuality was refreshing”).

Something to know about the Samsung Children’s Museum is that it’s really geared to children 10 and under. I brought along the Kindle for Volucris. He’s reading Machiavelli. Yes, really.

He didn’t use it. He helped his sisters.

"How to load an air cannon"

And he used exhibits in ways the designers did not anticipate.

"How NOT to load an air cannon"

He might have been twelve inches older than the other kids there, but it didn’t stop him from having fun.

On signage.

What do you think this sign means?
We saw it today all over the Samsung Children’s Museum.

I’m pretty sure that parts 2 and 3 roughly translate as, “don’t let your kid wipe his snot all over our equipment”.

It’s amazing what you can understand even when you don’t understand.

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