Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Korean Adventure (September 6, 2002 Chautauqua)

On August 2nd, I made a trip to Seoul. My main object was to do some shopping for books. Reading material (in English) is a little hard to come by, and I was gratified to find not one, but two bookstores that sold second-hand English language books. Both were in Itaewon, a district of Seoul that caters to international travellers, as well as soldiers from the adjacent American base.

The "69" Building in Seoul.

I bought 5 hardcovers and 7 paperbacks, which should keep me busy until next week. I was on my way to dinner when Whoops! Hey, there's a woman on my arm! How did that happen? Of course, I had seen her, eating noodles at a street kiosk. She must've thought I looked like a good mark, and she wanted to show me a place where the beer is cheap. I knew, however, that the drinks I would have to buy her would not be cheap, so I disentangled myself and went on my way. There is a "Hooker Hill" nearby, where the soldiers seem to go for that kind of "entertainment."

Seoul Tower. There is a smaller replica in Daegu. My first roommate went on and on about how much smaller it was, and then he would talk about how Texas had built a replica of the Washington Monument, except one foot taller. I think he had some sort of fixation with long, hard objects.

The other object of my visit to Seoul was to see the "Body World" exhibit at the Science Museum. This exhibit originated in Germany, and has begun its world tour here in the Far East. It features real bodies that have been donated to science and then specially treated with plastic so that they can be dissected, examined, and posed for research purposes. Somewhere along the line, it was decided to share them with the world.

The lineup for Bodyworlds...

There are bodies without skin, and some without muscles. There are some with only the organs, and some with just the blood vessels. The variety is almost endless, and they all offer a close up look at the inner workings of the body with real-life examples. There has been some controversy in Europe about this exhibit, and debate about whether someone's remains should be viewed in this manner.

... went down the block.

I myself was fascinated, but I did get some funny looks from some people when I tried to explain what I was going to see. It was quite a sight to see a person's muscles posed next to his bones, and to try and see in the mind how they would fit together. A few of the exhibits showed lungs that had come from smokers. The damage should be seen by all who smoke, and contemplate smoking.
Some of the bodies had been frozen, and then sliced thinly, both lengthwise and through the middle. The hanging pieces reminded me of what you might see in a slaughterhouse, except that these are people. I got a different perspective than I was used to, and it made me appreciate some things just a little bit more.

I was able to take one picture before being wrestled to the ground and beaten senseless. The figure in the foreground is of a chess player. The other figures are just garden variety gawkers. It's eerie how lifelike they are, isn't it?

The last part of the exhibit showed examples of the growth of the fetus. All stages of development were on display, from the almost microscopic one month fetus, to a fully developed nine month baby. There was even a fetus shown inside its mother's womb, inside the mother's body. A truly unique sight. I am not sure when this exhibit will be in North America, but I think everyone should be prepared to think about going to see it if it does.
An amusing aspect of my visit to the museum was that I felt sometimes that I was on display just as much as the bodies. It is a little funny to see some Koreans' reaction to the sight of a foreigner, especially the kids. Jaws dropping to the floor, eyes bugging out of the head, it just goes on and on. Sigh. Sometimes it’s tough to be a star. One thing that bothers me is being labelled "mi gook" (American). I always try to correct this misconception by saying "Anni-yo! Cho Canada saram!" (No! I am Canadian!). Koreans are impressed when you try to use their language, and are ready with pointers to help your pronunciation and comprehension improve.
On my first trip to Itaewon, I was not too impressed after all I heard, and I didn't go back unless absolutely necessary. I had a hard time finding bookstores those first few years. My first roommate knew where they were, but he couldn't give you directions out of a paper bag.
You can see I was getting a bit tired of constantly being stared at when I was out in public. Even in Seoul. And it just went on all the time I was in Korea. You'd have thought they'd get used to foreigners at some point...


  1. I heard about that exhibit but wasn't that interested in travelling to Seoul to see it.

  2. The crowds would have driven you crazy.