December 12, 2017

Travel Korea: Museum of Modern History of Korea (Heyri Art Village)

My parents live very close to the Heyri Art Village (or Valley), which is located in the city of Paju. Yangkyu and I came here for a brief drive toward the beginning of our trip when we were getting ready to go on our DMZ tours. You need more than just a few minutes to take in everything and so Yangkyu and I decided to come back toward the end of our trip to spend a day here. However... the most unfortunate thing happened when we actually got to Heyri Art Village on a Monday morning. Everything is closed here on Mondays. Everything. 

We happened to luck out because the Museum of Modern History of Korea was open only because they were catering to a few group tours. While we weren't with the tour group, we got to purchase tickets and peruse as well and even though we didn't get to experience the entire art village, experiencing just the museum totally made up for it. 

Thankfully Yangkyu and I got a head start before the group tours came, and thank goodness we did. We found out they were rowdy elementary school children (one endless group after another) who ran loose (I am not exaggerating) throughout the entire museum being loud and obnoxious, touching everything and not really giving a damn about actually learning something or two. The teachers allowed them to run wild (absolutely no control whatsoever). They were so bad that the museum security guard ended up blocking certain sections of the museum where you can see things up close so they wouldn't be able to break anything (Yangkyu and I got locked in one of those display areas but he quickly came to let us out). After a while even the security guard got frustrated and yelled at the students saying, "What do you think this place is? A playground?!"

I'm digressing..

Back to the actual museum and its contents...

Where many people will see a bunch of junk from the past, I see a massive treasure trove. I love old things. My parents loved antiques and I would go with them almost every weekend to Manhattan after my flute lessons to the various flea markets and antique shops. They had an amazing vintage radio collection and pieces of furniture. An old dresser mirror was a favorite. It was "lost" when we were moving one day - the movers said it mysteriously vanished. 

Anyway here I go off on a tangent again. 

If you are like me, this place is gold. It is a fairly large history museum told through personal, historical and commercial items from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. It is designed in a way that makes you feel like you are sent to the past, walking past stores and shops from back in the day. And while it is a history museum telling the stories of years well before I was born, some of the things looked familiar as they were around in the mid-eighties when I was still living in Korea. Yangkyu too, as he came to the US a little later than I did, noticed things he recognized. Most notably were bus tokens he used when he was in elementary school. That one made his jaw drop. 

Many things have been upgraded now in Korea. You know, when I came to the states, one of the things my classmates asked was if they had phones in Korea. I was shocked and said of course. Korea is a modern country. Nowadays, many people think of Korea as one of the leaders in the mobile (and the wider electronic) industry. But back in 1986, especially in the town I grew up in, not many people knew what and where Korea was (the town I grew up in now has so many Korean American students that I hear even teachers know how to speak a word or two in Korean). And while Korea was "modernized" the 80s, it certainly doesn't compare to the way it is now. Perhaps Yangkyu and I still recognized some of the homewares and other everyday items because the change didn't happen until the 90s. But still, while I was mostly taking pictures to bring back to my parents (since it really is from their generation), it was a delightful surprise to be able to relate to some of the displays myself.

 // Old campaign posters // 

 // The red post box on the left says "Go Hung" on the side. That is where Yangkyu's mom's side of the family is from // 

 // There was this one Korean TV show that I loved watching. Yangkyu said I was the only one who probably watched it (it was later canceled, which totally bummed me out). But the show was all about things from the past in Korea, whether it was trends or how things were done then to famous celebrities, shows and songs and historical happenings. One episode was all about a trend from when our parents were young, which was keeping pen pals. I saw some of the pictures and letters that were exchanged during this fad at this museum and I proudly turned to Yangkyu and told him that the only reason I know what this is is because of that TV show. Yangkyu doesn't really roll his eyes but I think I may seen a variation of it here. heh)

 // Vinyls // 

You will find everything here. I mean everything. 

Political campaign posters, old school textbooks, vinyl records, kitchenwares, magazine ads, movie posters, beauty salons and barber shops, luggages, shamanism rituals, old restaurant receipts, information on Korea's independence movement, Red Scare, and propaganda posters. I was especially interested in the propaganda posters.

Back then, Communist North Korea was demonized. You even saw that in the way they were drawn in the propaganda materials -- they had horns and looked absolutely evil. It's interesting because I heard that this was the way the south's relationship with the north was taught in school up until our generation (Yangkyu's and my generation - I wasn't around when they taught this, but a friend we knew told us). While our generation would draw pictures of North Korea and its people with horns the generation right after ours (the ones born in the 80s) was all about peace, pigeons and handshakes. I mean, it's that crazy? This all, I mean, has deeper political influence but I just thought it was interesting to see. 

 // The heater found in classrooms. Students would set lunch boxes on top of them to keep their food warm. // 

 // I remember having similar text books. I attended half a year of 1st grade before coming to the US // 

 // Old school uniforms you can wear throughout the museum // 

Yangkyu and I were also interested in the section that displayed what going to school was like in the 60s. Again, very similar items to when we were in school, especially the textbooks and even the organ that was in every classroom for music class was the same. I also went to elementary school at a time when classrooms were kept warm in the cold months using a heater that kept burning with the use of charcoal briquette (and I remember seeing these all around the neighborhood - probably not the healthiest..?). I don't remember putting our school lunch boxes on top of them to keep it warm, but my mom told me this is what she did when she went to school (this stuff seriously fascinates me). 

A little side note -- to help visitors really get into experiencing this museum, they have old school uniforms that you can wear and return later. Yangkyu and I didn't do this but thought it was cute, just like the hanbok experience at Changdeokgung, Bukchon Hanok Village and Insadong.

 // Old movie posters // 

 // Film from a movie set // 

 // Ticket booth to the cinemas // 

 // I recall those things where gums used to be displayed in convenience stores // 

 // Those fans I recall as well. It completely brought me back to my childhood when I saw the blue blades. // 

 // And this. This is just the flimsiest umbrellas you will ever see. They don't sell them now of course, but I remember seeing them out in the streets on rainy days, for the unfortunate people who were caught in a downpour who didn't have their umbrellas with them. It is literally just blue plastic lining and would flip over if the winds were slightly rough. // 

 // It reminded me of my grandparents house. // 

 // Kim Goo // 

 // Campaign posters -- Park Jung Hee (dictator and father of the recently disgraced and impeached first female President of Korea, Park Geun-Hye -- Kim Young Sam (a political activist, he would later become president in 1993 -- Kim Dae Jung (also a political activist who was imprisoned and tortured for his beliefs would later become president in 1998 and receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. //

 // Propaganda materials // 

 // On the right is a restaurant receipt from 1971. The most expensive thing on the menu was 300 won (not even close to $1 -- 500 won could be an equivalent to 50 cents). // 

 // Shamanistic rituals // 

 // Magazine ads. If you watch a lot of Korean dramas, you may recognize a famous actress (who passed away recently) who played many notable roles // 

I am the only progressive liberal one in my family. My dad and my brother are all conservative (I am not sure about my mom as she has a mental disorder that has kept me from having any conversation that has depth). So you can imagine some of the heated conversations we have over policy differences and who we think were the greatest  historical and political figures (Yangkyu was caught in one of these debates that I had with my dad, which made him very uncomfortable - lol). 

Our parents are the war generation. My dad grew up during the Korean War. So he saw first hand how poor Korea was. How poor its people were. And to many from that generation, the president who got them through the hardships and came up with a plan to speed up economic growth was Park Jung Hee (who is a cruel dictator and a sell out in my books and the father to the most recently disgraced and impeached president Park Geun-Hye (I didn't think too highly of him before the whole debacle with his daughter) but I digress for the third time...). 

And while my political views didn't change after this museum, what did was perhaps a little bit more understanding of where my father is coming from and how he views certain parts of history as a gleaming success. Because while we learn about the war and see pictures from the war, it doesn't really hit you until 1. it happens to you or 2. you get to semi experience it through an educational venue when you are mature enough to value the information (I felt this way at Dachau Concentration Camp when we were in Germany). In my case, it was the latter. And so one of the last things I said to Yangkyu when we were walking out of the museum was, "I think I understand a little bit how it was for my dad and mom growing up. I'm the privileged one. Having grown up with no worries about money or if I would get to eat or if I would be reunited with my family one day. I went to an expensive school and learned about politics and picked up some viewpoints and have been hurling them at my conservative dad not really knowing his personal experience. I probably just came off as some pompous progressive liberal ass that didn't know one day of hardship." (I'm not saying all progressive liberals are this way.. just my own personal account). That emotional and personal connection, to me, was an important one.

One downside to this museum is that I don't think any of the informational signs were translated in to English and I don't believe there is a headset that explains certain displays in different languages (I could be wrong - we spoke in Korean with the ticket sales person and I didn't bother to inquire about one).

I immensely enjoyed this museum because I love old things, historical things and was able to relate to the items as I have seen them before in my childhood. I am not sure if it may be the same for other people.


After the museum, Yangkyu and I grabbed a quick lunch at the only restaurant that was open (perhaps taking advantage of the group tours that were coming in - we later found out that a place where you can experience virtual reality was also open to a group of business people who were being bused into Paju) and walked around the deserted village. 

Heyri Art Village is full of museums, galleries, cute cafes and restaurants, and handmade shops as well. It is quaintly decorated and has a lot of interesting things to see and experience, which I am pretty bummed that I missed out on. Yangkyu and I have put this place definitely on our place to go if we are ever in Korea again.

I am not quite sure about public transportation coming in from Seoul. Yangkyu and I took a bus from Gangnam, which dropped us off in front of my parents' apartment. And my dad drove us (maybe a 15 minute drive) to the village. Not sure about local transportation in the area. 

Just a heads up for people who want to go to Paju and Heyri Art Village - please don't expect it to be like Seoul. It definitely does feel a bit more deserted and quiet. I think this may be one of the more disappointing aspects of tourists who were expecting the hustle and bustle of a busy city.

Well, that wraps up our Korea travel blog posts. It almost took me an entire year to finish it! 

There are just a few more short posts related to Korea that will go up but going through our day by day account is official done. Yay (#throwconfetti). 

Thanks so much for following along. I hope you enjoyed it as much as me writing about them.

While we are still paying off our trip (lol), Yangkyu and I have been talking about possible travel destinations for next year. We have tossed around some places we want to go but haven't made any decisions and don't plan to until after April. Lady has her senior wellness exam then and we want to make sure everything is ok with her health wise so that we can feel comfortable leaving her for a long period of time.

 // Korea, according to my iPhone (pt. 2)
 // A Gem in Hongdae
 // A Cocker and Friends Meet Up in Hongdae


  1. Oh I'd be like you Jane and love to explore, it was nice to get that insight into your dad's viewpoints too, step back in time or in his shoes :)

  2. Oh wow! Thank you for sharing this, Jane:) The whole series was just awesome to read. That's too bad about everything being closed on Monday, but that's great that this museum was open. What a great way to take a trip down memory lane:) It must've been awesome to see all these stuff you remember from your childhood. Sometimes, I want to go back to Manila just to reminisce like this, but alas, with Duterte as the president and the thought of my relatives that I don't really get along with, that's probably not gonna happen:P


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