Itaewon Theme Streets, Murakami at Samsung Museum of Art
22nd June 2013.
Today we explored the area of Itaewon, known for its foreign flair. This is where we also visited Leeum – the Samsung Museum of Art. Samsung is the name of the founder of Korea’s largest corporation, who was collecting precious Asian artefacts during his lifetime.
On our way, I inquired about Hanbok, to find out that this outfit is 550,000 won and that my suitcase and wallet did not necessarily needed the strain. If you are interested to get a hand on and your body into those garments, then a great place in Seoul to go Hanbok shopping is here.
At Itaewon Station we found a Tourist Information with an incredibly helpful Seoulite who was not only sympathetic due to the fact that he was studying the Polish language, but also because he supplied us with a vegetarian guide for Korea.
At the tourist information we were provided with a colourful map of Itaewon’s main attractions and got a book, called the Seoul Book Of Everything (232 pages). It is written in perfect English, with a sense of humour, and does keep its promise to deliver ‘Everything you wanted to know about Seoul and were going to ask anyway‘. It is not just tied to Seoul but outlines Korea’s history in an untiring way. A recommend-read!
I was actually quite excited because one of the mentioned restaurants in the veggie booklet was in Itaewon and we were going to give it a try. Itaewon is a favourite expat area located adjacent to the main military base of the US and food is a mixture of Western, Asian and international influences. It is very popular with tourists as restaurant owners speak English and signs are in foreign languages. I have read that Koreans are slowly appreciating this district as well.
Itaewon is roughly divided into walking tours, which consist of Fashion Street, Antique Furniture Street, World Food Street and a walk along the army fence of the War Memorial. There is also Seoul’s huge Central Mosque. We decided to do the street attractions.
Starting from the landmark of World Food Street next to Itaewon Station (exit 2), the street is filled with French, Italian, Chinese, Turkish, Mexican, Bulgarian and Pakistani restaurants.
The street is plastered with signs that greet in many languages of the world.
I thought the Polish one looked a bit worn down, located right next to a busy bar. It’s what may happen to you if you try to grasp how to pronounce dzień dobry in Polish, after having consumed too many shots.
Here are a few glimpses on Food Street:
Promoting gluttony. It is not eat as much as you like but as much as you can. Portions are very generous in Seoul.
This restaurant’s façade exhibits a very sweet story about saving a rabbit, however the love is exclusive for hares, stories of other animals are on the menu. The rabbit figure sits in a tiny window.
When walking towards Hangangjin Station we passed several cafés (Starbucks is a dominating bastion) and design stores.
The attention catcher was an interactive long black board titling ‘Before I die, I want to…’.
The wish ‘to travel and visit other countries’ came up a lot. The wall was a reminder that we are living a dream. Travelling the world has turned into a privileged lifestyle, that is still so amazing in our second year, I find it difficult to grasp.
About the ‘Before I die’ – project.
Rodeo Fashion Street. Started out with tailor shops that made customised clothes for US soldiers, now a street of big-size stores for oversized foreigners, leather products, some ‘designer’ looking stores that do sell overpriced clothes bought at Dongdaemun market. I have honestly seen one and the same dress with varying price tags and labels, at three different shops. Probably not all do it but I wasn’t very impressed with Fashion street.
A few glimpses:
Fashion is not limited to clothes. I sure know, what rabbit and horse do, when no one’s looking.
Antique Furniture Street. Does not only sell furniture and not all is antique but more vintage. The stores came about as US soldiers and embassy employees sold their furniture when they moved from Korea.
My dad collects antiques and our homes look like museums of old furniture combined with modern equipment. I spent my weekends at flee markets and to this day love old wooden cupboards, desks and tables.
Out of curiosity, I asked about the price of the chaise longue and couldn’t believe it. 20,000,000 won! About 13.000 Euro.
That’s crazy! You know that it would be cheaper to fly down to Europe, buy antique furniture back home at one of Colognes great flee markets, or in Holland’s fantastic antique markets and ship the stuff down here – there would still be money left for a nice stay in Seoul. My business idea for anyone who would like to set foot in Seoul’s Antique Furniture Street.
Before entering the Samsung Museum of Art, we got our energy drinks from a convenience store. Now all over Seoul, the first convenience stores were established in the 1980s. I wonder if those marvels will ever reach Europe, a continent that is stuck in the ice age of 24h convenience.
The Leeum – Samsung Museum of Art displays the art collection of the founder of the Samsung Group.
The LED lights inserted into the floor are the work of Tatsuo Miyajima. They display numbers from 1 to 9, turning off (die) when they reach 0 – representing the cycle of life and relativity of time. Hm. Okay.
Location: 747-18 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul. 10:30-18.00 (closed on Mondays). It is a pretty distinguishable spot comprised of three different buildings designed by Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas.
The museum houses single pieces of international modern artists. The ‘Black and orange on red’ from Rothko, a totally smudged canvas from Richter inadequately called ‘Swan’, a wall of pills behind glass from Hirst, one of the disturbing Bacon portraits, a typically thin Giacometti figure and a neat ‘Smooth egg with bow’ from Koons amongst others.
My favourite work at the museum is by Takashi Murakami, the father of the Superflat art movement, describing flat forms of Japanese subculture in graphic design, anime and fine arts. It incorporates a bit of Western pop art and Japanese animation.
Murakami brings sweet, bubbly, innocent creatures from a child’s dream world to us, as well as huge, vibrant and over-dimensional sculptures to the mostly serious art world. His recent animation film Jellyfish Eyes is full of gravity-defying figures and cute monsters in a post-Fukushima world. I love Japanese contemporary art! Kawaii.
The museum also offers Korean art from prehistoric times and the Joseon dynasty. Celadon, Buncheong ware and porcelain, calligraphy, Buddhist art and metal works can be found along these corridors – designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta. Truthfully, more impressive than the exhibition.
At night, we tried one of the recommended restaurants in the Korean brochure for vegetarians. Only one meal (a starter salad) was without meat and not surprisingly, all the deserts. We could have just picked any restaurant ordering rice with kimchi starters.
To sum it up, Korea’s idea of vegetarianism is ‘someone who has vegetables with their meat’. Enjoy more veggie thoughts in Seoul.
And more of our entertaining travel diary, tomorrow!