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  • Day4

    Day 3: Bad Noodles and Good Art

    November 10, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 6 °C

    Sunday we set out for Leeum, the Samsung Museum of Art. We had plans to have dinner with all of the cousins that evening, so we were looking for a low key day in anticipation of the reunion of family who haven't been together in decades (and all the fun and stress that might bring.)

    Leeum is established around the collection of Hong Ra-hee, the daughter-in-law of Lee Byung-chul (the founder of the Samsung corporation), and the wife of Lee Kun-hee. Two things: 1) Korean names are written with the surname first…So “Lee” is the surname of the founder of Samsung, and his son, Lee Kun-hee, who is currently one of the richest men in the world; and 2) Lee Kun-hee may or may not be alive. Yes, you google it…there are two stories. Either he has been in a coma since 2014 or he’s dead and his family has kept this a secret to avoid paying billions in estate taxes. Honestly, either way it’s an amazing story.

    Hong Ra-hee is the most powerful art collector in South Korea, and it shows. Leeum consists of three buildings that are masterpieces in themselves. The buildings are designed by Mario Botto (a terra-cotta building that houses Korean pottery), Jean Nouvel (a stainless steel and glass structure that houses contemporary Korean and international art), and Rem Koolhaas (a concrete structure that houses the Child Education and Culture Center.)

    So what is in this museum? Everything. Every perfect specimen of every time period of Korean art. One of the only two surviving crowns from the 5th century Gaya Kingdom? Yes, that is here. A 13th century celadon ewer from Goryeo potters in PERFECT condition? Yes, that is here. The large 18th century moon jar with no visible seam? Yes, that is here. The collection was amazing, and it made every other museum in the days to come pale in comparison. My advice is absolutely see this museum…and absolutely see it last.

    Leeum is situated in the international district. The neighborhood of high-fliers in Seoul: ambassadors, UN employees, and the like. If you watch the movie, Parasite, the Park family seems to fit perfectly in a neighborhood such as this.

    The only downside of Leeum was the lack of a good cafe. Let’s face it…a good cafe is paramount to a great museum. We walked down the hill to an adorable cafe nearby, but it was full for lunch, so we found a Chinese noodle place. The place looked good, was crowded, included in the Michelin guide, etc, so we went in and Alice ordered Jjajangmyeon. Jjajangmyeon is a Chinese black bean noodle dish that has been Koreanified and is pretty much THE comfort food from Alice’s youth. I loved it. We ate, we went back to the museum. It was a great day. It wasn’t until DAYS later that I found out…we had eaten subpar Jjajangmyeon. I laughed. I still laugh. But what is even funnier? After the 10 days were over, I was kind of a Korean food snob too. I mean, I wasn’t home for a week before I tasted subpar kimchi here in Denver…now I just make my own. I also make my own Jjajangmyeon. I mean, who has time for bad noodle?

    We ended the day at dinner with the cousins. Let me tell you how fun it is to observe someone else’s family…especially when you understand about 2% of the conversation and get to fill in some of the drama for yourself. Without the stress of it being MY family, I relaxed and took the opportunity to eat my body weight of more Chinese food (this time new age Chinese, and apparently, also subpar.) The best part of the meal was when the 17-year-old cousin came to sit next to us to practice her English. After I had taken what should have been my very last bite, she handed me the menu and said, “Now they want you to pick your noodle.” Excuse me??? White girl here thought that was the ENTIRE meal. Nope. You FINISH your meal with noodles. I laughed and ordered some more Jjajangmyeon. I’d like to live my next life as a 12-year-old Korean kid.
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