Teddy Bear Museum: A walk through history with the cute and the cuddly

TEDDIES IN HANBOKS. The Teddy Bear Museum depicts Korean history through cute and cuddly bears. (photo by Tyrone Chui)

When I originally booked my family’s trip to South Korea, I wanted to visit as many settings to Korean dramas as I could and one of them was the Teddy Bear Museum featured in one of my favorite Kdramas, Princess Hours. However, I knew that the Teddy Bear Museum was situated in Jeju and we only had time to look around Seoul so I was a bit defeated.

ELECTRONIC MAGNIFIER? Check out short presentations of specific areas in the map through this LCD. (Angie Chui)

Luckily, I didn’t give up and researched a bit more, only to find out that there is a branch right in the middle of the city at the N Seoul Tower. And the great part is, the area is also covered by the Seoul City Bus Tour, which we used to travel the city’s various tourist spots in two of our four-day trip.

LIFE AT THE PALACE. Palace workers go about their usual functions like a well oiled machine. (Tyrone Chui)

Getting there: Commuting is a bit tedious as the area is uphill since the tower offers an overlooking view of the city and is especially magnificent at night. If one would remember, the Observatory at the top is where some of the more romantic scenes in My Girl and several other Koreanovelas took place. By using the subway (Line 3 or 4), one can get off the Chungmuro station, get out through exit No. 2 and take the Namsan Shuttle Bus in front of Daehan  Cinema. Afterwhich, one should take the subway again and get off at Dongguk University Station, get off at Exit 6 and take the Namsan Shuttle Bus. By Bus, one can tale the Namsan Shuttle Bus #2 or 3 which stops at the N Seoul Tower. One can also take a cable car at Myeongdong in front of the Pacific Hotel to get to the cable car station.

TIBS. Teddies in Black form a protective circle around the President's official vehicle in front of the Cheongwadee, or the Blue House. (Tyrone Chui)

What’s in store: I was fully expecting the exhibit to be filled with teddy bears dressed in period costumes and depicting the evolution of Korean history and up to this point, I was correct. But more than cute teddies in hanboks, I was completely fascinated by the role of bears, in Korean mythology. From the onset of the exhibit, tablets posted against the wall explain that Koreans believe that a bear and a tiger once asked a great god to make them human. The god asks them to wait for 21 days (if I remember correctly) at the mountain cave before their request is granted. The tiger gives up after several days but the bear perseveres and in the end, becomes human. Korean mythology illustrates that the bear is the ancestor of the first Koreans and is the source of their indomitable spirit, a character which has been passed on from the early dynasties until today.

What surprised me the most was that the exhibit was not just composed of mere dioramas of bears in period costumes but rather scenes depicting the way of life during the Joseon dynasty with robotics that spruce up the well detailed presentations. The presentations are activated by sensors which saves energy since the dioramas remain still until such time a person steps in front of the discreet sensor to check it out. There is also a giant map on the wall which has a control button to choose which area one wishes to learn about. Once the button is pushed, a flat screen television moves to the area like a magnifier and plays a short presentation about the area in question.

HAPPINESS. Myself posing for a photo with one of the giant teddies in the exhibit. (Tyrone Chui)

There are also giant bears that guests could pose with, some wearing traditional clothing (complete with beards) and some garbed in more modern outfits. The exhibit is divided into two parts — the first part being The Past where palace traditions and ancestral rites are depicted, as well as the old villages and way of life in the small towns. The second part is The Present where visitors will get a kick out of seeing modern Korean scenes like Myeondeong, City Hall, Daehangno, and even the official residence of the President is illustrated. The contrast between the old and the new is truly a sight to behold. Whereas, the vibe in the past was emphasized by traditional folk music in the background, the present is backed up by a more vibrant atmosphere with break dancing teddies and street performers dressed in K-pop fashion.

PRINCESS HOURS MEMORABILIA. Props used in the filming of the drama are showcased at the museum. (Angie Chui)

Towards the end of the exhibit, the teddy bears used in the Kdrama Princess Hours are enclosed in glass cases as well as memorabilia used by the cast in the making of the drama. Popular and historical bears are also on display. yes, including Mr. Bean’s teddy. For an extra W3,000 won, one can print out a picture of oneself in a 3D teddy bear palace backdrop a la neoprint and a souvenir shop rounds up the show. The teddies for sale are quite reasonably priced considering. The ones in special costumes cost roughly W25,000-W40,000 while the simpler bears that only bear a ribbon of The Teddy Bear Museum range from W12,000 and above depending on the size and the style. For more tips in travelling to Seoul, this earlier entry of mine might be of help. By the way, entrance to the Teddy Bear Museum is W8,000. For the package which includes the observatory, I think its W12,000-W14,000. The facility also offers packages for groups with reduced rates so for inquiries, check out their website: www.teddybearmuseum.com.