When the invitation to attend the Grand Opening of the first Teddy Bear Museum in Korea on the island Cheju is delivered express, and when also the Korean Teddy Bear Association will organize her first Teddy Bear Art Show in Seoul during the same period of time, one phone call is sufficient to reserve my plane ticket: Amsterdam- Seoul-Cheju. Seoul is the capital of South-Korea, and is with her 12 million inhabitants the 6th largest city of the world. The International Airport Incheon has just been opened, the big glass, bulb-shaped train station in front of the Airport has not been finished yet, so first I try to find the shuttle bus which will bring me to the hotel. Like in Japan only few people speak some English, but as I am trained to speak body-language in the meantime (once I will attend the world championship ‘pantomime’), my ticket is soon bought, and I find myself waiting at the right stop. Downtown Seoul is busy in a pleasant way, architectonic impressive buildings and hotels, trees show off their first fresh green leaves and the temperature is agreeable warm. Although it is supposed to be the best accessible system of the world, I don’t dare to enter the Underground yet, but with the help of a Romanised map of Seoul and with sneakers at my feet, a few hours later my arms are heavy from carrying the numerous bargains ( most of them I will use for my bears) from the immense market Dongdaemon.
In the small alleys of the market with thousands of people and signs with only Korean characters one easily gets lost, but happily their are information corners as big as a telephone box, where friendly helpers explain what your position is.
Saturday morning to the National Airport Kimpo (one hour with the shuttle) for the flight to Cheju, my final destination. With the frequency of a bus schedule ( about 30 times a day!!) a loaded plane leaves Seoul in order to arrive 70 minutes later at Cheju Airport. Sunny, the guide, born and raised in Cheju, waits for me and with pride she tells me that Cheju lacks only 3 things: “Thieves, beggars and the front door of houses”. Unfortunately the wind is too heavy to explore much of the island, but the famous nursery of Bonzai trees is a must for a visitor. It is curious to see grown-up trees, which are not bigger than 60 cm, with enormous bunches of flowers of the blue wisteria at their branches. If you look closely you can see the threads through which the trees can keep their dwarfish shape, and of course they are often competently pruned.
A few hours later I can see the striking glass pyramid of the museum, the real reason of my arrival! Together with Dee and Tom Hockenberry I’ll make a reconnaissance, as Mr. Ray Kim, the museum director, doesn’t have a spare moment for us yet. Only
the next morning, on the 22nd of April, the museum will be opened officially and many things has to be done, as we can see. In and around the building it is a coming and going of many people. Workers are still busy with draglines, cleaning the facades
and terraces or are filling the ponds. Decades of women are planting tussocks of grass, toil and moil boards and brigs and are wiping the access roads. Unrecognisable, sun tanned and with a beard from weeks, Ray Kim joins us for dinner that night. Around ten ‘o clock he excuses himself: “ I cannot make it too late, sorry, but I have to continue to work tonight.”
“ It would be nice to see you share the happy moment of the Grand Opening with all of us”, was written on the invitation. So the next morning hundreds of guests gather at the parking place in front of the museum and the sun gathers brightly too:
The mayor, the architects, advisers, and the many friends of Jesse Kim, the owner of the museum. Jesse beams, his dream came true: he has always strived to do something fun, in spite of the fact whether it will bring in much money. And we are present at the beginning of this dream. After the salute to the Korean flag, return thanks to all his friends who kept on believing in this project, and a warm welcome for everybody, scissors are handed over to 27 people. Enthusiastically I am cutting through the parti- coloured ribbon together with Bev White, Linda Mullins and Dee Hockenberry
amongst others. As the museum has been built against a mountain, one enters on the 3rd floor. Upon arrival five framed pencil drawings from Ber Boom (NL). The two elevators have been covered with sheets of steel in which thousands tiny teddy bears engraved. Then on the second floor bear Marty starts his journey through time starting in 1901 and ending in 2040 and we are joining him. In huge glass show-cases Marty ( his name is derived from the movie “ Back to the future”) shows us the start of the age of the motorized vehicles: bears in old fashioned clothing chugging in the first trendy T- Fords. From an iceberg polar bears are watching the Titanic where beary people are dancing and dining on deck . The first television, bears are nearly stuck to the screen.
In 1944 the invasion of the Allied Powers in Normandy, in 1955 the opening of the first Disney park in Anaheim, California (US). Along the way Marty let us experience the landing on the moon in 1969. And with the excavation of the Army of stone in
China ( with dozens bears made out of concrete), the Hippies in London and the fall of the wall in Berlin the 20st century is rounded off. But also many celebrities have been changed into bears. The wind is fiddling with Marilyn’s Monroe famous white
evening gown ( Myunghee Won, Korea). Emperor Bonaparte, Charlie Chaplin in the movie “Timemachine”, Elvis Presley and the Beatles have been reincarnated into bears by Bev White. “Snowhite” reads the seven dwarfs ( Helga Torfs, Belgium) and
Audrey Hepburn plays the part of Eliza Doolittle in “My fair lady” ( Anna Koetse).
On the first floor the Teddy Bear Gallery: Amongst others the “Mona Lisa”, a self-portrait of Van Gogh, statues of Rodin with
beary features “The Kiss” and “The Thinker”. The “Last Evening meal”(!) and the “Flute-player” of Edouard Manet. As I am writing this article, I am now most sure that the impressive glass pyramid of this museum is the little brother of the Louvre in
Paris. By all means the Steiff bear, dressed by Louis Vuitton, commands respect as he can say that he is the most expensive bear in the world. Last year Jesse Kim bought this bear for a few 1.400.000 FF at an auction in Monaco. In a long display wedding couples from many countries in their original costumes. Bears from Anna Hoo and Marjoleine Vos (NL), and an exquisite couple with the Japanese rickshaw from Yuki Harada. With a collection antique furries, Paddingtons, Ruperts, Santa Bears and the history of the Teddy Bear in a nutshell, the tour has come to an end. From the glass pyramid a glance to the garden and at the horizon the Japanese sea. With this beautiful asset I am sure that the love for the Teddy Bear will soon spread in Korea, and I wish Jesse Kim a long and lovely dream.