Monday, June 1, 2009

Renoir and Riots

On Saturday, Salsa boy and I headed up to Seoul to see the newly opened Renoir retrospective at the Seoul Museum of Art (SEMA). The retrospective was alright but it was frustrating that the captions and information about the exhibit were only available in Korean though painting titles were also listed in the original French (which I translated for Salsa Boy). Seoul works very hard to depict itself as a truly cosmopolitan city and they invest millions every year to make it a more welcoming and attractive tourist destination. In the past few years I've traveled to more museums than I can count in many countries and in all of them, museum information was available in at least 5 major languages. There were plenty of other foreigners there and I listened in amusement to one couple (American) guessing that 'coussins' possibly meant cousins (it means cushions). That being said it was a good exhibit and it was interesting to see a retrospective displayed thematically rather than chronologically though I disagreed with some of the choices made. As an art student, one of my favorite things is to see how an artist's style progresses over time. There were some fabulous portraits but my favorites, the large garden and park scenes, filled with people weren't there.
After the museum, we grabbed some sushi for a late lunch before heading up to Dongdaemoon Market. However, upon leaving the restaurant we saw that the idle lines of police were now running/marching back toward Seoul Plaza, decked out in riot gear. Bus upon bus of riot police unloaded and made toward the Seoul Plaza. Salsa Boy was very gung ho about getting closer to see what it was all about but some of the strongest advice I ever got while in France was to avoid domestic protests and strikes as your legal rights are extremely limited as a non-citizen, should you be arrested. The riot police were lined up outside the subway entrances letting people in but not out into the main plaza. We ducked into the subway and headed north to the market. This morning's newspaper ran a brief article on the police crack down of unauthorized protests and demonstrations now that President Roh's funeral was concluded (it had taken place at the palace off of Seoul plaza). Korea is a 'democracy' but freedom of speech and demonstration is nothing like the unalienable right we have in the States. Bloggers have been arrested, (see the particularly incendiary case of 'Minerva' who accurately predicted the economic downturn and criticized the Korean government's response and action to it) or had their articles or blogs shut down without notice. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue but I haven't heard anyone talking about it on the streets. Articles in the paper tend to get relegated to the middle. Granted, with the tense situation in North Korea right now, no one is talking about much else but it would be nice to see some fire about democratic rights being curtailed.
Dongdaemoon was a bit of a let down. It's a really great place to go if you want really ugly western clothing though there was a beautiful selection of traditional goods, none of which I need. I didn't end up buying anything though Salsa Boy got a hand carved, traditional Korean stamp with his name phonetically spelled in Korean. I'm trying not to shop and save my money for a summer trip to China.
I have never felt less anonymous in my life, walking through these riot police or more ostentatiously American. It didn't help that I'd just treated myself to my once a week vanilla soy latte from Starbucks and was clutching the cup for my dear life. They were very obviously briefed on foreigner treatment as we were graciously let through and stepped aside for as we made our way back to the subway, better I think than our Korean counterparts attempting to do the same.


Josh said...

I'm glad you didn't get arrested and that you know better than to get involved in riots (in other countries). We are quite sad that our favorite midget isn't coming to visit in September!!!

Nancy K said...

I second the glad you know to go in the opposite direction!
I agree about the exhibit. I much prefer chronological so that I can see how an artist changes and grows over the course of his/ her career.

Alex said...

It's not set in stone about September, I might still be coming home, it's just that it might get put off until January.

Random note: the photographs are by the ever reliable Salsa Boy.

Josh said...

i take it salsa boy lives sans-adhd....... :)

Alex said...

Pretty much. Unlike me, he never forgets his camera though occasionally he forgets to charge it.