koreans at the american natural museum

We took the kids to The American Museum of Natural History. It’s a bit ambitious for us, but Husband had never been and I was psyched to show him the place. I will always love the the Milstein Hall of Ocean Stuff-n-Nuts with the gigantic whale on the ceiling or the gigantic dinosaur skeleton by the main ticket sales, the life-size dioramas and the miniature dioramas of villages of yore. Every time I go, I visit the Koreans under the section of the Stout Hall of Asian Peoples. (I used to be an “Asians people.” Now I’m just an “Asian person.” I feel so less than.) It’s two wax figures in old school traditional garb with fewer vintage items than in my parents home, a perfunctory profile of the Koreas. Serviceable, I guess, and deeply weird. You know, with my generation, there were no public representations of Koreans. Just some extras on stretchers in the syndicated “MASH” TV show, so any public mention of Asians was an occasion.

On this visit, the museum felt strange. I think the whole premise of this incredibly old-school museum is to bring the wonders of the world your arm chair. It was founded the ye olde days of 1869, by President Roosevelt’s dad (I think I have that right) who was a naturalist. So these theatrical dioramas of like water buffalo fighting over the opportunity to mate with a lady, or a cheetah about to pounce on prey, etc., is so that we can have an up-close look. That’s cool! But then in addition to the elephants from Asia, there are also wax representatives of people Asia. Hmmm. Like sure in the 1800s, you probably won’t ever meet a Korean, but now, there’s a cornucopia of Koreans from a buncha states of the good ol’ US.

In the museum’s defense, it’s from the 1800s, and shoot, it is still bringing wonders of the world I will never see, eg, the bottom of the ocean floor (I saw a movie that featured a fish using tools to open a clam shell. That blew me away, to witness fish with operating with intelligence as opposed to instinct. I never thought about it before, and to be honest, it makes me consider going vegetarian. I am mostly vegetarian due to Husband’s Buddhism, but I never examined the whole notion of eating other sentient beings for myself.) And the museum itself seems to try to be figure out how it’s translating itself for the 21st century, beyond the fancy dinosaur exhibit. They’re hosting an exhibit exploring how to deal with their statue of Roosevelt out front on a horse with two people of color at a lower level, which hurts peoples because some feels it implies a racial superiority. I’m impressed that they’re going public with their thought process and not claiming they’ve figure it all out.

In any case, I got to bring my kids to the replica of two Koreans, so we can start a new generation of having random memories, and I got to show Husband the gigantic whale hanging form the ceiling in the ocean hall. They were preoccupied with whether the apples on the table in the display were real. (They did look very real.) Despite my questions, beyond its antiquated character, the museum does have something very unique. You sense that their dioramas can come to life. It’s no wonder that it inspired movies where this actually happens. Plus, they have these teeny village replicas that just fills me with absolute delight.

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