▲ Though meant to be protectors of the animals, these teddy bears have decided this tiger is better served as dinner. Photo by Alpha Newberry
As I entered the Teddy Bear Safari, symbolically located next to Psyche World, I was prepared to be saturated with cheesiness, although I wasn’t quite sure what a teddy bear would look like in a safari or how this would be experienced by visitors.
The manager of the Safari, Park Gwan Min, showed me around the first floor of the museum, which looked like a little jungle. I was surprised by how few teddies I saw, instead noticing many species of stuffed animals in the simulated wild. Park explained this was because the teddy bears are supposed to be the guardians of the animals.
On the second floor is a display much like the one seen at the Jungmun Teseum. There are teddy bears placed in famous movie posters, teddies invading important art works, giant teddy bears and teddy bears placed in real life scenarios. Ever imagine what Gulliver’s Travels would look like if it were teddies? Consider teddies as Olympic athletes? The Scream is a famous painting — why not put a teddy in it? It’s all there.
▲ This fish, made animate, floats carelessly and predictably in a faux aquarium. Photo by Alpha Newberry
Park explained that the Teseums are all connected, so of course there are similarities between them. There are 18 Teseums located throughout Korea, three of which are on Jeju. The Safari was created after Teseum lovers demanded more life-like teddies in different environments.
Readers may be thinking that the Teseums are targeted toward children, and any adult looking for amusement in such a place would be the equivalent of a scholar picking up “Fun with Dick and Jane” for mental stimulation. In fact, the Jungmun museum is targeted towards an older, adult audience and is one of the most successful in the industry. The Teddy Bear Cafe located near the ICC Jeju convention center on Jeju is an attraction geared towards honeymooners and tourists interested in celebrities (teddy bears situated there are modeled after the stars).
▲ Photo courtesy Teseum Safari
It is only the Safari on Jeju that looks to attract children, and thus families, to revel in fuzzy cuteness. The Safari also offers better photo opportunities meant to cater to the online social networkers who fall into the trend of picture-happy uploading.
“Wow! OK? Are Koreans really this crazy about teddy bears?” I found myself thinking as Park continued to tell me of the huge success of the Teseums. The answer to my question was an overwhelming yes as I discovered 700 Korean visitors come to the Safari a day during the peak season in summer.
But it isn’t just Koreans who love the cuddly stuffed animals. Park informed me an estimated 300 foreigners, mostly from China, but also Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries of Southeast Asia, come every day as well. Only one percent, though, are from Western countries, which may help me culturally trace my general attitude that such an excessive interest in the stuffed animal is laughable.
I find the entrance fee for adults of 7,500 won to be overpriced for a museum that could be fully covered in 10 minutes. If the billion-won teddy bear featured on the second floor of the Safari modeled after the Greek goddess Hera and crowned with 6.8 carats of diamonds doesn’t scream superfluous, then I don’t know what does. The real money of the Teseum is made in the shop located downstairs, where they make 150 percent more profit than they do with entrance fees. Everybody is made to feel that they must have a bear of their own.
▲ Photo courtesy Teseum Safari
As much as such a place like this isn’t what I would normally invest in, I did find it hilarious. Also, I saw adorable children filled with elation in coming into contact with the bears, such as a little girl I spotted who ran to hug and kiss a large teddy.
The name of the museum, though, should stand as either a warning or an advertisement depending on your taste. Judge accordingly.
(Interpretation by Chris J. Park)
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