▲ Clockwise from top left: Some of the oranges growing in the museum greenhouse. Kim Jae Chun explains the back story to a part of the museum exhibit. The citrus greenhouse. Photos by Sarah Warren
Any tourist visiting Jeju will quickly see that this little island is certainly famous for one thing: citrus fruit. Billboards are freckled with their image. Markets are stocked with them. Even peoples’ arms are often found hugging a box or two to be taken home to their families in Seoul. If this isn’t enough to whet your curiosity, then please, try a Hallabong tangerine – at the very least your taste buds will be satisfied.
If, however, you want to learn more, you can visit the Seogwipo Citrus Museum.
The founders set out with a specific goal: “We need to tell people about the value of citrus. We need to save [its] history,” said Hyun Gwan Cheol, the museum’s manager.
Since opening in 2005, the museum has blossomed into a flourishing center of learning and aesthetic beauty.
Within the museum you can experience the interactive learning exhibition. Here you are guided through an arcade of 3D videos, interactive maps, sniffing stations, insect galleries and citrus products from all over the world.
Next you can visit the observatory and folklore exhibition. Here you will find a most intriguing point of interest: the tongsi. The tongsi is interesting even to Koreans! Unfortunately, past visitors who do not speak the language may never have known what they were looking at. You’re in luck. The tongsi is a traditional Jeju toilet. In order to keep this toilet up and running a stone wall and a few small pigs are required. As you’re doing your business over an opening between a few large, well-positioned stones, the pigs wait beneath you to catch your, um, business. To make this toilet even more environmentally friendly, the pigs are later eaten once they’ve fattened up a little. I’m told they’re quite tasty.
Next, you can visit the museum’s most popular attraction: the world citrus exhibition. This is located in the greenhouses at the back of the museum. As the museum’s head guide, Kim Jae Chun, likes to put it, “the Citrus Museum is a secret garden.” Having entered the greenhouses, I can certainly agree.
Last year’s tally of visitor surveys deemed it the most popular, said Hyun. He says this is likely because you can see over 100 kinds of citrus fruit. “You can see the biggest and the smallest citrus in the world.” The biggest citrus weighs as much as two kilograms, while the smallest citrus is the size of a blueberry. If you have an eye for the bizarre, you can also find Buddha’s hand, a kind of citrus so contorted that it resembles the shape of an old hand, coiled in a meditative pose.
Next, if the weather permits, you can step outside the museum and relax beside the artificial waterfalls or take a leisurely stroll on a walking trail. The museum also offers a playground and small workout facility.
The best times to visit are between the months of October and December as the citrus fruits are ripening or in spring between April and May when you can see, smell and sample the delicious citrus blossoms. The blossoms are edible and, apparently, almost as delicious as their end product.
April and August are the museum’s busiest months. April is especially busy, because people want to enjoy the spring weather, and August because it falls within the summer vacation period, said Hyun.
In previous years, the museum did not organize special events, but as the number of people visiting the museum increases each year, the staff have decided to begin planning. In March you can lend a citrus tree a hand by learning how to connect a young branch into its trunk. In April you can tie-dye your whites, organically, with tangerine peels. In August you can learn the art of tea making, citrus style. Lastly, in December you can pick your own citrus fruit all month long!
To register for these events, go to the museum’s Web site (www.citrusmuseum.com), or if you’re not hangeul-savvy, stop by the museum in person to inquire. Dates are set one month ahead of time.
In the future, the museum’s management hopes to open an organic farm, where people can pick their own fruit, as well as a footbath facility and a swimming pool.
(Interpretation by Kim Jung Lim)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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