Ghibli Exhibit at the BMA

My third weekend in Yeongdo I set out alone for a quiet day-out. Only, I ended up stumbling into the opening day of a Studio Ghibli exhibit. I should take myself out on dates more often.

bma ghibli tix

From September 5th to November 29th, the Busan Museum of Art (BMA) will host an exhibit that spotlights the scenery and architecture of Ghibli films, paying homage to famed directors Hayao Miyazaki and Takahata Isao.

Fan favorites are all present, like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, as well as more obscure films like Only Yesterday and Pom Poko. My experience was very much shaped – and at times hindered – by the crowds present on opening day. Nevertheless, the collective excitement from Ghibli-lovers was tangible, and perhaps made some aspects of the exhibit more poignant.

Upon admission, you are greeted by a dimly-lit room, cutout doors and windows scattered across the dark walls. Naturally, most descriptions and titles were in Korean, adding an extra element of confusion as I stood baffled with the rest of the crowd as to why there was still a long line after we’d entered the exhibit. Our line managed only a slow shuffle, a few people breaking out from time to time to peek around the corner and report back to their friends.

bma ghibli line     first room

Upon finally entering the light, aka the first part of the exhibit, you come across an assortment of carefully painted scenes and meticulous sketches juxtaposed with photos of Japanese landscapes and architecture. You realize and are reminded again and again that the resemblance is stunning. This section comes across as a brief lesson in Japanese history and a quite obvious pointing out of the parallels between Miyazaki’s film backgrounds and real life Japan.

storyboards     sketches

hill model     hill model 2

The transition into the next section is a charming model of lush green hills and a village, the setting of a film the name of which I didn’t catch. Throughout the exhibit, you can count on a smattering of these replicas – some miniature, some life-sized – that appear roughly in order of increasing popularity, so by the end you’re bound to recognize them. Without a doubt, the uncontested star of the show was Spirited Away’s unforgettable bathhouse. The massive, intricate replica dominates an entire room where the staff are extra-vigilant, stepping up frequently to ask museum-goers not to take pictures. In a later room, I exchange a sly smile with a man in eclectic clothes as we catch each other sneaking pictures in the beautiful blue room that features scenery from Ponyo.

ponyo house 2     doors

spirited away food stand

Visitors can choose to play a small part in the last room, where they can interact with the exhibit. The museum provides small strips of white paper and stamps, with patterns based on the architecture featured in the first room, for visitors to create miniature paper houses. These can be added to a display with the paper houses that other guests have completed. While this activity might be more geared towards children, I think Ghibli films do have a way of bringing out our inner child. Introducing an element of play into the exhibit seems like something that would be in line with Miyazaki’s vision. Children and adults alike swarmed the activity tables to participate.

exhibit end

But wait. It’s not over yet. The gift shop seemed to possibly be the most popular part of the exhibit, with an enormous line at its entrance which wound all the way around half the second floor lobby. Eventually I got in, picked up a few postcards, marveled at the other cute-but-too-expensive goods, and headed upstairs to see the rest of the museum. This is a picture of the gift stop from the third floor.

ghibli gift shop

Sadly the rest of the museum didn’t look so festive, but for this lonely museum-goer, it was a much more familiar sight.

rest of bma     rest of bma2


Chuseok Weekend, part II

Monday – Chuseok Day

After a false alarm the day before, I woke up ready to meet my family for real this time. But once again only my grandparents were home. Later my aunt called and let me know that everyone was coming over around 3pm. So I had breakfast, cereal this time, which my grandmother decided to try with me. At first it seemed a little hard on her teeth, but she thought it was fine, and even had it again the next day!

My host family and real family have both been very considerate when it comes to breakfast. Since Korean breakfasts are no different than any other meal, and my stomach is sensitive in the morning, I had a hard time adjusting at Jungwon University. However, my host family bought me bread and cereal within the first week, and my aunt immediately bought cereal the day after I arrived, when I had only mentioned eating cereal for breakfast in passing.

After breakfast I watched TV with my grandparents for a bit and then went upstairs to bum around. My grandpa surprised me by showing up and asking if I’d been to 문화아을, or the Gamcheon Cultural Village, which is just down the street from their house. We headed for the village, although I was at first unsure if we were going together. My grandpa is 95 years old, so understandably, long walks are hard. However, he walked me there, and said he would wait under a gazebo while I had a look around. I explored and took selfies, and there was still a lot to see, but I felt bad making my grandpa wait.

When I got back and showed him where I’d been on the map, I guess it wasn’t satisfactory. Haha. He said I should go again, and told me to meet him in another spot further down the street. But then he kept walking, so I followed to make sure I knew where to meet. At the edge of the cultural village, there was a hiking trail, and without hesitation, my grandpa headed down the path. I decided that he knew where he was going and would probably be back, so I continued my solo expedition. After looking around for a little bit more, I returned to the hiking trail entrance, and he wasn’t there. I walked down the trail a bit, but it lead to another neighborhood. I began to worry. At this point my mom had called, and I told her I was looking for grandpa. I continued going back and forth on the trail, and asked a couple I saw if they’d seen my grandfather. (In retrospect, they probably thought I was looking for an old white man.) Finally I found him waiting in the general area that he’d first gestured towards…

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The hiking trail where I lost my grandpa:

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It was a good time nonetheless.


My family finally began to trickle in! First my oldest aunt came back with her daughters, both in their mid-twenties, along with 보람 (Bo-Ram) who’s the same age as me. 보람’s family lives in Suncheon (this is my second aunt’s family), but unfortunately she’s the only one out of her family who could make it. She stepped into the house, and after seeing me, kind of just stopped in her tracks and stared. But I did the same. It’s a weird thing to see your cousin for the first time (excluding that time we were babies). In creative writing, sometimes a gaze is described as hungry or thirsty; I felt a bit like that. My eyes tried to take in everything about their appearance. It was the same when I first saw my aunt, then my grandparents. My mind tried to match the person up with pictures I’ve seen, but still, a picture can only capture so much.

We kind of awkwardly said hi and sat next to each other. Meeting and trying to communicate with a Korean person for the first time seems to go like this: Awkward. (Or impressed that I know any Korean at all.) Then there are some struggles. At first my aunt was impressed that my host mom could understand me so well and, it seemed, a little discouraged that she could not. But as we spend more time together, I guess people become accustomed to my broken Korean, are willing to try a few words in English, and/or go to our smart phones to translate when needed. Although things were a little awkward here and there between my cousins and myself, we managed and it turned out just fine.

Shortly after my cousins arrived, they asked each other “should we do insa (which means greeting)?” They then proceeded to line up in front of my grandparents and do a full-on kneeling bow – stand, kneel, forehead to the ground. Oops. Is that what I was supposed to do? My grandfather then gave them each 10,000 won (roughly $10). It’s tradition for the adults in the family to give the children (or grandchildren) money during Chuseok and New Years. When I arrived, I got 50,000 won ($50). Shoot. Was I grateful enough? I don’t think so. I’m sure I get some leeway, as a foreigner, but I felt a little bad.

Next my family from Seoul arrived! My youngest aunt lives there with her husband and two kids: an older girl and younger boy, both in elementary school. I also have an uncle, but he’s currently in India with his wife on a missons trip. We spent time chatting (as best I could) and getting through the initial awkward phase. Later in the evening, we had a delicious Chuseok dinner, courtesy of my aunt’s efforts the day before. It was delicious, 이모! Highlights were galbi jim, a kind of beef rib stew, with BIG pieces of meat, twigim/which is similar to tempura, and of course, rice cake – a Chuseok classic.

I actually have no Chuseok food pictures….incredible.

Tuesday: Shopping day!

Tuesday my two aunts, 보람, my younger cousins and I went to an outdoor market/shopping mall. We browsed around a lot, and had naengmyun, a cold noodle dish, for lunch.


Afterwards we spent time window shopping at makeup, skincare, accessories stores. My youngest cousin 준호/Jun-ho was probably bored out of his mind. 보람 bought me lipstick as a gift and I got her some earrings. Her birthday is this month, but since she lives in Suncheon, I won’t be able to see her then.

Speaking of lipstick, femininity in Korea is…interesting. It’s different, of course, and there are a lot of the same problems and restrictive ideas we have about body image that we have in the US, but it’s also a different flavor. But that’s a topic for another post.

Next we went to a bookstore, two floors, nice Barnes & Noble or Borders-sized. (RIP Borders.) Eventually my excitement wore off, as I couldn’t read the books and my other younger cousin kept trying to get me to stop browsing. My aunt though, really wanted to buy me a book and insisted that there was an English section, and finally, I did find it. The store clerk I asked just gestured in the general direction, and the selection wasn’t very big, but I found And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I was a big fan of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, so I’ve been wanting to read this one since it came out. But like in college, I don’t seem to have much free time to read.

After the bookstore, my oldest aunt, 보람 and I went to Holly’s Coffee to kill time. We had plans to meet with one of my older cousins 예림(Ye-Rim) and her boyfriend for dinner. We chatted, took a lot of selfies, and played around with a beauty filter app.

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Dinner was two spicy seafood and beef dishes (the closest equivalent would be stew, I suppose).



If you want to avoid getting your clothes dirty, many Korean restaurants have aprons you can use:


Later that night there was an awkward (for me) interrogation of 예림’s boyfriend. For most of the time I had no idea what was going on. At one point 예림cried, and I still don’t know exactly why. I could only offer tissues.

Wednesday: Relaxing and Goodbyes (for now)

Wednesday was the last day I spent with my family, and a comfortably lazy day. My family from Seoul planned to leave at 2pm, and I would with my oldest aunt and her oldest daughter 예지 (Ye-Ji) after them. We talked, ate, and cleaned the second floor. Before we left though, 예지and I found the stash of old family photos. Next time, we’ll have a lot more to look through, but we had a good time being amazed and laughing over the photos with my grandfather.

My grandma and mom:


While I held it together when saying goodbye to my youngest aunt and her family, I couldn’t when saying goodbye to grandma. But she patted me on the back and said, don’t cry, you’re close by, and we can meet again – something along those lines. Just like when I first arrived at my homestay, seeing my family for the first time brought up so much emotion that I felt as if I could cry at any moment. Unfortunately I think I’ve made a name for myself among my family as the emotional one. Next time they’ll definitely be watching out for tears.

My aunt and 예지rode the bus with me, and my aunt got on the second bus with me and said goodbye at the light rail station. There may or may not have been more tears.

My cousins and I have all exchanged phone numbers and Kakao IDs. 예지 and 예림each individually encouraged me to message them anytime, especially since they’re only in Busan, if I want to hang out, am bored or just want to talk. I plan to go to Suncheon to see 보람 and meet the rest of her family during my winter break. And I’ll be in Seoul from time to time (whether for Fulbright business or fun), so I can see my youngest aunt’s family again then. I feel like I’ve gained a massive network around Korea, though obviously my family means much more than a network. I am filled. I am content.