Faced with the prospect of a Sunday afternoon with little to do, Amy and I dove back into the Seoul Museum and Art Gallery Guide and decided to give the Seoul Life Science Museum a try (all of the natural history museums we’d visited so far in Korea had been interesting and entertaining, so this was a clear choice). We found it in an unassuming building in a quiet neighbourhood, and hit a stumbling block immediately when some white-coated staff told us that it was closed (along with something about the internet, which we couldn’t quite get the meaning of). I asked why the place was closed (as we could see children exploring inside), at which point we were ushered through the doors and sold “self” (unguided) tickets. Or so we thought, until a staff member interrupted us looking at some turtles and gestured for us to join the demonstration going on upstairs.
We caught up with the tour just in time to join some slightly awed elementary school students on a mat and catch the first hands-on exhibit – a very calm ferret, which the guide wrung like a cloth to demonstrate their flexibility. As he was passed around, we could see a cage full of younger ferrets scampering about and trying to escape – possibly more realistic, but certainly a recipe for chaos if released.
After the ferret had been returned to his brethren, the guide produced some kind of tree frog (sadly, I didn’t write down the names of any actual species so will have to do a return visit with notebook) and demonstrated his tree-climbing ability by sticking him onto a wall (made of glass, so the frog slowly started to slide down and had to be rescued) and a spiny lizard, both of which were content just to sit in someone’s hand and watch their surroundings (quite possibly for food). By this time we’d spotted several more animals around the room, including a large rabbit, and when the guide turned up with a guinea pig I began to suspect we were looking at surplus lab animals (on reflection, probably not the case). I held the guinea pig as we began a tour of animals it probably was best not to touch (large snakes, an iguana and even a coati, whose origins we asked about and were politely evaded), who made contented purrs until s/he got bored and started to nibble on me in an effort to get put back home.
By this time, the formal tour had ended and a border collie puppy was produced from the office to gambol around and chew on things (especially trouser legs and shoes). We fed the rabbit, had some limited conversation with the kids, cooed at the other animals, checked out the aquatic (fish and turtles) and genetic engineering (glow in the dark mice, we think) exhibits downstairs and spoke briefly with the director-chairman, who seemed quite interested to meet us and told us a little about the bioscience activities going on there. We left with not-entirely-unreasonable hopes of getting permission to do our own English-language tours for schoolchildren.