Starweek Magazine

It's a Teddy story

- Alexa Villano -

MANILA, Philippines - Jeju Island’s claim to fame and renown is its being the location of the hit Korean teledramas “Jewel in the Palace” and “Boys Over Flowers.” But if that isn’t enough for you, Jeju Island is also home to the Teddy Bear Museum.

The history of the teddy bear goes back to when US president Theodore Roosevelt (nicknamed Teddy) went on a hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902 and was unable to kill a bear. Some of his supporters found a cub and tied it up for Roosevelt to shoot. He refused. The story was documented in The Washington Post with the now famous cartoon drawn by Clifford K. Berryman entitled “Drawing the Mississippi Line.” A Russian by the name of Morris Michtom was inspired by the events and produced a toy bear in his store in Brooklyn. It was said that he got the permission of Roosevelt to name it after him; thus the Teddy Bear was born. At the same time, a German named Richard Steiff also produced his own bear for his aunt’s factory and this was exhibited at the Leipizig Toy Fair.

Halfway across the world in Jeju Island, a Korean businessman named Jessie Kim had his own teddy moment and conceptualized the Teddy Bear Museum. The one on Jeju Island is the biggest one of five teddy bear museums in Korea, with the other museums located in Gyeongju, Namsan in Seoul, Seorak and Heyri. Known as gom in Korean, each bear museum has its own theme. In Gyeongju, visitors are presented with a story about the scientist Dr. Grant and his family going on an adventure in the city’s past. In Namsan, visitors are treated to the past and present of Seoul. In the Seorak museum, the bears are categorized in an adventure story with two people named Teddy Wilson and Fernando, while the Heyri museum features the bears in reproduction of the finest masterpieces.

The museum in Jeju Island houses the most extensive collection, with bears of different sizes and material. Among the famous themes in the museum are the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Clay Warriors, the Return of Hong Kong to China and Disneyland.

The bears also depict famous people and paintings, such as the Creation of Man, the Mona Lisa, Vincent Van Gogh, Marilyn Monroe, Mahatma Gandhi, the Beatles and Genghis Khan. There is also a life-sized bear dressed as the king of rock and roll Elvis Presley, which has its own section in the museum and visitors are even treated to a performance inside an auditorium.

The museum also displayed the bears from the hit Korean drama “Goong (Princess Hours)” which played a vital role in the story of a Korean prince who pours his emotions out to a teddy bear named Alfred and falls in love with an ordinary teenager. The show was one of the top dramas in 2006 and replicas of the Alfred teddy bear are still sold in the teddy bear shop in the museum.

Another hit show “Full House” spawned a song called the “Three Little Bears,” sang with full animation by the character Han Ji-eun, played by Korean actress Song Hye-kyo, and this further boosted the popularity of teddy bears in Korea.

It is also in the Jeju museum that you will find one of the most expensive teddy bears in the world. The Louis Vuitton teddy bear was bought by Kim in 2000 for an estimated price of $190,000 at an auction in Monaco. The 125-karat teddy bear is made of mohair and trimmed with diamonds, sapphires and gold fiber.

A commemorative bear made by the Steiff Company, one of a limited edition of 125 teddy bears made in celebration of the 125th birth of the stuffed toy, and the Swarovski teddy bear, can also be seen in the museum.

Outside the museum, one can enjoy the teddy bear park with displays of life-sized bears in scenes from a 50s diner, fishing and even on a picnic. To complete the experience, a teddy bear gift shop is found on the ground floor where visitors can buy souvenirs of anything to do with bears, taking home with them everlasting memories of the visit to the museum.

A visit to the Teddy Bear Museum on Jeju Island is not only for bear collectors and lovers, but for all kids and the kids at heart.

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