Travel Report: Kim Kwang-seok Story House, Daegu.
April 2019. We must have spent a solid hour exploring Kim Kwang-seok Memorial Street. We admired the artwork, listened to the buskers and grabbed a coffee at one of the rooftop cafes. The atmosphere had been so positive, a genuine celebration of the man’s life and music. Now, following an enthusiastic recommendation from the yellow-jacketed tourist guide volunteer, it was time to dig a little deeper. Thus we made our way to Kim Kwang-seok Story House, a museum about the life and times of Korea’s most cherished singer-songwriter.
As with the memorial street, there’s no charge to enter this little museum. Just head right in and say hello to the friendly receptionist. She’ll definitely ask you to sign the guestbook. Moreover, she may want to mark your visit on their social media feed by asking you to pose for a photograph.
It definitely pays to read up a bit about Kim Kwang-seok’s life before coming to the museum. With no English captions accompanying the exhibits and items on display, some visitors may find themselves a bit lost. On the ground floor we found a recreation of the late singer’s living room. Apparently, a few bits of the furniture are originals from the home he shared with his wife Seoh Hai-soon and their baby daughter, Kim Seo Yon.
Kim Kwang-seok Story House, Daegu.
Kim’s marriage was famously troubled and drew much media attention. Nevertheless, he remained devoted to his daughter. You can see a bunch of her personal items in the museum, including treasured gifts from her father and letters to a pen pal. Sadly, she grew up with an undisclosed mental illness that prevented her from living a normal life.
Tragically, Kim Seo Yon passed away in 2007 at the tender age of seventeen, eleven years after her father’s suicide. Controversially, her mother managed to keep her death a complete secret! Intense media speculation followed, as did high profile accusations of foul play from Kim Kwang-seok’s brother, Kwang-bok.
In 2017 the Korean filmmaker Lee Sangho released a documentary, Suicide Made, which implicates Seoh Hai-soon in the death of both her husband and daughter. As a result, multiple lawsuits followed from all sides. Naturally, the museum declines to enter this murky territory.
Rather, the curators have chosen to focus on the positives. On the first floor you can listen to some of Kim Kwang-seok’s most celebrated music at a number of audio booths. Each station plays a different album and the sound is crystal clear through the provided headphones.
Kim Kwang-seok Story House, Daegu.
Elsewhere, there are gold discs, archive photographs, handwritten lyrics and plenty of stories behind the music. However, with no English commentary provided, you’ll find yourself skipping over a few sections. It’s a real pity and one that could be remedied by the presence of an English speaking guide.
Through another online article about the museum, I found a translated diary excerpt that showed Kim as a man who had plenty of dreams and who looked forward to growing older. It makes for some sad reading, when you know he would not live past thirty one.
“I would like to travel the world on a Harley Davidson.
I will cut my hair short, dye it blonde and hit the road at 40. It’ll be fun”.
Back down at the entrance, there’s a museum shop with all the usual kitschy items, like key rings, postcards and fridge magnets. They also have some absolutely gorgeous anniversary edition vinyl albums. Man, if I had a record player I would have grabbed one of these.
You can find Kim Kwang-seok Story House at the end of Kim Kwang-seok Memorial Street. It’s open daily (except Sundays) from 10:00-17:00.
For more on what to see and do in this hugely underrated city, check out my travel reports from Daegu.
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