Archive of Posts by Saly Lee

Bell Ringing Reflections

Another year has gone by, and as always, we (literally) rang in the New Year in style with our annual New Years Eve Bell Ringing ceremony. The event has been a member and staff favorite for 28 years.

Bell Ringing 2013

The end-of-year ceremony has its roots in a Buddhist temple practice that happens daily, each morning and evening. In present-day Japan, it is customary to ring the bell 108 times on New Years Eve to correspond with the number of evil desires we suffer from on earth. Ringing the bell 108 times rids us of our evil passions and purifies us for the upcoming year (the number differs in Korean tradition; in that ceremony, ringing 33 times symbolizes the Thirty-three Heavens, the Trâyastriṃœa, where the Buddhist guardian Indra resides).

Bell Ringing 2013

The bell we use for the ceremony was made in Japan in 1532 by Daiji Temple in Tajima province. Our current belfry was constructed in 2002. About two weeks before each ceremony, our museum prep team brings the bell and belfry up from art storage and carefully installs them in Samsung Hall, where they remain on view for about three weeks.

When I started working at the museum about six years ago, I couldn’t believe the museum allowed visitors to strike a 16th century bell. But I’ve since realized how special a moment it is to be together with friends and family (and sometimes with a complete stranger), looking back over the past year.

Bell Ringing 2013

Reverend Gengo Akiba from Soto Zen Buddhism in North America has led the ceremony for the past ten years. The ceremony includes a purification ritual and Heart Sutra chanting. It is a solemn and sincere moment, and even young children seem to understand the purity of it (and there were many young ones this year).

Bell Ringing 2013

My favorite moments are when the group meets at the bell, shares good wishes with smiles and turns to ring the bell. And of course, afterward there is the inevitable scrambling to get selfies in, posing for the perfect shot with the bell. And in the rare moments when there is no one to claim the next turn at ringing the bell, people goodheartedly step in to ring it for everyone.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day

The term janchi (feast or celebration) is very familiar to Koreans. We hold janchi for a baby’s first birthday and invite families, friends and neighbors. Getting a good grade on a university entrance exam is also for a cause for janchi. For graduations, weddings and housewarmings, we would host janchi. There would be plenty of food, music, colorful dresses and good cheer. Neighbors would come early and help prepare the food. Children would be corralled together to play games, eat, and just be kids.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day

When I first pictured the 5th annual KF Korean Culture Day program about a year ago, I imagined the chaotic and hectic janchi of activities I was used to seeing when I was young, with many different things to do for young as well as not so young. For a museum of art and culture, this was also an opportunity to highlight traditions while focusing on the next generation of artists and cultural leaders.

This year, we hosted 2,915 visitors to the museum thanks to the generous support from the Korea Foundation. That’s up 20% from the last year’s attendance (I had my wish of a hectic, crowded day)! A long line snaked through the 1st floor for a tasting of the goldongmyum, a delicious cold noodle dish that used to be a staple of royal palace celebrations in the Joseon dynasty.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day performances

There was a standing room only performance of traditional music and dance by students and teachers from Korea’s prestigious art school, Korean National University of Arts.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day crafts

Art activities and art demonstrations were popular all day. Families bustled around the AsiaAlive Korean paper making demonstrations with Aimee Lee, and lantern making activities staffed by our amazing volunteers and Art Speak teen interns.

A special lecture by UCLA Professor of History and Director of the Center for Korean Studies, John Duncan, explained impact of Confucian social structures on contemporary Korean life.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day tours

Storytellers and docents guided groups through to museum’s collection and the In Grand Style exhibition. They even had to add extra tours in the afternoon due to high demand.

My favorite part of the day was speaking to many visitors about their experience at the museum. My day was made when a visitor stopped me on the way out of the performance and asked “Do you know who worked on this program? Please tell them thank you for providing this incredible chance to see and learn about Korea! Now I have to come back to see it all over again.”

Here’s a video with more highlights:

The Year of the Dragons

One of the cool things about working at the Asian Art Museum is that I get to meet artists from all over the world who are creating some fascinating works, big and small.

A few days ago, I received a holiday card from an AsiaAlive alumnus, Japanese bamboo artist Tanaka Kyokusho. He also sent me a photo of his latest work, a fifty-foot-long dragon made entirely from bamboo.

Tanaka's bamboo dragon display in Tokyo.

Another Japanese artist, Paris-based artist Natsusaka Shinichiro, recently sent us the new year’s netsuke he created specially for the museum. This is his third year designing netsukes for our education programs; he previously created netsukes for the year of the tiger and the year of the rabbit.

Natsusaka's dragon netsuke is about an inch tall.


Unlike Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities, Japanese people celebrate the new year on January 1. This change from the lunar calendar was made during the Meiji Restoration Period, in 1873. Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese new year starts on January 23, 2012 (it changes every year according to the lunar calendar), so you will have three extra weeks to make new year’s resolutions.

Next Saturday, December 31, museum visitors can ring the new year in with our annual Japanese bell ringing ceremony, make their own netsukes at our family art activity, and welcome the Year of the Dragon in style.

Art Making Hour with the Whole Family

One of my favorite memories from childhood is about a clay project my family and I did after a memorable visit to a local museum’s Picasso ceramics exhibition (this was when I had no idea who PICASSO was). We (mostly my mom) carefully extracted whole skeleton from a fish and made impression on a slab of clay and made it into a shallow dish. My mother’s colleague fired it in a kiln for us, and she inaugurated it by having a fish dish in it that night. I soon graduated to making ashtrays by myself, and those simple art projects with my mother set me on the path of enjoying making art (and now I know who Picasso was).

Here are some of the samples of art activities from the museum’s awesome Education team. My current favorites are Japanese Teahouse and Thai Spirit House making, since they appeal to my sense of accomplishment. For more fun activities, please see the museum’s family program page.