Friday, May 30, 2014

Let the Museum Tour Begin

Museum, museums, museums. That is what I said I will be doing all my weekends here at D.C. With the fine collection of Smithsonian museums that are all free, I have been visiting quite a few so far. It’s my second week here at D.C. and I have been to four museums. Not bad. There are a total of 18 museums in D.C., and two more Smithsonian institutes in New York. My goal is to visit all of them and write about them, and the idea is I will have a little D.C. museum guide here. There are also other museums that require (quite a bit of ) money to enter, such as the Newseum and Spy Museum. I do think I will eventually visit those but for now, the free ones. For this post, I introduce to you two museums: American Indian, and Air and Space.                                

A brief intro about visiting the Smithsonian museums, so far the ones I’ve been to are all open seven days a week, so even on Mondays. You will need to have your bags checked, and you cannot bring in food. The food part bothered me a bit, since I brought a sandwich with me for lunch; I did not want to eat in the museum cafes. However, while visiting the American Indian Museum they did not see that I had a sandwich in my bag and they let me in. I guess that’s because my sandwich was wrapped in my jacket. But just to make things clear, I did not intend breaking the rules and sneaking food in. And I surely did not eat my food in the museum.

Following the chronological order of my visit, I begin with the American Indian Museum. To be honest this museum was not on top of my list since I did not think I would be interested with American Indians, but it turned out I quite enjoyed the museum.

The museum has a great collection that not only covers the traditional aspect of the American Indians such as belief system, folk stories, and daily items, but also the lives today of these American Indians. Each tribe (I’m not entirely sure if tribe is the right word to use, if not, do correct me) has their own little exhibition, which introduces several cultural figures who contributed to the exhibition, and you get a overview of their belief system such as colors and directions, and there are videos of songs, dance, ceremonies, and a display of items such as clothing as utensils. You also get to hear traditional stories along with a lovely animation, and if you like me had been walking all day, this is a great chance to rest your feet and enjoy some good

Other than the traditional aspect of American Indians, I especially enjoyed the part of the museum that talked about their present day lives. Topics such as traditional language schools, identity, and cultural preservation are discussed, and I did a lot of thinking in the exhibition since a lot of the topics are open to discussion, such as casinos, or the identification of being an American Indian (how much “Indian Blood” do you need to have to be considered American Indian, is an American Indian ID the way to go?). This exhibition is organized by area and tribes, and each tribe has their own ways of adapting to the changing world, also are exhibitions that cover common issues for all American Indians.

By the way, the American Indian museum is beautiful on the outside.

By the way this museum has a nice gift shop, quite big and carries books, CDs, handicraft, jewelry that I feel are not commonly found in other places.

Moon rock! Touch.
Next, the Air and Space Museum, next door to American Indian. It’s probably the most popular and famous of the Smithsonian’s, and the hall with airplanes and space shuttles hanging from the ceiling and bathed in sunlight is not something soon forgotten.  What’s very exciting about the air and space is that almost all the planes and shuttles you see are the real thing and not the replica, like this shuttle you see in front of you, yeah, it went to space and back.  You also get to touch a moon rock, which has been shaped into a smooth, flat, triangle disc. The museum is basically divided into two sides, one for space, the other for air.

On the space side, I particularly enjoyed the development of space technology and the competition of U.S and Soviet Union. I thought it was really interesting to see American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, since most of the time we only think of astronauts but the Russians also have done quite a lot in space exploration as well.  Standing in front of satellites and parts of
space telescopes you just realize how big those things are. There’s a space shuttle that you can walk in to experience the rather small space astronauts floated around in. To complete your astronaut experience, head to the gift shop to buy astronaut food: freeze dried ice cream. How it works I do not know, but I can tell you it doesn’t require freezing in the freezer anymore.

On the air side, you get to learn about the planes that have made historical journeys such as crossing the Atlantic Ocean. On the second floor there is an exhibition about planes in WWI. Interestingly, I learned that planes didn’t really play that big of a role, but they were highly romanticized in Hollywood movies and consumer products. It seems that exhibition is newer addition, the 50s themed hall was pretty nice and step into the theatre to watch a nice documentary of planes in Hollywood. Something else that I found really interesting is the development of consumer airlines; flights back then sure were pretty different from now. Back then airplanes had a setup very much like fancy trains: they had tables, fabric curtains, and lounges. See advertisements from that era where Q&A included questions like “Can I take children?” and “What should I wear?”

While the museum is free there are some paid features that I did not try but it does look pretty interesting, including IMAX movies and flight simulators. The flight simulators looked pretty fun, I’m not sure if it’s targeted towards kids but it sure looks pretty cool.

The Air and Space has a really big gift shop, it spans across 3 stories. My favorite item in the store was a Hello Kitty T-shirt that read “I need more space.”

After visiting the museums, I suggest visiting the Botanic Garden, it's got this big green house with interesting plants to see, and the outside area make a great spot for eating your packed lunch. Check out my post about it here.

No comments:

Post a Comment