Jeju Island used to be known mostly for the strong ocean winds that sweep across it, the unique stones found there and the character of its women.
Maybe that was how it was about 15 years ago, when I first attempted to climb Mt. Halla. Strong winds and a steep challenged my ascent but the memory of that climb remains fresh in my mind along with the tales of "hanyeo" or sea women and the black stones that walled the gates to Jeju homes.
Some 15 years later, the rain and the more deteriorated condition of my body challenged my ascent but for the first time in a while, it was good to feel the rain on my face, softened by the trees that stood between me and the sky
But Jeju now has become a fashionable habitat for celebs such as Lee Hyo-ri who has bought a house on the island, and a favorite destination for Chinese tourists visible at famous sites and museums.
One of the latest additions to the museum on the island is the Nexon Computer Museum, opened by Kim Jung-ju, the founder of Nexon and chairman of NXC, the founding company of Nexon. Nexon is home to "Kart Rider," "Maple Story" and "Dungeon Fighter."
Kim is a migrant from Seoul, having moved the company with his family to the southern island in March 2009. A myriad of reasons must be behind the move but he obviously loves to climb Mt. Halla; those in the industry often say to meet Kim is to climb Mt. Halla. The island gave Kim space for those interested in what the founder of Korea's largest gaming company is up to. He rarely stood in the media spotlight, but for the first time in 15 years, he took to the podium at a news conference to herald the July 27 opening of the computer museum.
He seems to be a staple presence in the museum these days, which he humbly says is a just a store.
"There is Pi Cheon-deuk's essay about a man wanting to open a small stationery store, and I had dreamt about that. The computer museum is kind of like that. I want this to be a store that people go to get their computers fixed," said Kim recently, with a deadpan face, making it hard to determine if he was serious or joking. After all, Kim is known to possess several trillions of won in assets, and has acquired gaming companies such as Neople as well as the Japanese firm gloops and inBlue.
The museum, three stories high with one below ground, is compact and stylish, measuring about 2,445 square meters. The three floors are called "Computer at Theatre," "Between Reality and Fantasy" and the "Real Revolutionary." Situated near the Halla Arboretum and to the NCX building, the museum has about 1,800 computers and related devices including a fully functioning Apple I computer on exhibit. There is also a computer lab that demonstrates how a computer is fixed. Since the opening, the computer has seen 16,000 visitors.
What stands out about the museum ― even to lay people unfamiliar with how computers and computer games function ― is that it is a combination of history and fun. Middle-aged men and women can sometimes be found pounding on the buttons playing Galaga and Space Invaders on the second floor of the museum dubbed "Between Reality and Fantasy." Children rush to touch and operate the robots on the third floor, "Real Revolutionary." There are children everywhere in and outside the museum where a green park is dotted with children on swings, on mock tires and other play things.
The museum however may yet be the start of Kim's plans to chronicle the progress of digitalization. And you know there are bigger visions than a store when you listen to him talk.
"There are many industries where the transition from analogue to digital is taking place that carry significant industrial meaning. For instance, x-ray examinations at hospitals are making the switch to full digital," said Kim. He said that visitors to the museum sometimes comment or ask why older or analogue versions of the equipment used in their respective fields are not in the museum. "I hope to be able to capture these moments of change to digital that are making people's lives better."
What will follow the museums is still under wraps for the moment. He said in a recent interview that he wants to make NCX the Korean company most active in exchanges with outside companies.