Local author highlights museums

McLean author Hoon-Jeong Hwang’s first book, “Museum Guide for Temporary Washingtonians,” recently was published. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

McLean author Hoon-Jeong Hwang’s first book, “Museum Guide for Temporary Washingtonians,” is more than just an amply illustrated, pocketable guidebook for tourists.

The 137-page book brims with tips and impressions from an open-minded, first-person perspective.

“I’ve tried not to deliver only standard information to audiences, but to describe how I feel about these treasures,” she writes in the epilogue. “This book is not created by an omnipotent person who can control everything and guide you perfectly. It’s rather a history of my challenge in D.C. for four years.”

Hwang covers 41 museums in the Washington area, most of which are in the District of Columbia. The Smithsonian Institution looms large, of course, with its wide-ranging offerings and free admittance, but the author also includes lesser-known venues where people can learn about art, history and architecture.

Hwang especially likes the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, which share a building in D.C. While some people adore movie superheroes, “I get a similar feeling when I see important people from American history,” she said.

Hwang began her book in April 2019 and finished it in three months. She visited the sites, took the all guidebook’s photos using a smartphone, and spent an unexpected amount of time confirming facts.

The book is aimed at temporary visitors, from travelers to newcomers in the area for extended stays, who value curious and distinctive offerings, she writes.

“I don’t want to be a cultural snob, or discuss trends, or reiterate information that is available online,” she writes. “I hope that what I’ve seen and felt for the last four years in this beautiful city merits sharing with others who are in search of the treasures of Washington.”

Plenty of travel guides suggest itineraries for trips of different lengths, but Hwang goes further by envisioning how people of decidedly different life circumstances – a couple and their toddler, an active 40-year-old single woman, an elderly couple with physical disabilities, a  mother and her teenage daughter, a family with mentally challenged twins – likely would experience the museums.

Hwang sprinkles in extra goodies, such as hard-earned advice on how to make the most of museum tours; lists of books and movies featuring museums; picks of her favorite galleries and museums  for beginning, intermediate and advanced visitors; and tips for visiting with children and senior citizens.

The author published the book through Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. The guidebook is available there for $19.99 and at Amazon.com, where the $24.99 charge includes shipping.

Hwang was a dentist in her native South Korea, and came to the Washington area four years ago when her husband was posted there for work.

She is working on a Korean-language version of the book, and hopes to update the English version with additional entries, such as the National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C., and the National Firearms Museum at the National Rifle Association’s headquarters in Fairfax. Hwang also may write about historical places in Maryland and Virginia.

Susan Joseph of Bethesda, who leads an English-conversation group that Hwang attends weekly at Georgetown Public Library, said she was “amazed” by the author’s book.

The book has made her want to check out the mail-delivery vehicles at the National Postal Museum and the garden at the Old Korean Legation Museum, she said.

“The guidebook is complete, beautiful and of a convenient size and format,” Joseph said. “It is refreshing to see the museums of Washington through Hoon-Jeong’s witty commentary and well-chosen photographs.”

McLean resident Zaiba Hasan, who got to know Hwang through their children, said she had not even gone to half the places mentioned in Hwang’s guidebook, despite having living in the area for 16 years.

“It’s motivated me to go out and explore the D.C. area in the way she’s courageously done,” Hasan said. “I’m used to doing things with a group of people or with my kids. She’s motivated me to go out on my own.”

Hasan said she would like to spend more time at the National Portrait Gallery, because it is quiet and allows her to sit and read the presented materials instead of feeling rushed.

Hwang’s book showcases considerable depth and attention to detail, said Hasan, adding that her sister used the guidebook on a visit from Chicago and also came away impressed.

“The itineraries are super-helpful,” she said. “I definitely think it should be a go-to book to purchase for people who are visiting the area. It’s a great resource.”

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