Happy end­ing to a Seoul search

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & In­dul­gence - PAULINE WEB­BER

MY12-hour stopover in Seoul, my travel agent as­sures me, is all or­gan­ised. With no time to visit the city, I’ve booked a night at a five-star ho­tel near the air­port. I an­tic­i­pate a quiet drink, per­haps a mas­sage, then a good night’s sleep to set me up for the long­haul flight next day.

Travel is of­ten about tack­ling the un­ex­pected, so I re­main rea­son­ably calm when, on pre­sent­ing my voucher at the re­cep­tion desk, I’m in­formed I have no reser­va­tion and must go back to the air­port, where Korean Air will sort me out. Two hours later, when I find my­self not in the lap of lux­ury but in a ba­sic room in a high-rise ho­tel 20km from the air­port, sur­rounded by what ap­pears to be a build­ing site, I sus­pect I’ve over­es­ti­mated my fre­quent-flyer smarts.

The morn­ing dawns bright and clear. After break­fast I waste a half-hour grap­pling with the idio- syn­crasies of an au­to­mated toi­let. There’s a user’s man­ual next to the toi­let-roll holder but it’s in Korean and call­ing house­keep­ing for as­sis­tance with us­ing the baf­fling ar­ray of but­tons and knobs would only leave me flushed with em­bar­rass­ment.

Fi­nally, ablu­tions over, I head out for a brac­ing con­sti­tu­tional. The roads, flanked by bare saplings wrapped in sack blan­kets as pro­tec­tion from the bit­ter cold, run in rigid grid for­ma­tion into the dis­tance.

I turn into what looks like a vast park and run smack-bang into Jonah and the Whale; Jonah, clad in a tu­nic of old gold and re­clin­ing on a couch up­hol­stered in foam­ing wave shapes, is a lit­tle big­ger than life-size. So is the whale, which is made of thou­sands of tiny green and blue glass bot­tles wired to­gether. It’s re­cy­cling of bib­li­cal pro­por­tions.

Per­haps this is my re­ward for the night’s dis­com­forts, the point at which cam­era, note­book and per­fect lo­ca­tion meet. I see now that the ba­sic ho­tel 20km from the air­port was my destiny.

Sus­pended on a tower of scaf­fold­ing above the whale’s spout (old tele­vi­sion an­ten­nas?) is Eli­jah en route to heaven, his char­iot hauled by prancing white ponies. Beyond, framed by sparkling new sky­scrapers, Daniel is ad­dress­ing an at­ten­tive pair of lions.

And here’s Moses pre­sent­ing the Ten Com­mand­ments on tablets of stone that must be at least 20m high. And there, in what seems to be a ran­dom de­tour into the New Tes­ta­ment, is Je­sus bowed be­fore Pon­tius Pi­late, flanked by cheer­ful-look­ing Ro­man sol­diers.

The piece de re­sis­tance is Sodom (or is it Go­mor­rah?) frozen in mid-col­lapse, towns­folk scat- ter­ing in all di­rec­tions. The city is made en­tirely of plas­tic plates in the blue and white wil­low pat­tern you see in Chi­nese restau­rants.

Have I stum­bled into a theatre work­shop? It can’t be, for there must be 50 or more of th­ese dio­ra­mas spread across the park. I can see an enor­mous Noah’s Ark at least 3km beyond the canal.

I’m frisk­ing hap­pily with bun­nies and tigers in the Gar­den of Eden when I re­mem­ber I’ve got a plane to catch. Hunting about for an exit, I chance upon a huge bill­board fea­tur­ing a glossy, spray­painted ver­sion of Christ’s feet nailed to the cross. The sign along­side it reads: ‘‘Bi­ble Expo 2011, Songpo Park, In­cheon’’. So, the mys­tery is solved.

Later, on the bus to the air­port, I’m re­minded of a piece of ad­vice my dear mother-in-law gave me as she wished me bon voyage. ‘‘Re­mem­ber to think of every un­sched­uled change of plan as an op­por­tu­nity to see and do some­thing you’d oth­er­wise never have done.’’

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