Happy ending to a Seoul search
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.’’