Seoul's Jumbo Piece of Junk
One afternoon in Seoul, while bored and looking for anything to occupy my time, a guy I’d met a few days earlier told me he’d heard a rumour that a giant Boeing 747 had been dumped inexplicably on the doorstep of a housing complex out in the suburbs, and was now slowly wasting away. That was literally all the information he had, but the possibility of jumping up and down on a jumbo jet wing without getting shouted at or accused of terrorism by lingering air traffic control staff seemed like a lot more fun than another morning hanging out with the art kids of Insadong, so I got on a train to check it out.
The trains out to Namyangju-si were pretty damn infrequent – once every three hours – so it’s pretty lucky the rumour turned out to be true and the plane we’d come to see was waiting for us when we arrived. We didn’t have any directions or anything, but it’s not hard to spot a giant blue Boeing 747 parked against the uniformly grey backdrop of this butt-ugly place – we spotted it straight away from the raised train station platform.
OK, so we knew nothing on arriving but I’ve since done a bit of homework and it turns out this plane isn’t just any old lugger and has a bit of history to it. Using my detective skills (i.e. by reading the huge letters painted on the side of it), I found out the aircraft we were approaching was once the great Clipper Juan T. Trippe. I have this feeling that the instinct that motivates men to name their aeroplanes things like Clipper Juan T. Trippe is the same instinct that motivates a certain breed of man to give his penis an affectionate pet name too. But I digress.
The Clipper Juan T. Trippe was actually the second ever Boeing 747 to ever be built, and was originally delivered to Pan Am Airways – the great US airline company that was the bright young starlet of the world’s growing international air travel industry from the 1950s until its collapse in 1991. Named after Pan Am’s company chairman (a guy who almost certainly had a nickname for his cock), it flew all over the world as an American flagship, was temporarily loaned to Zaire back when Zaire existed and nearly got wrecked in a tailstrike accident, but ultimately made it through. If you’re wondering what happened to the first ever Boeing 747 to be built, well that was destroyed in 1977 when it collided with another plane in Tenerife, killing nearly 600 people in total. So old Clipper Juan here is probably a bit of an important historical relic to the sort of people that care about aeroplanes (like Richard Branson? Surely he’d be big into this? Someone get Richard Branson on the phone, for fuck’s sake…) as it’s the earliest surviving Boeing 747 anywhere in the world. So, if that is in anyway important, then what the hell is it doing out here, rusting away in the middle of nowhere?
The thousand-odd inhabitants of the apartment blocks facing the Boeing are probably over the fact they get to spend every morning eating their rice and kimchi staring out over an awkwardly parked blue vehicle, totally useless for transportation, what with it being on the ground and not in the air (seriously, imagine trying to drive along a motorway in a Boeing – traffic police would have none of it). We, however, were pretty excited by the incongruous juxtaposition so we ran about taking pictures and then spent a good half an hour jumping up and down on the wing and not being accused of terrorism, just to get it out of our system.
There were a few nice kids’ rockers beneath the body of the Boeing. If only more hyperactive children were left to play in front of the wheels of large passenger aircraft, then the world would be filled with far fewer ankle-biting little shits demanding cookies and Barney.
Still unsure of what the hell it was doing there, we decided to break in. It was all locked up but amazingly one of my mates managed to slip through a window, no bigger than a small cat, that had been left open on the stairwell up to the aircraft’s entry door.
Once inside, all was revealed. As far as bad business ventures go, buying a Boeing 747 (quite expensive, I imagine) and turning it into a themed restaurant in an area no one ever visits is up there with the Niigata Russian Village and when Bloc Party went electro.
By the time we got there, it had long since gone bust. Duh. We had a snoop around anyway.
We had a rummage through the reception desk and discovered fuck all, but it still fell quite good acting like petty crooks.
Most of the interior had been torn out and was looking kind of shitty, but at the front of the plane there was this weird kind of conference room which looked like a great place for people who take themselves seriously to plan a state insurrection or maybe just a ritual lynching.
The actual cockpit, however, was lacking many of the essential buttons needed when attempting to fly a plane.
We couldn't find an actual kitchen on board, leaving us wondering if they served customers genuine aeroplane food when they were open for business, which doesn't need a kitchen to be produced in the first place because it's mostly just the contents of cat litter trays anyway. If so, it was no wonder the place went bust.
Anyway, with no navigation stick or even a steering wheel to manoeuvre it out of here, it looks like Clipper Juan T. Trippe’s going to be rusting on the steps of Namyangju-si for a long while yet…
Follow Alex on Twitter: @alex_hoban
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