On occasion, the timing of things, the intersection of events in a person’s life, works out better when left alone than it would have otherwise had we planned everything in advance. Call it serendipity or luck or kismet or anything you like.
Such was the case for me on my recent trip to South Korea to attend the high school graduation of my grandson, Jacob Swayne, son of Aramco Brat Brad Swayne (in turn, my son). During my stay in Incheon, where Brad has a civilian job with the U.S. Air Force, I had the good fortune to visit the nearby capital city of Seoul and see the “Roads of Arabia: The Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia”” exhibition at the National Museum of Korea. A few weeks earlier, Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage President Prince Sultan bin Salman, Energy Minister and Aramco Chairman Khalid A. Al-Falih, and South Korean Deputy Prime Minister Yoo Il-ho had jointly inaugurated the exhibition. For a joyous Saturday afternoon in early June, I felt like I was back in my former home of 25 years, Saudi Arabia when I was in fact 4,800 miles away in South Korea. The feeling was miraculous.
Brad and his family were there with me, and he felt the same way, having spent most of his growing-up years living in an assortment of camps across the Kingdom. Our visit to the exhibition gave us the perfect opportunity to share with Brad’s wife Taka and children Jacob and Satomi—my daughter-in-law and grandchildren—a taste of the exciting history of this exotic land of which they’d heard so many stories. For one afternoon at least, those stories came alive before their very eyes. And, after all, isn’t sharing the rich history of the Kingdom with the rest of the world one of the major reasons for sending an exhibition such as this on a global tour?
Comprised of 466 carefully selected objects dating back thousands and even a million years, the exhibition tells the story of the people and culture of the peninsula in dramatic fashion. The exhibit traces human developments of the peninsula from the Stone Age through pre-Islamic times all the way up to the establishment of the modern Saudi state during the reign of King Abdul Aziz.
For me, one of the most stunning objects on display was a pair of gilded doors that once graced the entrance to the Kaaba in Mecca. I found it astonishing that such a great cultural treasure had found its way to South Korea. Prior to coming to Seoul, the exhibition had visited China, four countries in Europe, and five cities in the U.S.
As reported in Arab News, at the inauguration ceremony Al-Falih said: “With ‘Roads of Arabia,’ we bring to Korea a sort of cultural map, artifacts that are priceless not only because of their historic and artistic value but because they tell the story of the people of the Arabian Peninsula. Across the globe, roads have connected people, ideas, art, and culture. In fact, our two nations represent two peninsulas and two peoples, connecting the East and the West.”
He added: “As part of Vision 2030, Saudi Aramco is strengthening its focus on building bridges of trade, commerce, and partnerships with the Republic of Korea. And through ‘Roads of Arabia,’ we are also helping pave new roads of culture and people-to-people contacts, all of which are essential for true prosperity.”
For readers looking for a good reason to visit South Korea sometime soon, the exhibition runs until the 27th of August. Don’t leave it to chance like I did! For information on the exhibition, visit National Museum of Korea.