On why I wish everyone could experience a SO World Games

There’s the athlete, who having never left their hometown, is given a passport and an airplane ticket to spend two weeks in a different country.

There’s the coach who spent countless hours mentoring his athletes both on and off the playing field.

There are families, most of whom have very little financial freedom for travel, who sacrifice, scrounge and save every penny to be here just to watch their athlete compete.

There’s the sport official, who is a highly respected (medical) doctor in the US, who makes volunteering his time at Special Olympics events his passion, putting the athletes above all else.

There are the military veterans, volunteering in a variety of different roles, who praise our athletes as heroes and inspiration.

There’s the athlete who, like me, was adopted from Korea, raised in Oregon, and experienced his first trip back to compete while his Korean foster parents were in the stands (yes this really happened and chokes me up when I talk about it).

And there are tens of thousands of stories, all similar and yet, all the same. Athletes, coaches, volunteers, families  All from different corners of the earth. All here for one purpose.

You, reading this, have a chance to be a part of these stories. In 2015, the Special Olympics World Summer Games will be hosted in Los Angeles. Visit the website, http://www.la2015.org/. Get involved in a local program now.

Please, be a part of this.

I promise you won’t regret it.

Korea, Day 7

From my perspective, it’s been a fairly mellow day. I spent most of it in the IT room alongside Reuben, troubleshooting minor things as our team called in. It’s bittersweet because if we’re bored, that means that the Games are going well. If our plates are full with lots to do, it usually means the Games aren’t going as well as they should.

If I don’t mention this on the blog, Melissa E. will call me out on it: the toilet paper in our hotel room is scented. (Mel is quite amused by it) Though we can’t pin point the scent, rest assured that we’re making endless jokes about it. Toilet humor is a universal thing, regardless of what country you’re in. I can’t tell you what the scent is (it’s not like we can pinpoint it as “pine”, “vanilla”, “new car smell”, etc) but, I will tell you that it’s not just Mel’s imagination.

I am gaining a better understanding of what it is like to not be a minority among a group of people. There are definite differences in dynamics and the ways that you are perceived and treated. It isn’t until they discover that I’m an American that the treatment changes. It really makes you appreciate how people are treated, and how one should treat people. We all can stand to do a better job in the way we treat others.

The way that minorities are treated in the US is shameful. And, I do admit, I have been a part of that (treating minorities differently). Race and class are just one of the many ways that we, humans, separate, sort and judge. Our assumptions make us bullies and monsters.

For me, being 1) a minority, 2) adopted and raised by white parents, and 3) just now beginning to learn more about my origins, my thoughts and feelings are running rampant while here, in Korea. Most of my questions have no answer and fall victim to the age old argument Nature vs Nurture. How much of me, is me?

It’s not that US views are right nor wrong; they’re just different. I think that we, as Americans, have a lot to learn from the rest of the world. My advice to you: travel the world, and do it with an open mind, Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Learn as much as you can. Then, when you come home, use what you have learned to be a better person.

Korea, Day 6

green tea

Downtime for some of us.

It’s raining, forcing us to cancel the day’s events at alpine, nordic and snowboarding. And though the other sports are still competing, there’s not enough work for all of us.

Some of us could use the downtime to recover (there’s a few still under the weather). I have a head cold brewing but am hoping I can knock it out with some tea. FYI, the tea over here is fantastic. It’s almost enough to convert me from coffee for life. Sharon gave me some “Korean medicine” which helped a little.

One might think that I would use this downtime to explore with the camera but 1) it’s cold and 2) it’s raining. So, no.

Sharon is helping me put together plans for our extended stay, in Seoul, after the Games. There are so many options for us, and so little time, that I think I will have to make it a point to come back.

I’m not homesick but I do miss my bed. I can feel my neck and back stiffening because of the twin bed “spongy” mattress. And, of course, I miss my wife. Tim and Kim (both assigned to Floor Hockey) have done a good job keeping me posted on their Michelle sightings. Both have openly wondered how I ended up with someone as awesome as she is.

On a more personal note, I have to shake this feeling that I’m offending every Korean. I’m so paranoid about going against the common etiquette that it’s making me very shy to interact with people I don’t see every day (while working). For the most part, once they know that I’m an American, they are very understanding about it. But, it’s holding me back.

Part of it is the “fear” of being asked adoption related questions. It’s part of who I am but, I really don’t want to talk about it while here. I can’t explain why other than thinking that it might be a fear of what other feelings the conversation may or may not bring up.

Korea, Day 5

Ra, the asiatic bear

I think I’m losing track of what day it is. Actually, I don’t think I even really knew what day it was since I first arrived in Korea. I have to admit that keeping this blog is helping me track it a little bit.

We’re all getting sick. Ok, that’s an exaggeration (I hope). Our first “casualty” came this morning when Shawn informed us that he was too sick to go out to the venue. I was assigned to take his place, for Snowboarding, at Alpensia Resort. It’s quite the cushy job, considering I am in a heated room with a team of 5 GMS volunteers at my disposal.

They’re kicking butt, making my job even easier. The efficiency and speed in doing everything I am asking them to is quite impressive. They’re also very amused that I’m 6 ft tall, from Los Angeles, and don’t speak a word of Korean (despite my looks, of course).  I was treated to three of them performing the Gangnam Style dance for me, which I found equally amusing.

Tim is fortunate to be working at Floor Hockey, and thus has had a chance to see Michelle before I have. Michelle and I had a chance to catch up, via phone, this morning. It’s fun to see the two completely different experiences we’re having. She is in good spirits and is enjoying herself.

My throat is getting a little on the scratchy side. I’m fighting it off with lots of green tea and Halls. Sharon (my translator) is quite skilled at making me tea, even though I’ve repeatedly told her that she isn’t my assistant and doesn’t need to. She is very nice and is definitely making things easier for me. I think she was happy that we were reassigned to a venue instead of spending another day cooped up in the IT room.

I feel for Sharon. She is staying with a group of volunteers at a hostel-like hotel about 30 minutes from here. She has 9, yes NINE, other roommates and they’re all sleeping on the floor. There’s an adjacent room with 6 others (again, sleeping on the floor) and two bathrooms for the rooms. So, there’s no way I’m ever complaining about sharing a hotel room again.

So not only is she sharing a room with 9 other people, she is stuck to my side every day until Feb 5. That’s quite the feat. Someone give her a medal! Sharon and Michelle have something in common which is, obviously, a very special kind of patience.

Korea, Day 4

snowshoeing venue at Alpensia

The floors, in our hotel rooms, are heated which makes for a nice sensation when getting up in the middle of the night (barefoot) to go to the bathroom. The heaters are strong, and the past couple of nights our rooms have been bordering on the “it’s too hot” side. We had to crack open the sliding door to our balcony last night to cool things down.

This is in stark contrast to the first and second floors of the hotel (lobby and common areas) where they keep the temperatures low (presumably to save money). That, in addition to going outside where temps are still hovering around “smack you in the face cold”, is messing with our bodies. Some of us are getting sick. Thankfully, I still feel pretty good but Tim, my roommate, is getting progressively worse.

The “sickies” loaded up on kimchi jiggae (kimchi soup) which seems to be helping. I keep telling them that kimchi is the wonder (food) drug that cures anything.

Though we didn’t get to attend last night’s Opening Ceremonies, we heard good things about it. Space was limited and very few people secured tickets to sit in the audience. Today was the first day of competition, and we spent most of the time ironing out the kinks in our system as most venues ran their preliminary divisions.

All of us are on this committee because we each have sets of skills that compliment each other. Individually, we can hold our own in our respective local programs and, when we come together as one team, we’re really able to accomplish a lot for these Games. I’m constantly in awe of what we’re able to accomplish with our skill sets and roles complimenting.

I love this overall experience as it’s teaching me patience and new ways of communicating. Not only do you have differing opinions, beliefs, egos, perceptions, etc., there is the language barrier to add to the chance of misinterpretation. This GOC is great. They’re driven to make sure everything runs smoothly, and genuinely count on our advise to help make it happen. There’s a lot of mutual respect between our GMS Committee and the Korean GOC, and it’s making for a very friendly and efficient working environment.

Korea, Day 3

Poor Sharon (my translator), having to put up with my constant “how do you say ____?”

Korea is sometimes referred to as “Land of the Morning Calm”. And it is. The mornings are so peaceful. I’m sure that being up in the mountains has a lot to do with it. The white of the snow, the slight flog, and the trees combine to make some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. And it’s quiet! So very quiet around here. Calm is a good way to describe it.

I haven’t had a chance to photograph as much as I would like. We’re working on a lot of things and by the time I think to grab the camera for a walk, it’s already dark and very cold. I thought about taking pictures each morning, as the shuttles take us to the venues, but leaning out the window of a speeding van, in -1C weather, on a windy road will most likely not make for the best pictures.

But, take my word for it. It’s absolutely beautiful country here. Some of you know that Ventura (CA) is one of the very few places where I always feel like I’m home when I’m there. I did expect to experience a similar feeling here but, it’s not the same. So far, Korea doesn’t feel like “home” to me. Though, I do feel that I could live here and be pretty happy. Almost as if it would be “natural” for me to live here. It’s a difficult feeling to describe and, it may be premature to attempt to describe it.

I did get out to the Alpine venue. There are some slight hiccups with logistics setup (i.e. one of the snowplows took out a power line). Mike dragged me along, if anything for moral support, as Alpine is one of the more difficult setups we have and the hiccups add to our stress levels. It was beautiful on the mountain but I’m so thankful I’m not stationed there. (I took some pics of the setup, and posted to Flickr).

I also secured a constant internet connection for my own computer back in the IT room, so now I’m connected like I thought I would be. I feel much better now. Prior to this trip, I purchased a floor model Sony Vaio (for cheap) so that I can run GMS on my own machine (GMS does not work on Mac OSX). Though I was skeptical about buying another computer, I’m glad I did. Having my own standalone database allows me to do a lot of troubleshooting without tying up the main server.

The food is getting increasingly westernized. This morning’s breakfast? Fried eggs, toast, bacon and hash browns. There was white kimchi and rice, too. I got a hold of the Korean style lunch today, which made up for the breakfast. Dinner was buffet, and mostly westernized food. Though, they had kimchi jiggae (kimchi soup) which was excellent. I can’t wait to get to Seoul for some proper Korean food.

Korea, Day 2

Alpensia Stadium, my home for the Games

It’s getting difficult for me to find downtime to write these posts. Not only because we’re busy during the day but, we’re spending a lot of the evenings in the bar.

I don’t mean to sound like a lush. It’s just that the group is having so much fun catching up (we haven’t seen each other in 2 years). We’re also very passionate about what we’re doing, and a lot of our conversations revolve around the software, SO, and many different things that we’d like to do to improve the way things work. The beer definitely helps us, er… problem solve. Yes, that’s it.

In the Operations center, I’m not as connected (to the internet) as I thought I would be. We’re running GMS off of a government owned/operated server and none of the workstations have access to the internet. My wifi hotspot has no reception in there because we’re located in the “bowels” of Alpensia Stadium, which is all very thick concrete.

We’re still in preparation mode. Our group spent the day meeting with their sport Technical Directors (TDs) so that they go into competition on the same page, knowing who is handling what. I’m supporting our group members from the main Operations center, which is a very nicely heated room filled with computers and the most friendly, hospitable group of Korean GOC members. They’re fantastic to work with.

The food is okay. I think we’ll get better food after the Games, when I’ll be spending a few days floating around Seoul. We’re limited to the food served by our hotel (breakfast and lunch), and now the meals provided by the GOC (lunch). As more people are checking into our hotel, the food is getting more and more westernized. It’s unfortunate, as I would love for all of the meals to be traditional Korean.