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.

Korea, Day 1

Notice the picture on the left of the banner

The banner in our hotel lobby (photo above) sums up our GMS Committee. Our days are filled with behind the scenes, sometimes difficult, work as we’re glued to computer screens prepping for the Games. But, as soon as we’re in the clear to “clock out”, we make sure to clock out. Our “Special Time” consists of food and drink, neither of which we skimp on.

Incidentally, I cannot confirm nor deny the existence of plans to secure the above banner for personal use when the Games are over.

Day 1 (I never count my arrival days as part of the trip) will probably be the easiest day of the Games. This is where we catch up with each other’s lives, get acclimated to the time change, get bearings on our location in relation to where we need to be (all of the different sport venues), and get familiar with the Games setup (in GMS).

Although we didn’t leave the hotel, we do have access to everything we need. There’s plenty of electric outlets for all of our tech and toys, a Korean restaurant on site, a nicely stocked convenience store, and plenty of room to spread out.

I can tell you, with great confidence, that is is cold outside. Not Southern California cold; it’s more of a “it’s so cold that when I feel the air on my face it feels like someone has punched me” kind of cold. It doesn’t help that the hotel lobby is kept in the high 50s – low 60s on average.

We’re especially enjoying our hotel’s frozen pool (click here for picture). We have tentative plans to purchase a grill, charcoal, variety of meats and veggies from the convenience store to host a poolside bbq. The only thing holding us back is the fear of being punched in the face by the cold.

The food has been pretty good. We haven’t experienced anything out of the ordinary. It’s interesting to see the varied reactions to kimchi and some of the other banchan (Korean side dishes) that is served with our meals. Beginning tomorrow, we’ll be eating with other GOC volunteers on a preset menu which will offer both Korean and western-style cuisines. This is good as some of us are already missing our eggs and bacon breakfasts. Though, I really enjoyed my beef rib soup for breakfast, this morning.

I’m having fun catching up with my friends. There are some good conversations, both work and personal, that I’ve been looking forward to having. I love these experiences and am very excited for the next couple of weeks.

Travel: LAX-ICN

Bibimbop served by Korean Air

Korea, I’m back!

After a long day of travel, I arrived at Incheon Airport just after 5 PM, a day ahead of Los Angeles. From Incheon, we waited for the rest of the GMS Committee to arrive before boarding a bus to PyeongChang, which added another three hours to the day. As expected, by the time I got to bed, I had no idea what day/time it was.

The flight was an uneventful twelve hours (a good thing). I had the window seat and sat next to two Korean businessmen. The three of us didn’t say a word to each other the entire flight.

Of course, there were some crying babies on the flight (how is it that every flight has a crying baby?), and I traveled with 100+ members of Special Olympics Team USA. Overall, it seemed to go well for everyone.

If you ever have a chance to fly Korean Air, two things to keep in mind:

  1. The flight attendants are amazingly helpful and friendly. Compared to US-based airline flight attendants, there’s no competition. Great experience all around. 
  2. Order the bibimbop (photo above). It was one of the best airline meals I have ever had. If it was served to me in any other setting, I would never have pegged it as “airline food”. 
The Korean Air gate attendants and flight attendants repeatedly addressed me in Korean. I could tell that I caught them off guard by replying in English with “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”. And I’m experiencing the same with some of the hotel staff and other guests. Though it doesn’t bother me, I do regret not studying the language a lot more before this trip. 
I’m posting pictures on Flickr, so you can keep up with more there. Here’s the link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ptaillon/
I’m renting a local phone and a personal wifi hotspot so I’ll be connected while here. I’m hoping to post here on a regular basis, so stay tuned!

Things to look forward to, and things not

Today is “travel day”. While you’re reading this (if you’re keeping up with the blog every day), I’m flying from Los Angeles to Seoul. The flight is just over 12 hours (and thankfully, direct), and Seoul is 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles. So, when I land *does calculations* my body will have no clue what time or day it is.

Here’s hoping that I’m sitting in my window seat, in a relaxed state, with no one else in my row. Or better yet, here’s hoping that a Korean Air attendent decided to exhibit extraordinary customer service by upgrading me to first class. Of course, I’ll update you on how it all went in my next blog post.

Things I’m looking forward to:

  • Seeing parts of the country I was born in. 
  • Experiencing new foods, culture and people.
  • Being a part of the Special Olympics World Games experience.
  • Spending time with the GMS committee*
Things I am not looking forward to:
  • It being as cold as people are telling me (though, I prefer being cold to being hot). 
  • Being on an airplane for twelve hours (I love travel but, flights over 5 hrs irritate me).
  • Missing our cat (I know, when did I become a cat person, right? She’s in good hands, staying with Michelle’s sister until we get back). 
* About the GMS Committee: the GMS committee is a group of people with above-average knowledge of the Games Management System (GMS) software that Special Olympics programs use to manage competitions. Some members, like me, work for a Special Olympics. The majority are volunteers with their local programs. We are selected by Reuben (Special Olympics Inc) to serve as advisors and additional support for the Games Organizing Committee (GOC). We’re there to help train their users, troubleshoot, and provide ongoing support throughout the Games. 
In 2011, my first experience as part of the committee, there were 13 of us. We come from all over the world, one from Ireland, one from New Zealand, another from Trinidad, one from the Bahamas, and the rest from the US. This time around, there are only 11 of us. I’m also no longer the “newbie”, as Melissa is joining us from Wisconsin. (two of our members from 2011 couldn’t make this year’s Games). 
This is one of the most fun groups to be around. I really appreciate how easily we all get along. There really is never a dull moment with them (as you’ll see throughout these blog postings). 

On journaling my experiences

Many have asked if I plan to write about my experiences and emotions being an adoptee returning to Corea. I’m not sure how much of that will make it to this blog but, I am planning to write daily in the Moleskine journal I’m taking with me. 
There is a very good chance that I’ll be returning to Corea later this year (in June). If that comes to fruition, I think those two weeks will be filled with more emotion and self-discovery than this current trip. June’s trip will allow me a lot more freedom to explore the country, people and communities. This trip, I’ll be glued to a computer by day and (hopefully) a heater/bottle of soju by evening.