Korea, Day 11 – Seoul

espresso in Gangnam, Seoul

And now the real fun begins!

Not saying that the 2013 SO World Winter Games weren’t fun. It was just a different kind of fun.

Our day started with one last shuttle ride to YongPyong Resort, so that we could catch a bus back to Incheon (about 3 hrs). We couldn’t arrange a ride straight into Seoul, since others outnumbered our group and had to get right to the airport. Once at Incheon Airport, we stopped for a quick bite at McDonald’s (some of us were craving a “taste of home”) before heading out.

We then hired a taxi to take us to our hotel, Provista Hotel in the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul. The driver was very friendly, making sure to point out some landmarks on the way. He also was sure to help us make arrangements for him to pick us up, on Monday, to take us back to the airport.

Our hotel is awesome! We stayed with the hotel we originally booked (before coming to Korea) and we couldn’t be happier. Here’s why: 1) we have our own rooms, 2) the beds are comfortable and bigger than twin size, 3) the rooms are large, mine includes a loft, 3) there are washer/dryers in each room, 4) western-style bathrooms, complete with automated toilet seats and bidet, 5) room service, 6) coffee/tea cafe in the lobby, and 7) 3 minute walk to the subway. All for just about $100 a night.

And all of those amenities are much needed. After the two weeks we had, we all just need comfort. I’m so very happy with our hotel right now.

We spent the afternoon wandering the neighborhood around the hotel, getting our bearings. Later this evening we’ll indulge in a large Korean meal. Tomorrow, the real exploring begins.

Korea, Day 10 (last day of competition)

me with a Korean drum

We made it!

We finished the last day of competition as strong as we could (being geeks stuck in rooms at computers). Actually, by today many of the venues had finished so some were able to float around to watch some competition. I spent the first half of the day in the IT Center, with Reuben, as we worked to finish things on our end.

By the afternoon, all of us had finished. We took the time to tour the observation deck and cafe at the top of the ski jump tower, at Alpensia Stadium. There’s also a ski museum on the second floor (where the above photo was taken).

That evening, we dragged our exhausted selves back to our hotel to pack. Reuben treated us all to dinner by ordering pizza. This was much needed as we were all looking for something hot and that was similar to back home.

I had a chance to spend some time at the cross country venue to watch athletes receive awards. It was heartwarming to see athletes from all different countries cheer for each other as they all stand on the awards podiums. Definitely serves as a reminder to why I love what I do.

Sharon and I parted ways at the end of the day. She said that she really enjoyed being my translator, and that she will look to volunteer at another Special Olympics event (in Korea) soon. I’m happy to hear that. She handed me a couple gifts and a thank you letter as I left. She is a sweet girl, and will do well when she graduates school.

Michelle and I only had chances to talk by phone during these past couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to get over to her venue (about 30 minutes away from where I was stationed). There’s a slight chance we can meet up in Seoul, so I’m hoping for that.

Korea, Day 9

Mel & I celebrating the end of another day

With just  2 days until the Games are over, many are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. While all of us had had our share of work, I think that Mike and Mel have had the toughest assignments.

Mike’s Games (he is working the Alpine venue) began with logistical nightmares including late setup of electricity and network/internet. That was complicated by a snow plow taking out a power line. He also faced low office supply levels, late shuttle pickups, bad timing, and frozen printers (not frozen technically, actually frozen physically). Mike’s strength is that he can face all of this and still do a stellar job to help make the venue run smoothly.

Mel (working the snowshoeing venue) has had too many challenges to describe here. I have to hand it to her, this is her first tour with this committee and she has done a really good job handling the issues. I’m especially impressed with how she has taken the reins with her GMS volunteers. She has that room working like a fine tuned engine.

It started snowing late yesterday afternoon and again this morning. As of this writing, 20cm of fresh snow has turned the landscape into some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Again, pictures can’t do it justice but watching it pass by provides for a much needed calming moment as the vans take us from our hotel to the IT Room.

I can see why Korea is the Land of the Morning Calm.

I also attended the 2015 SO World Games reception, hosted by the 2015 GOC at one of the resorts, here. I made Mike tag along for possible networking opportunities, just in case he is interested in coming to LA to work. It was a great party with a great turnout. The food was especially good (about a 40 ft buffet).

While that mysterious red gel-pill worked pretty well, we scored some Mucinex and that is working wonders. I’m feeling pretty good and my energy level is back up. I’m just a touch on the stuffy side but can feel it going away. Yay, Mucinex!

I have also discovered corn-silk tea. I need to find this when I get back to the US. So. Good.

Plans for Seoul are close to being finalized. We have settled on our hotel and booked a tour to the DMZ. Our group of translators are also planning to take us out on Thursday night, something we’re all looking forward to and dreading at the same time. I asked Johnny, “Are our livers going to hurt afterwards?” to which he simply replied, “Maybe”. If any of us aren’t already familiar with soju and somaek (a shot of soju dropped into the glass of beer), we will be by the end of the week.

Korea, Day 8

my view in the IT room

Day 8… have I really been here that long?

It’s cold. I think it’s even colder than it was when we first arrived. Even indoors, I’m feeling the cold in bones I never knew existed. I got a kick out of a text, from Mike, letting me know that his printers at the Alpine venue were frozen. Not “frozen” in the technical sense. They were actually, physically frozen.

Another day in the office. Not a whole lot to report but, I would like to reiterate how incredible this team is. I talked before about the knowledge and skill that we all bring to the table, and how our skills compliment one another. These Games really epitomize the power of working as a team. The high level of trust that we have in one another is why we can operate as efficiently as we do.

Yesterday, Johnny (Mike’s translator) took me to our hotel medical room to get some medicine for my head cold. It’s a little unnerving to receive two red gel-pills from someone and not know what they’re called or what any potential side effects are. But, I was desperate, and the nurse was very warm and helpful while I was there. They did help as I’m feeling much better today.

Sharon is still helping me plan out our group’s “tour” of Seoul. Though we already have a hotel booked (in Gangnam), we’re all talking to people to get recommendations on cheaper places and different neighborhoods (Gangnam is the Beverly Hills of Seoul). Sharon did find a motel for cheap but there were some… stipulations.

She called to check availability for 7 rooms, which they have. The “stipulations” were that, 1) over the weekend, we would have to move all of our luggage into a single room so that they could rent our rooms out to others during the day… at an hourly rate. And, 2) we would have to pay the hourly rate for the room that our luggage was being stored in while we were gone.

Needless to say, I felt quite comfortable speaking on behalf of the others by promptly turning that down. I just don’t think I could sleep in a bed that has been rented out multiple times in one day. *shudder*

So, the lesson learned is that there is a HUGE difference between a Hotel and a Motel in Korea. We will stick to the hotel options.

Just a reminder: you can view my photos on Flickr (click here). I haven’t used my “proper” camera yet, as it’s much easier to carry around the iPhone to grab quick shots as I go. The camera will get its use when we get to Seoul.

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.