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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!
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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). 
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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. 
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One suitcase, one backpack

A man struggles to remove snow on his car and on the street in PyeongChang, northeastern South Korea, on Jan. 22, 2013, after more than 30 centimeters of snowfall hit the region in more than 24 hours. (Yonhap
Yes, the picture (above) was taken in PyeongChang, where I will be spending the majority of my trip. And yes, I’m constantly being warned to be prepared for (and I quote) “a kind of cold that no one raised in Southern California would ever imagine”.
When I travel, I challenge myself to take the least amount of things possible. This includes clothes, electronics, toiletries, etc. One of the reasons I love Lee Child’s character, Jack Reacher*, so much is that he travels with the absolute bare minimum (a foldable toothbrush in his pocket… that is all). Admittedly, I will never travel that light (I love my toys too much) but, I am getting better at it. 
One suitcase and one backpack is the goal for this trip. 
This morning, I learned that our hotel has laundry service, which will make packing easier. Though a bit on the pricey side, I really believe utilizing hotel laundry is worth it if it means that I can pack less. With the clothes, toiletries, and boots I think I’ll be able to make the one suitcase a reality. 
One backpack should work too. If you know me, you know one of my peeves is “carrying things”. Even though I do, in fact, like “things” (I’m complicated. Duh). In addition to my laptop, camera, and tablet** there’s plenty of room for the other odds and ends including an extra jacket and small toiletry kit for the 12 hr flight. 
The one item I am dreading “carrying”, yet know I will absolutely appreciate having with me? The humongous parka that I bought from Columbia. This jacket is a system. Seriously, there are so many different configurations for this thing that there’s even a little instruction booklet that came with it. I haven’t read all the way through it but, I think I can also turn it into a tent for summer camping. I wonder if Korean Air is going to charge me an extra baggage fee for it. 
*Books good, movie bad. Later books not as good as early books but, the series is still worth checking out if you haven’t already. 
**For those interested, I’m taking my 13″ Sony Vaio, Sony NEX-6 + 2 lenses, and iPad Mini. 
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What about your wife?

One of the advantages of working together is that my wife and I are able to share different experiences during the same Special Olympics events. Michelle oversees sports and competition for Special Olympics Southern California, and is traveling to Korea as part of Special Olympics Team USA, where she will oversee the Floor Hockey delegation (athletes and coaches). 
While I’m stuck in a room with a computer*, she gets to experience the “fun” part of the games: the competition. She leaves a day ahead of me, traveling with part of the team, to Seoul. Our schedules, while there, don’t look like they’ll match up at any point but, I’m sure we’ll find a way to spend some time together. We’ll be in different hotels, and different sports venues, for most of the Games. After the Games, she travels with SO Team USA back to Los Angeles while I “float” around Seoul a little longer. 
Michelle is no stranger to SO World Games experiences. She worked the 2007 SO World Summer Games (Shanghai) and the 2009 SO World Winter Games (Boise, ID). She has also worked the 2006 SO National Games (Ames, IA) and 2010 SO National Games (Lincoln, NE). 
I’m very proud of her and the work that she does for the athletes and coaches. It’s her mission to ensure they have all of the support and resources they need to get through the Games. She also goes out of her way to ensure their experiences are safe and enjoyable. 
Michelle’s reputation amongst our colleagues is stellar (to say the least). In fact, in most circles, I’m only known as “Michelle’s husband”, a moniker I’m proud to bear. 

* Let’s face it, being stuck in a room with a computer is actually one of the few places where I thrive. Though it may seem like a punishment, for some, it’s not all that bad for me. But, I really do enjoy being out and about, away from computers. No really, I do!

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Layers and long-johns

“I know I’m going to catch Hell for this but, what kind of clothes will I need?”

I asked three people that question. And those three people did, in fact, give me Hell. And, they will continue to throughout the trip. Raised in Southern California, and anti-snow, the heaviest jacket I own would probably be comfortable in 40 degree climate at best. My body temp runs normally hot, so seeing me in shorts while others are bundled up is not an unusual sight.
But, subzero temps not counting windchill? Definitely uncharted territory for me.
Over the past couple of months, you may have heard me say the following:

“How do I pack winter clothes for 18 days?”
“Do I wear underwear under the long-johns?”
“Will I seriously need long-johns?”
“Damn, these long-johns are hella-itchy!”
“Layers… Hmm, layers…”
“Does *insert clothing item here* count as a ‘layer’?”

The local Columbia Outlet received a good portion of my last few paychecks. As a result, not only am I (hopefully) prepared to face the cold, I’ll also be masquerading as a Columbia clothing model while there.

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Why I am going to Korea

Recently, I was invited to the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games, in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea, to provide additional support for the Games Management System (a software program that Special Olympics uses to run competition divisions, schedules and results). This is the same role that I served in 2011 during the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece.

I’ll be there for 18 days, 13 of which I’ll be working the Games. The remaining 5 days I’ll be exploring Seoul with some of my colleagues.

There are a few reasons this trip means a lot to me: First, one of my biggest professional accomplishments is organizing, centralizing, establishing policies & procedures, and training users to utilize the Games Management System in an efficient manor for Special Olympics Southern California. That was a project that took a little over two years of my professional career. And I like to think that my being invited to serve this role is a bit of a reward for that.

Second, this will be my first trip back to Korea since being born and leaving there at eighteen months old. I will admit that it’s drumming up some emotions though, I haven’t quite yet decided what to do with them. I’m very much looking forward to exploring both Pyeongchang and Seoul. Some have asked if I am going to try to locate my birth family while there. No, this won’t be the right time to do something like that. And, I’m not even sure that’s a search I want to take on.

And third, simply being a part of Special Olympics World Games is an experience that I wish everyone could have. The environment and atmospheres are difficult to describe. I can only sum it up as, amazing. It’s what I imagine a peaceful world should be. And the experience from both 2011 (Athens) and 2013 (Korea) will help as we begin to prepare for 2015 (Los Angeles).