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:
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. 

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. 

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!

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.

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).