Monday, 11 February 2013

A Special Trip To The Special Winter Olympics!

When the Korea Tourism Organization sent out invitations to the K-Performance Supporters for a trip to the 2013 PyeongChang Special Winter Olympics and the Snow Music Festival, I immediately signed up even though I have trouble waking up early during winter time, especially on weekends!  Who doesn't want to stay in bed these days? The temperatures are colder, the nights are longer and in this weather, I always say that the best weekends are not spent at home. They're bed! Ha-ha-ha!
                      (This is 7 in the morning!)
                                        (Our bus number assignment)

So, I decided to spend one Sunday, not in bed, but on the road!

Everyone was told to be at the KTO headquarters near the Cheonggye-cheon at 7 in the morning as the bus was leaving at 7:30. I had to set the alarm really early. I think I was the first one in the neighborhood to wake up that day!
                                       (Cold mountains)

The bus left at 8AM heading down to the Pyeongchang county in Gangwon Province.  I haven't been out of the city for a whole winter month. So, watching the snowy landscapes of the Korean countryside from my bus window in between my early morning dozes was actually a welcome entertainment.  This was a happy ride to the country!
                                                 (A serious plate of tangsuyuk!)
                                    (My bokkeum-bap!)

We arrived at a town near our first stop to grab an early lunch.  And what a lunch it was! The menu was korean-chinese and I ordered a favorite, bokkeum-bap.  But on top of our individual orders, a huge plate of tangsu-yuk was served on every table! This was a portent of things to come. A special lunch ahead of a special visit to the special Olympics! After the hearty meal, I think the passenger weight of the bus doubled. Ha-ha-ha!
                     (Our KTO bus with the Pyeongchang-gun 
                                 mountain backdrop)

From the restaurant, we got to the Alpensia Resort after a short ride. This resort was the venue for cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snow shoeing events of the 2013 Pyeongchang Special Olympics Winter Games. After a quick stop at the Korea Tourism Organization booth at Alpensia's Convention Center, everyone was free to move around the resort for a couple of hours.
        (With the cheerful volunteers of the Special Olympics!)

Luckily, the snowboarding finals were about to start when we got to the slopes. I was able to watch a few competitors from different countries make their runs down the 'Echo' slope, where, at the finish line, the crowd congratulated them for their performances. I also had fun chatting with the volunteers at the snowboarding venue, who told me that there were about 3,000 of them scattered all over the olympic venues. I told them their yellow and white jackets looked interestingly fun. And as our group was heading to a K-pop concert later that day, I quizzed the volunteers on their favorite k-pop bands. They enthusiastically enumerated their favorites, but when I told them I also liked Sistar, they all agreed and almost broke into that sultry choreography in the Sistar's music video right in the middle of the snowy slope. Here's my short clip at the Echo slope, without any dancing.
And while roaming around Alpensia, I stumbled upon the Coke pavilion with an inflatable polar bear by its entrance, where visitors could pose for a photo which was then printed by the Coke people. Each visitor then got a cute bottle of Coke with the photo. And since I am a Coke drinker, I just had to visit the pavilion. I got my photo and Coke! Although I would have appreciated a bigger bottle.

As I was making my way back to our assembly point, I bumped into two of the three mascots of the winter olympics at the Convention Center. I asked the blue mascot what its name was. Although I heard a voice from the inside of the costume, I didn't understand what he said. Yes, it was a 'he' inside the costume. The names of the mascots I met were actually Ra, a blue asiatic black bear, and In, the red sheep. Bow, a green sheepdog, must have been skiing somewhere. These animals are found in the Gangwon Province.
And since we still had to make an hour-long ride to the Hanhwa Resort, the venue for the Snow Music Festival, we left Alpensia Resort half past two in the afternoon. But before we left, we all got these traditional Korean fans with our names written on it in hangeul done by a Korean calligrapher. I also had my photo with the mascots printed for free at a postcard shop next to the KTO booth.

Although our stay at the Special Olympics was short, I was able to get a glimpse of how this place would turn out to be a few years from now: lots of Olympians, lots of fans and of course, lots of snow. I had the same feeling when I skated around the Richmond Olympic Oval a year before real olympians speed-skated their way to olympic medals at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

That day, there weren't much people roaming around the Alpensia Resort. So, at -5'C, I enjoyed the quiet, mountain atmosphere of the venue because, five years from now when the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics begin, thousands and thousands of people will be crowding this place. 

The 2013 PyeongChang Special Winter Olympics are now over. Though short, this visit was fun. I hope all the participants and visitors had a great time, too. 

And for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, I wish all the volunteers, the committees and the olympians good luck! I am sure, as early as now, Kim Yuna and all the other winter sports athletes must be gearing up for another showdown at the slopes, tracks and ice rinks of the PyeongChang county.
                                 (The wish tree)

At the entrance of the Convention Center, there was a table where you could write a wish and hang it on the olympics' wish tree. So, on top of my wishes for everyone at the special olympics in 2013 and the winter olympics in 2018...
                           ..."I wish for a better world!"

PS. Thanks to KTO, Jae and the KTO staff for organizing this trip! And thanks also for the k-pop t-shirts, Korean desk calendars and snacks! 

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