I can't even begin to tell you how awesome of a feeling it was to be at these Olympics. Even though I was only there for a short period of time, I don't think that I could have had (or ever will have) and Olympic experience as good as this one.
There are so many factors that have made this as awesome as it was.
Photography: I used to love photography as a kid and pretty would always take pictures whenever I went on any major trip as a kid. As I got older and digital cameras started coming out, I could never afford them and only had enough money to buy a film camera when I was in high school. After about my third year in Korea that camera broke and considering that the price of a new camera was so high I gave up photography for nearly 10 years. Then a year and a half ago as I started learning how to code, a friend of mine told me that he was going to sell a digital camera he had and so I immediately bought it. I feel in love with Photography all over again and have been carrying a camera with me every where I go ever since. So when I finally knew that I was going to go to the Olympics, I was so excited about the posiblity of getting some great pictures that I went nuts! I bought extra batteries and memory cards just to make sure that I wouldn't have to worry about not having enough memory and batteries to run my cameras. I took nearly 2500 pictures ^_^. So needless to say, the renewal of my love of photography greatly increased the enjoyment of my Olympic experience. (and hopefully for those of you who end up reading this as well)
Dreams do come true: I have always wanted to go to the Olympics, especially the Winter Olympics. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the first Olympics I can remember were the 1988 Winter Olympics held here in Seoul South Korea, that and the fact that this is the country I was adopted from, I have always felt like I had a special connection with the two. I remember wanting to go when I was younger because I was fascinated with the winter sports and the fact that people from so many nations were gathered in one place. I am not sure now, but I guess at the time I must have felt like that was a place where I could fit in.
Now for the first time in my life I was in a position where I could go to the Olympics 30 years later and It was back in the country where I had first been introduced to the Olympics so many years ago!
Language / Culture : Learning a new language is one of the greatest signs of respect you can give someone. It shows that you took the time to learn and understand more about their culture. These days a lot of people all over the world can speak English, but if you take the time to learn another language so that you can be able to speak to people from a different country in their language, It will help you to foster a better relationship with them then just speaking English ever could. Or at least in my experience, I have found that to be true.
Being able to speak Korean and having lived here for more than 16 years drastically improved this experience because I got to appreciate all of the different nuances that most people would miss just by watching the olympics on TV for example. Especially if they didn't understand the language. Things such as commentary from Korean announcers and fans and or translations from the many volunteers. Most of them did a wonderful job however there were a few here and there whose translations were a bit comical.
This olympic was also unique because for some reason the north and south decided to show a unified front for these games. For those of you who don't know, reunification is still a very touch subject here in South Korea. As a matter of fact, the majority of the people my age are against it, but I won't get into that in this post. Regardless of how myself or any else feels about this matter, being able to watch the North Korean fans root for both the South and North Korean athletes in person was just a powerful experience in and of itself. The fact that I could understand what they were saying ("We are one") with my own ears and didn't have to rely on a translator made it that much more special for me. It felt almost more personal in a way as if they were saying it directly to me..
Meeting old Friends: I would be lying to you if I said Josh Spaulding's experience in Sochi four years ago didn't impact me at all. As a matter of fact, it was reading his blogs daily and seeing his facebook posts that rekindled my desire to go to the Olympics in the first place. It was obvious that he was enjoying the experience immensely and when I heard that the next winter Olympics were going to be here in South Korea , I asked him if he was going to come. He said he wasn't sure at the time in which I remember telling him, if he does that I knew a great translator for him. ^_^
So when I finally got to see him on my second and final day at the olympics that in itself was like another dream come true on so many levels. Josh and I went to UNH together and were in the marching band and pep bands. We also both worked at Philbrook dining hall (at UNH) and joined the same fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi. as a matter of fact we are in the same fraternity family line. Needless to say he played a rather large part of me settling into college life. In a way he was literally like an older brother to me. Not that he took me under his wing or showed any favoritism towards me or anything like that (he always treated everyone with the same respect and consideration) but because he was (and still is) just one of those honest guys that you meet once in a life time and once you have met them, you know you have made a great friend.
When we finally met in Korea in typical older brother fashion he shared with me all his wisdom and knowledge about the Olympics and athletes from the US. for example I had no idea that Chloe Kim was talented enough to be on the Olympic team four years ago when she was only 13 years old but was denied a spot on the Olympic team due to her age!
I took him for some "Bu-dae-Jji-gae" which is roughly translated as "military stew" as I wanted to show him a side of Korea that he may not have been able to experience on his own. (Its a stew that the Korean and American soldiers made by combing the rations that they had during the Korean War. The main ingredients are beans, spam, onions, ramyun, and cheese and is eaten with a bowl of rice. It taste better than it sounds LOL) I wasn't sure if he was going to like it or not but I figured at the bare minimum it might be a good story for him should he choose to write about it or a good memory of these olympics.
He definitely added a whole new dynamic to my olympic experience.
The Korean American Presence at the Olympics: As a Korean American adoptee myself. I was amazed to find out that there were so many Korean American athletes at these olympics! I can't stress how much I love this because I have always said that Koreans are some of the most talented people I have ever met in my life. Its just a shame that Korean culture doesn't really allow the so many talented people there are to showcase their abilities. Without getting to into too much detail. Korean culture and the education system here still focuses too much on academics and so you don't see a lot of children who are allowed to venture in to different area such as snowboarding and speed skating for example. I don't mean to say that it doesn't happen, only that for the most part, children are not encouraged to pursue those kinds of activities much less a career in those fields. So it is my hope that with all the talented Korean American athletes at these olympics that the culture changes here and that more and more of todays young Koreans (especially the girls as Korea is still very much a patriarchal society) are encouraged and inspired to strive for other goals as well and not just academics.
I was watching a news program today in which a man stated that Korea doesn't really have a good system in which to support and encourage todays athletes much less future athletes. He stated that today its still very much about who you know and not necessarily how talented you are or how much potential that you might have. So in essence it seems that becoming an Olympian in Korea requires a lot of luck. Regardless, the mere fact that this issue was address on TV is a good sign because it shows that they are aware that this is an area where there needs to be improvement and if nothing else, they are at least talking about the right issue. I hope to see more and better things in the future for Korea and it's future athletes.
Diversity: In closing, one of the best things that really made this olympic experience so great was being surround by so many people from all of the world. I think its one of those things that we all take for granted. Despite our different cultural backgrounds and our dissapointments when our respective countries' athletes didn't quiet finish as well as we had hoped, many people still congratulated the other fans around them on their country's win. During the award ceremony many people also turn around and showed respect to one another flags as their national anthems were played. The sense of unity that I felt amongst all those people in that moment is something that I will cherish forever...
So on the first day, I went to see the women's 10k Cross-Country Free race.
At first, I didn't think it was going to be that interesting as a spectator sport, certainly not in the $20 standing area as opposed to the $80 seats on the opposite side because the only thing you get to see on my side were the athletes leaving the starting gate, coming back through upon having finished their first loop around the track and then coming back in to cross the finish line. (I went for the cheaper tickets because I originally hadn't planned on going to this event and bought the tickets last minute) The spectators sitting in the $80 seats had a better viewing advantage than those who only paid $20 to be able to watch the event from the standing area. The announcer was on their side of the track and the large screen where they could watch the live feed from the rest of the track was facing them. That is not to say that standing on my side didn't have its advantages either. To be honest being on the standing area side provided me with some great vantage points in which to get some good shots of the athletes as they went by.
Despite my initial worry, I found the event to be a lot more interesting than I had originally thought it was going to be. Even though cross-country skiing isn't exactly the greatest of spectator sports out there, the combination of the commentator who did a fantastic job of keeping everyone in high spirits, and the spectators from all of their various countries and the energy given off by the athletes themselves, I readily found myself smiling and wanting to run back and forth trying to get as many possible pictures as I could so that I could remember this day for the rest of my life.
(The Women's 10k Cross-country free athletes waiting for their starting times)
When I bought the tickets to this event I had no idea who Charlotte Kalla was. It wasn't until I came home from work on the first day of the Olympics, turned on the TV and found out that the first Gold medal had been won by none other than Charlotte Kalla. So you can understand my excitement and surprise when I realized that she would also be performing in this event as well! I mean I was actually going to see an actual gold medal athlete in person and not just on some TV screen! She had rather large fan base rooting for her as well. There was even a group of 7-10 people who all had North Face Style jackets with her face printed on them! Now that’s team dedication!
(Charlotte Kalla crossing the finish line)
(Charlotte Kalla at the award ceremony about to receive the Silver medal)
There were a lot of strong skiers out there, but I would have to say that one of the more memorable ones was the skier from North Korea. It wasn't because her performance was that spectacular because in truth, she finished last. What impressed me the most about her was her unwillingness to quit. I am not sure about the facts on this, however I doubt that North Korea has a very long history with Cross Country Skiing. As I watched her come complete her first loop around the track you could see how tired she was. It was obvious that she was really fatigued. At one point she was so tired that fell down and off the track!
(The North Korean skier on the last stretch of the race)
Towards the end of the race, some people started to leave (probably wanting to get a head start back to the bus) but the announcer did a good job trying to keep people there to watch and support the last skiers as they came through. After a while the last skier (The North Korean) came around the bend for the last 200-300 meters of the race. The North Koreans started chanting in unison and it has now become one my most memorable memories here in South Korea. Not just because I was there to witness her coming over the finish line but because I could understand what they were saying without needing to have someone translate it for me. For those of you have caught glimpses of the North Koreans chanting on your TV screens at home, what they are saying is " ooh-ree-nun, ha-na-da" which means "We Are One"
(The North Korean spectators before the masses started coming in. The sign reads "We Are One")
Perhaps that is what I like about the Olympics so much. In the beginning we go into the games as divided nations but at various points during the course of the Olympic Games we can be reminded that we are in fact "one"
So here I am in Pyeongchang, 431.3 kilometers (268 miles) away from Gimhae, the city that I have called home for the more than 16 years that I have been living here. The drive took me around 6 hours. It wasn't that bad to be honest. We drove up the east coast of South Korea which was nice because in the 16 years that I have lived here, I have never been to the North Eastern part of South Korea so I can finally check that off my bucket list of things to do in Korea. ^_^
The drive should have taken around four and a half to five hours but I needed to stop to stretch out my legs and arms a bit and get some coffee because my navigator fell asleep in the seat next to me. ^_^
Now that I am here, how do I feel?
Now that I am here, it feels like just another day. I mean I already live in the host Country of the Olympics... I was thinking that a big part of the thrill of going to the olympics for many people would be the excitement of going abroad. So in a way I kind of feel robbed that I didn't get to experience that part of going to the Olympics but then again I also didn't have to pay an arm and a leg for two plane tickets abroad so I am going to call this one a win! LOL
Where are you staying?
We got really lucky. originally we weren't sure where we were going to stay. My wife arranged for us to stay at a small motel or something like that but for one reason or another that fell through. So upon driving towards the venue site for the cross country skiing event that we will be seeing tomorrow, my wife saw a motel sign and decided to give them a call. I thought all the rooms would have been booked, but we got lucky! ^_^ Its a big room with one bed and only cost us 80,000 won a night! So it looks like we may stay here for the duration of our stay here in Pyeongchang.
I can't wait for tomorrow when I go to my first Olympic event, the Women's 10k free Cross-Country Skiing! ^_^
Good night from Pyeongchang, and see you all tomorrow!
I have always wanted to go to the Olympics and now that that day is soon upon me I am so anxious I can hardly contain myself. I thought about writing a blog about my Olympic experiences for a while and decided not to at first because I have never really been a good writer; not unless if it comes to something that I am really passionate about and while I am really excited about going to the olympics, the thought of writing about it was less than appealing.
What made me decide to write about it you ask?
After watching the Korean women's hockey game against Sweden, I found myself reminiscing about the days when I used to play peewee hockey as a kid. and that got me thinking about when the olympics were in South Korea back in 1988. I have a lot of troubling and fond memories from back then which is part of the reason why I have decided to write this blog. The other reason is because as I have gotten back into photograph, I thought that sharing the pics I will end up taking in this format would be a more personal way to share them, than to just post them on facebook like the plethora of other people in the world who have already done so.
So without further adieu, I give to you my first post!
These olympics have a very sentimental value to me because I missed the last one that was here in 1988. (I currently live in South Korea and have been here since 2002) I would have been 8 years old then (9 years old Korean age.. don't ask lol) and If I hadn't been adopted by the Kelly family in 1985, who knows where I would have been or how my life would have become today?
Anyway, like I said, I was adopted to the United States by the Kellys in 1985. I grew up in a heavily white community whereby I was just about the only asian kid my age in town and so I grew up always knowing that I was very different from the rest of my family, never mind the rest of the people in my community. My family did a wonderful job of making me feel like I was part of the family and that I was just as American as any of the other kids, but as you can probably imagine, I struggled with what it meant to be an Asian American. After all, I was only 8 years old at the time and for me no matter how much my family loved me, that inner struggle was mine alone to figure out.
For me 1988 was pretty much my first window into the world of Korea.
That year, I would begin to learn about two of the most important lessons in life. The importance of acceptance and how we choose to Identify ourselves.
I remember it vividly because I was sitting in front of the TV watching the olympics with my older brother and on that particular day, I was rooting for the Koreans. My older brother then turned to me and said "hey, you should be rooting for the Americans!" To be honest I was very confused because it was at that moment that I realized for the first time what I would end up struggling with the rest of my life until now. Am I American or am I Korean?
My mom, who had heard what my brother had said to me, immediately cut in saying "hey! thats okay. He can root for whatever team he wants to". She has always been and to this day still is my own personal hero (Love you mom ^_^) She always made me feel that I was accepted and above all else, I was her son and that I should be proud of both of my cultural backgrounds. Despite her and the rest of my family's efforts, I still struggled with what being an Asian American meant to me.
When I was in high school (around the age of 17 I think) I made the decision to find my biological family here in South Korea. After a while, I got a call back from the adoption agency saying they had found my biological father. If that was n't emotionally stressful enough in and of itself, the next day I found out a close personal friend of mine who had also been adopted from South Korea around the same time that I had been, had passed away. These two things finally made me decide to come to South Korea and take the first steps in finding out just who I wasand where I came from.
I came back to South Korea in 2001 and again in 2002 and have been here ever since. (I know that there is a lot missing between 2002 and now, but that is a story for another time) I was supposed to go back to the US in the summer of 2002 but due to extenuating circumstances, ended up staying here in Korea because I could earn more money teaching English here, than I could doing whatever job I would have ended up getting back in the States at the time. Over those years, I met my biological family (a huge emotional roller coaster and a yet again a story for another time) learned Korean and eventually met a Korean woman who I fell madly in love with and married. We have been married for 5 years now and still going strong! (^_^)
Whats so special about these olympics?
4 years ago, my friend from college, Josh Spaulding, a well known sports writer/journalist in New Hampshire made the epic journey to the Sochi olympics. I read his blogs daily and remember how envious I was of him at the time. Despite a few hiccups he had mentioned about, it was apparent that he was having a wonderful time at the olympics which only served to remind me that I had always wanted to go to the Olympics as a kid. Later when I found out that the 2018 Winter Olympics were going to be held in South Korea I knew that this was an opportunity that I just couldn't miss!
I have already made plans to meet him at the games and can't tell you how much I am looking forward to meeting him after nearly 19 years. With him I am not just meeting a friend, I am meeting a brother! Thats right, not only were we in marching band and pep band together at UNH, (the University of New Hampshire) we are both members of the same college fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi which is a band fraternity dedicated to helping the music department at their respective schools.
I can't wait to finally get up there to the games to meet Josh and finally experience the Olympics for myself!. And to make things even better, my wife is also coming and she will finally get to meet one of my friends from the States who knew me back when I still had hair on my head ^_^!!
Considering the role that the first Olympics here In South Korea played in my early life. I think its awesome that I now have the chance to conclude this chapter of my life by finally going to the olympics with the games once again being back here In South Korea!
Stay tuned for more!