Over the weekend, I was given the opportunity by the Korean Tourism Organization to go check out some of the venues being built for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics and check out some of the Special Olympics 2013 activities. Leaving Seoul at the crack of dawn, we travelled the 2.5 hours to Pyeongchang. I wish I could tell you about the beautiful scenery we had when travelling, but… I slept. We all slept. The crack of dawn is early.
The venue we were visiting was the Alpensia cluster. To be completely honest, I had, and still have, many worries over how the Pyeongchang Olympics will go, simply because I know that outside of the major cities is not very easy for tourists to visit, due to the hotels and restaurants being very different than in English speaking countries. When we rolled into the Alpensia resort, I was comforted to see that the resort was being run by various familiar chains. We were at the Holiday Inn resort. According to the website, there is also an Intercontinental and Holiday Inn Suites. I was quite surprised when we arrived, not realizing that some of the venues had been built in anticipation of the Olympic bid, and so Alpensia was already a fully functioning ski resort.
Testing the facilities this weekend was the Special Olympics World Winter Games. Hundreds of athletes from around the world came to Pyeongchang to compete in a variety of winter sports. On Sunday, we were able to watch the snowboarding finals. I found myself wandering around the resort conference centre, checking out the facilities while listening to people who had been staying in the city for the week. Most people seemed to be very impressed with the Korean facilities. Even the president of the International Olympics Committee, Jacques Rogge, commented on how people would be impressed with the compactness of the area. Indeed, everything seemed to be very accessible, with shuttle buses running between the venues regularly. However, there was one thing that I both noticed, and heard some participants talk about, and that was the food venues, or lack there of, at the individual sites. Of course, Korean dining is very different to western styles. Korea has restaurants that are very specialized, but if the resorts are intended to host international guests, restaurants with a bit more variety will be necessary to help accommodate the different types of people who will be at the resort. For example, people with special needs require a special diet. A diet free of gluten and casein is beneficial for people diagnosed with autism, due to behaviour problems sometimes being linked to digestive problems. Finding gluten free foods in Korea is possible, but it’s not always easy. I’m sure in the town there are lots of options for food, but a few more food choices would be fantastic.
After checking out the Alpensia resort, we were bused over to the Hanhwa Phoenix Park resort for a k-pop concert. The hall was filled with people from all over the world, thanks to the concert (and the KTO who helped many others come up for the concert as well.) The show opened with Z:EA singing 5 songs. I had forgotten that Z:EA also have an English speaker in their group, Kevin, so they were able to communicate in both Korean and English to the people in the audience. Next was NTraiN, a newer group who had just finished a tour in Japan. Unfortunately, they didn’t speak English, but we did have English translation thanks to the MCs. Closing the show was U-Kiss, who performed 5 songs as well. With two English speakers in the group and all of the members at a high conversational level of Japanese, U-Kiss were able to communicate with everyone in the room as well. The energy through the whole show was great, and the audience gave all three groups lots of love.
As we all piled onto our respective buses, it was hard for many of us to sleep, choosing to talk about the day with people we had met through the day. It was a really great day, and it really helped show just how well Pyeongchang is developing for the Olympics. I may even go stay at Alpensia myself for a weekend!