(Today’s visit to the site of next year’s Winter Olympics proved overwhelming for me after taking on Kim Jong Un’s men a day earlier)
Today we travelled for three hours by bus from the capital Seoul to Pyeongchang in the east of South Korea.
Our first stop was the Woljungsa Buddhist Temple before arriving at the site of next year’s Winter Olympic games.
With nine months to go until the February games, the Olympic village is already taking shape as the city of 43,000 residents prepares to play host to athletes from 98 nations competing in over a dozen disciplines.
Today we were warmly received by Choi Il Hong, manager of the Gongwon Province Development Corporation – the man who actually presented Korea’s successful bid to the International Olympic Committee and was able to convince them that Pyeongchang was definitely the place to stage the games this time around after two successive stagings for Japan.
In fact, he was able to present evidence to show that Korea and not Japan was the birthplace of skiing and that based on reputable research, the earliest skis were actually Korean made.
After an extensive tour of the ski museum, it was time to get into the ski mobile and ride some 900 metres above sea level to where the professional skiers will actually make the jump during next year’s Winter games.
I was brave enough to make the climb up the mountainous terrain and to even make the cross from the elevator, along the perforated bridge that allows for full view of the ground, but I have to admit that this was where I absolutely drew the line.
I completely chickened out when the official opened the final gate and invited us to experience life on the edge in the same way the professional athletes would right before they make their final leap.
With my more adventurous media colleagues egging me on, I was quick to remind them that I’m from Barbados, and that, needless to say, we will not be fielding a team for the upcoming Winter games.
Therefore, I felt quite justified in leaving them to have the full pleasure of walking on the edge with a blistering cold breeze threatening to help them make the treacherous leap.
I would faster have returned to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to face Kim Jong Un’ s men again, I told my well-meaning colleagues, who along with the very accommodating Korean official tour guide, proved to be very good sports amid my obvious retreat. They even held my hand as I walked with my head firmly planted in the sky, not risking even a chance gaze below, as I fled back to the safety of the elevator.
Whew! Talk about adrenalin rush.
Nonetheless, it was really an honour and a privilege to be afforded the opportunity to tour the billion dollar facilities that Korea, which previously hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988, is constructing for the enjoyment of the world.
From the looks of it, officials have thought of everything from the need for full WiFi connectivity to the possibility that it might actually not snow next winter. That’s why a significant investment has been made in ice-making machines. (Dawh!)
Authorities are also constructing a fast-track, state-of-the-art train service that will reduce the three-hour journey from Seoul to Pyeongchang to less than an hour.
In any case, there’s lots to see and experience on the ride from the west to the east as we found out this morning.
An hour into our journey by VIP bus, we made a pit stop for a refresher only to find out that Korean pit stops are more than just bagels and tea. You can actually do purchases at a variety of stalls within a food complex that also makes provision for toiletries, cosmetics, confectionery – almost anything you can think of on your journey through the luscious mountains.
We later stopped in at the Buddhist temple for some spiritual upliftment and also a bit of retail therapy, as Koreans have mastered the art of turning every adventure into an educational and commercial enterprise.
Yesterday, at the DMZ, it was everything from army uniforms for children to expensive jewelry, caps, boots and military fatigues for the grown ups.
Similarly, at the Buddhist temple today, there were all kinds of commercially relevant religious symbols, silver and gold plated chop sticks, prosperity bands and the like.
Commerce aside, the drive through the forests was made easy by the quality of the roads. As our tour guide kept us awake with stories of Koreans customs and where to go to get the best Ginseng tea, we didn’t encounter a single pothole and I couldn’t help but wonder what would be the result if I could put our Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley in touch with his counterpart here in Korea.
To be fair to Mr Lashley though, Korea is obviously not reeling like we are economically.
After all, its rich forests produce a wide variety of globally sought after medicinal products. It also does not hurt that some of the top international brands like Samsung and LG are headquartered here.
In fact, it helps to have the investment of Hyundai as our team later found out when we pulled into our overnight home – The Seamarq Hotel – overlooking Gyeongpo Beach.
After visiting the temple today and hearing about all the Korean gods, I can’t help but think that ‘The Mountain God’ has spoken.
To him, I say ‘gamsa ham nida’ (thank you) and to you I say ‘Jal Jayo’ (good night) as I prepare to retire to my ‘luxtige’ until tomorrow when we head back into the capital.