Gangneung Style: Covering the 2018 Winter Olympics III
Asia Times correspondent Andrew Salmon shares in the spirit of comradeship and enjoys mild weather and stress-free mobility
An overnight companion, jerking dancers, high kicks and hockey sticks
I awake from my slumber on this, the second morning of the 2018 Winter Olympics, beside a large, hairy man.
Given that I am 51-years-old, straight and sober, this is not a usual thing. But don’t get the wrong idea: The gentleman in question is my Seoul-based colleague, radio reporter Jason Strother, who freelances for PRI and BBC, and who – like a number of last-minute arrivals – is accommodation-less. In the spirit of comradeship (and against my better judgment) I offered him half of my sack.
So: Nothing romantic occurred – this was purely two chaps in one bed. Honest!
Down to business. Yesterday’s big story was the opening ceremony in Daegwallyeong, Pyeongchang. To our pleasant surprise, the weather proved mild rather than frigid, and the transport situation was very, very well handled. I had anticipated a logistical nightmare, but things turned out to be, if not a dream, then at least moderately stress-free.
In Pyeongchang, I managed a personal career high: Probably my best to-camera stand up ever. In the little town were a group of maybe 100 youthful pro-unification protesters holding up signs reading “Pyeongchang ae-so, pyongwha-ro” which literally means “From Pyeongchang, toward peace.” The police – highly visible, but light-handed – kept a sensible distance and let the kids do their thing.
Facing off against them – and holding her own – was a single, elderly and very vocal anti-North Korea, pro-South Korea, pro-US, pro-Trump uber-patriot, draped in a giant Korean flag. I managed to silence her for the 30 seconds or so that the stand up took – then she could restrain herself no longer. With the camera still running, she unleashed a loud tirade which we captured on cam. Well played, Madam.
The opening ceremony was as spectacular as – well, an Olympic opening ceremony.
For the journalists watching, a high point was the last performance, by a dance group. Perhaps it is unfair, but Asian misuses of the English language are often a cause for chortles, and when these lads performed, there were many: They were named “Just Jerk.”
Cue an amused range of potential headlines that only a British tabloid could use: “Just Jerk give crowd happy ending;” “Crowd offer Just Jerk a large hand;” “Two Koreas come together with Just Jerk.” Etc, etc, etc.
More seriously, all reporters took as much interest in the Cold War taking place in the VIP stand as in the ceremony on the floor. Ominously, the chemistry between US VP Mike Pence and the high-level North Korean delegation was non-existent, though they were seated just a couple of meters apart.
The delegation consists of ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam (a very sprightly looking 90-year-old) and Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister (a combination of Martin Boorman and Josef Goebbels – she is believed to control access to her bro, and plays a large role in shaping his personal image).
South Korean President Moon Jae-in will be summiting with the latter two today over lunch. Fingers crossed for a good outcome.
Alas, I will not be covering this high-power powwow, as I am in Gangneung, not Seoul. So, I will file a skeleton pre-story to the editorial desk; my colleagues in Hong Kong or Bangkok will file the full piece, with reference to newswires which will be reporting from Seoul.
I have other fish to fry. Today, I aim to cover a joint demonstration by the North and South Korean taekwondo teams in the town of Sokcho, an hour and a half from Gangneung. This event is incredibly difficult to get into, but I, fortunately, have connections with taekwondo, so should be able to cover.
Then, this evening, the joint (and highly controversial) unified Korean Women’s Ice Hockey Team are going to play their first match. I don’t have tickets for the game but plan to head to the venue to talk to people outside and capture the vibe.
I also have a scoop – a source very, very close to the South Korean athletes – and am going to report the story through and around him: he will be in the stands. Stay tuned for that.
That’s all for now. More fun and Games tomorrow.