Gangneung Style: Covering the Winter Olympics (day 2)
Asia Times correspondent Andrew Salmon prepares for a Great Misadventure in Daegwallyeong
So, today is the big day: the opening ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. For those lucky peeps with tickets – and for the wider family of mankind – this is a day of peace, goodwill and joy to all.
For journalists, it is a logistical nightmare.
The stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies is in the town of Daegwallyeong, in Pyeongchang county. Every other day of the year, Daegwallyeong has a population of just over 6,000 people. Being a crafty sort of a fellow, I did a reconnaissance there two weeks ago: it consists of a couple of apartment blocks, two very new-looking hotels, half a dozen restaurants, two bars and two coffee shops. Oh, and a rather new looking souvenir shop.
The good and bad news is that I don’t have tickets for the opening ceremony. So here is the plan: self and colleagues head to Daegwallyeong from Gangneung, the coastal city where self and many other media are staying. We ensconce ourselves comfortably in a coffee shop or bar, plug in and cover the event from there: it is easy to go out and test the ambience, record some vox pop, and (we assume) watch the event from warm confines.
Warmth is an issue for anyone typing on a keyboard. The stadium for the ceremonies is famously collapsible – it can be removed/downsized, post-games. But it is also, infamously, open-roofed. This could be a problem because, while everyone at the Winter Olympics expects chilly weather, Daegwallyeong has, according to Wiki, the coldest temperatures in South Korea. That means that when the sun goes down, it is going to be cold – teeth-chatteringly, bone-chillingly, ice-age cold.
But here is my problem. Descending upon this gentle hamlet today will be (deep breath): 20,000 ticket holders; South Korean President Moon Jae-in; Kim Yo-jong, the most famous sister in North Korea; US Vice President Mike Pence; Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; UN Secretary General Anotonio Guterres; IOC President Thomas Bach; and a host of lesser dignatories. All of these will of course be accompanied by large delegations of poseurs, hangers-on and hired muscle. Anti-North Korean demonstrators are also anticipated.
In other words, the town will host more people today than at any time since Kublai Khan’s Mongolian horde steamed through, back in the day.
To make matters worse, there are rumors that the entire village is going to be cordoned off by the five-0 and entry restricted to those with tickets and IOC accreditation. (I will be turned away on both counts.) So we need to get there before that happens. Then we need to find a location from which to file. Then we need to get out.
Today has all the makings of an epic misadventure. Hopefully, I will be filing for you, from there, tonight. Hopefully….