I have found my beach, finally. It feels nice considering a week ago I was in full blown winter in South Korea for the Olympic games. Boy, I had quite the week. You wouldn’t believe how easy it was for me to scheme my way around there. Here’s the recap.
If you read my last blog post you’d know that going into the Olympics I had been telling everyone that I was on the United States curling team. When I arrived in South Korea I continued to ride that wave hard with the locals. I was taking pictures and dishing out high fives left and right. I’m not sure if they actually believed I was an athlete, or if they were just excited to see a white guy with blonde hair and blue eyes in their small town. Either way, my mug has to be well represented on some South Korean Facebook pages by now.
Although a success with the locals, I quickly realized using the whole “I’m an athlete” card to get exclusive access around the games wasn’t going to work. The real athletes were all decked out in matching Nike gear and had extensive credentials hanging around their necks. I, on the other hand, had a puffy winter coat that I snagged from a street vendor for ten bucks and a hat with the Olympic rings on it. My game plan was going to have to change.
I met my boy Lucas, who is interning for NBC sports, in Gangwon. He hooked me up with a guest pass that granted me access to media village, where he was living, for the day. Little did I know that that simple piece of plastic was about to get me into the most restricted areas of the games.
Lucas and I had time to kill before we attended the opening ceremony that night, so he showed me around town. We grabbed a few beers then headed off to Olympic Park. I have to say witnessing an Olympic opening ceremony in person is one of the highlights of my life thus far. I sat next to a guy who told me he’d been to every Olympics since Sydney, and that this was his favorite. Hold up fam. You’ve been to every fucking Olympics since Sydney? By my count, that’s ten. Who the hell are you bro? I thought the Olympics were something you get to see once in your life if you’re lucky.
He told me he was from Morocco, so I’m going to go ahead and assume he’s either a very successful camel merchant or an international drug lord. Either way, he said this was the best ceremony he’d seen, and I believe him. That show was electric. When that caldron burst into flames signaling the start of the games I nearly shit my pants.
I was joined by another fellow fraternity brother, Sam Lubeck, a few days later. Once he arrived I left my life as a journo, living on Lucas’s couch in media village, and switched to an Airbnb right on the beach. I know, life is tough.
Gangwon is a popping beach town in the summer but a frozen wasteland in the winter, so we got the room on the low. Our beds were made up with American Flag sheets and comforters. (Mr. Joon must have known we were coming.) Since I didn’t have any USA gear with me I happily removed my stars and stripes pillowcase and used it as a flag for all the events we attended.
Now, up until this point in my trip I had been lone wolfing it around Northern Thailand, with the exception of bumping into a few friends who were studying abroad in Bangkok. As you can imagine whenever I went out with a group of fellow travelers, usually batshit crazy Australians, I was always cautious not to get too boozed up. Well, that all changed when Sam came. I finally had a drinking buddy who I knew would have my back if shit went down.
In South Korea, they sell beer like we sell soda. By the goddamn liter. Plus, they have a distilled alcohol called soju which only runs you a buck a bottle. It gives you a far worse hangover than any flavored brunettes, but hey it’s literally one dollar, so I can’t really complain. We also discovered that any bar would add soju to your beer for free if you asked. Ha! Free Irish car bombs? Yeah, we’ll take six.
The first event we attended was the Women’s Halfpipe Finals. The mountain was around an hour or so away from our Airbnb so we hit the road early to catch the shuttle from town. Before we left Sam asked the million-dollar question.
“So are we like boozing for this or–”
“I mean we are at the Olympics annnd it’s kinda cold out. Few beers and a little soju couldn’t hurt.”
After convincing ourselves that we weren’t total degenerates for drinking at nine in the morning we set out for the convenience store, loaded up on beer and soju, then headed out to the mountain.
I had a can of beer stuffed in each of my coat pockets as we approached the metal detector at the security gate. As expected, the thing beeped like crazy. This caused the security guard to begin waving his wand around my body. As he moved it across my coat pocket it started to beep. I pulled out a coin and said
“Lo siento, forgot to take this out.”
He moved to the next pocket. Beep. Beep. Beep.
“Oh, shit more coins. I have a lot of coins bro. Big collection. It’s gonna keep beeping.”
“Not coin.” He said.
“Yes coin.” I insisted.
He didn’t seem to know what to do next, so he let me pass without much of a fuss. This should begin to paint a picture of how much of a joke security was. Once we were in the park, we scoped out a spot to stand and watch. We had general admission tickets, but being a couple of big ballers we wanted to get as close to the action as possible. We found a small gap in the fencing and passed through without a problem. We began walking towards the left side of the half pipe when we were stopped by a Korean security guard.
“No no sirs, medical staff only! You go sis ways.”
She ushered us into the section where all the members of the media were standing. Perfectly fine with us. We watched Chloe Kim stomp down an outstanding run to take home the gold. I was two feet away from her as she came into the fan section to celebrate. I was standing so close to her parents that I felt like a member of their family. I turned to her dad and said
“Congrats Dad, she did it! I’m so proud!”
I then proceeded to try to give him a hug. He didn’t even notice me, I’m sure he was more concerned with the fact that his daughter had just won a gold medal. He could now be satisfied that her career choice to be a snowboarder wasn’t all for nothing. Finally, he had something tangible to rub in all those other parents faces who said
“Oh, snowboarding? That’s nice but is that really going to get her anywhere in life?”
Yes, yes, it will. How’s your son doing as an accountant? Oh, he got a gold star for being employee of the month? Well, my daughter has a fucking gold medal. Eat that bitch.
After the podium ceremony, Sam and I began to make our way out when we heard the announcer say
“And up next we have the Men’s Halfpipe Qualifiers!”
We both looked at each other knowing that there was no chance we were leaving quite yet. Thankfully we still had some soju left to keep us warm as we waited for the mens heats to begin.
The crowd had thinned out, and I suggested to Sam that we go try to climb up the right side of the half pipe to get a better vantage point for the competition. We made it halfway up the slope with no problem. Aside from the fact that every other person there was a cameraman and was wearing the same spiked boots they use to climb Mt. Everest we fit in perfectly fine.
We stood right next to a French-Canadian photographer. He began ranting to us about how there was a young Canadian boarder who had no pictures of himself in competition, and that he was on a mission to give him that perfect shot.
“Eh, you know zee Americaans they have plenty of goud pictures, zey make it every time. Our Canadien may not have another chance at Les Jeux Olympiques, I must get zee shot. He wears zee number two bib.”
Sam and I looked at each other confused. We both knew that Shaun White wore number the two bib, not whatever Canadian kid this guy was talking about.
That has to be up there as one of the more Canadian things I’ve seen. This guy’s sole mission was to get a picture of some Canadian kid and he didn’t even know his fucking number! Instead, he was about to snap pics of Shaun White, the exact “American who always makes it” that he had referenced earlier. I felt like I should say something.
“Eh sorrey monsieur, I think you’re mistaken. Shaun White wears number two. I’m pretty sure he’s our golden boy, not yours.”
“Eh, really? Mais merd! Thank you, my friend. I must figure this out rapidement. It would be quite embarrassing for me to present his family a picture of Shaun White!”
Yeah dude, no shit. How the hell did you get this job anyway? Did tree planting not work out?
Sam and I watched the riders warm up for around half an hour. During which my soon to be “cousin” Shaun White took a break on the lip of the pipe about twenty feet away and gave us a little fist pump.
Literally, five minutes before the event was about to commence a security guard walked past us. He did a double take, realized there was no way in hell we were supposed to be standing there, and proceeded to walk back toward us.
“Who are you guys with? This is a restricted area, for cameramen only.”
Shit this one speaks English. Now we’re fucked. It’s one thing to get by when they have no way of understanding what you’re saying. You can just push your way past acting like you belong, but this is going to be a little trickier. Better think fast kid.
“I’m Shaun White’s cousin,” I said, flashing my meaningless badge in his direction.
“He said we could watch from here.”
He thought about what I had just told him for a second then said.
“Nope, I’m sorry. You guys need to go down to the family section.”
Family section? That doesn’t sound half bad, but let’s see if there’s any chance we can stay here. I mean these are the best seats in the fucking house.
We walked a little farther down towards the base of the pipe, hoping he would keep walking up and not see us, but he did. He turned around and yelled.
“Hey, Shaun White. Family section! Now!”
Hahaha, no way, did he just call us Shaun White? That’s awesome. Aight, I guess the family section is fine.
It turned out to be more than fine because Shaun White walked right past us after his run and dapped me up. Stay cool he’s your cousin remember? Act like you’ve been here before. I couldn’t stay cool, I bust into a stuttered USA chant and yelled
“Holy shit! Holy shit!”
The following day that same meaningless badge got us into the back entrance of hockey arena and down to the locker rooms. We walked right past the Swedish team as they were finishing practice.
Honestly, fuck Gary Bettman for deciding this would be the year the NHL would not send their players to the Olympics. We could have walked right past Henrik Lundqvist and the Sedin twins but no, we had to settle for the no-namers. Still unreal just to be down there, but fuck you Bettman.
We went to the USA vs. Slovenia game later that night, and once again we were able to walk down to where the media interviews the players after the game with no problems at all.
The Koreans run the opposite of a tight ship when it comes to security. It’s a loose ship. Like falling to pieces everyone onboard is going to drown, loose. They even mistook us for Athletes on our last day.
Sam was wearing his USA jersey and without us saying anything the guard opened the gate and said
“Ahh athletes, come sis ways.”
It was that easy.
We had the incredible opportunity to actually meet Shaun White while we were saying goodbye to our friend at the NBC studio. We were just in the right place at the right time. He happened to be finishing up an interview as we were leaving, so we snapped a quick picture, chatted for a few minutes then parted ways. I didn’t mention to him that we were long lost cousins. I thought it might creep him out a little.
There really wasn’t much left to see in the countryside so we decided we would spend our last night in Seoul. On the train, Sam and I were pretty convinced that we never had to step foot in South Korea again. Well that all changed once we got to the big city. Seoul was dope AF. Bright LEDs illuminated every inch of the streets. I felt like I was in an A$AP Rocky music video. Every little alley had something exciting to offer, and the food was incredible.
That picture we took with Shaun ended up getting us free drinks at almost every bar we hit. I would whip out my phone and say
“Yea we’re Shaun White’s cousins, he just won a gold medal and wants a place to celebrate. If you give us free drinks we will tweet out the name of this bar and tell everyone to come.”
It worked like a charm. However, I made the mistake of telling a guy sitting next to us at one bar that Sam was actually Shaun White. The guy lit up, instantly ordering us drinks. Unfortunately, the bar was crowded and those drinks took a painfully long five-minutes to arrive. Which gave the Korean dude plenty of time to Google “Shaun White” and realize he had been duped by two jackass kids. By the time the drinks showed up he wanted nothing to do with us.
In all fairness, we didn’t ask for him to by us drinks, that was his suggestion. At the very least he can feel good about himself knowing he helped a few college guys stretch their dollars that much further.
We woke up the next morning knowing that Seoul had not seen the last of us. It was a funky city. I’m sad I didn’t have the time to make it to any K-pop karaoke bars and sing my heart out. I will definitely be back. I’m also sad I didn’t get a chance to make it north, to the other Korea.
However, I did see the North’s cheerleading squad and that was creepy enough. They were brainwashed robots. I quietly watched them get chaperoned around by their guards from a safe distance. I wish I could have helped one of them defect but that would probably have resulted in me getting shot, and folks, I’m no hero.
I’m currently using the sunny beaches of Southern Thailand to relax and plan my next adventure. I’m not sure what that will be, but I think it’s time I leave this country. I’ve spent a little over a month here, and I feel that I have seen enough of it. Until next time.
Peace Peace Peace
On the goddamn Beach, Krabi Thailand, Friday, February 23rd, 2018