Photo by Kevin Coyne
Korean fans have been enthusiastic during the Winter Olympics.
Editor’s Note: Southwest Regional Publishing correspondent Kevin Coyne, along with his family and friends -- Jake, Bailey, Kendall’s fiancé Michael Schofield and parents John and Ahlise -- traveled from Chicago to South Korea to watch Kendall Coyne compete for Team USA in ice hockey. She will be playing in the Gold Medal game tonight – Thursday. This is the second of Kevin’s three columns from Korea.
GANGNEUNG, South Korea – The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics could go down in history as the starting point to mending the relationship between North Korea and South Korea. Over the past week, the family has witnessed serval milestones, world records and countless act of kindness.
We’ve spent hours watching the greatest athletes in the world compete on both ice and snow. We’ve seen ice hockey, figure skating, speed skating, skeleton, snowboarding, skiing, and the opening ceremonies. Our primary reason for the visit is women’s ice hockey, which we’ve witnessed a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the American’s first three games against Finland, Team Olympic Athletes from Russia, and Canada.
We dropped in to watch the Korean men’s game, which was one of the highlights of the Olympic experience. The Korean men’s ice hockey team attracted a sellout crowd of 12,000 spectators when it faced off against the Czech Republic, Feb. 15, at the Gangneung Ice Arena.
Besides the fact that the Koreans contained the more experienced team from the Czech Republic to a one-goal game, it was fascinating to see how the Korean people would jump in excitement every time the home team touched the puck.
You would think the Koreans won a gold medal after a hometown hero fired a shot into the opposing goaltender’s chest from above the top of the circle.
A group of nearly 200 North Koreans filled the entire section behind the south end of the rink. The group moved carefully in unison with the help of a conductor at the bottom of the stairs.
A young Korean-American man from Philadelphia translated what the North Korean group chanted in a song-like manner, “We must come together … We must unify … We must be one Korea.”
Other than chants of unification, the Koreans are some of the most honorable and law-abiding people we have ever encountered. People leave their belongings unattended without any hesitation or fear of someone stealing them.
I spent one afternoon looking for souvenirs or gifts to bring back home. During my trip I encountered several locals who went out of their way to help me with the language barrier. One store owner gave me 1,000-won back as a discount and then offered me a commemorative key chain for Korean New Year.
We spoke with countless English-speaking Koreans who have provided us with fun facts or interesting tidbits of information. For instance, due to the outlandish parking violations, people usually leave their phone number on the dashboard so when someone needs to move their car they can call the person who parked them into a spot.
Transportation to and from the venues has been a bit of a challenge but after a week, we are starting to become familiar with the area surrounding our home in Gangneung.
We’ve done our best to be polite by learning some of the common phrases in Korean. Other than our limited Korean, we’ve been able to communicate by more creative means such as using business cards from nearby businesses to provide to a cab driver our address.
Other than communication and transportation issues, we’ve enjoyed a handful of traditional Korean restaurants. In typical American fashion, we had no idea how to eat with chop sticks, forgot to take our shoes off before walking into the dining area, and spent time trying to figure out the exact way to assemble our perfect meal with a mixture of sides and meat.
At the end of the day, we’ve enjoyed our time learning about a new culture while watching all the excitement of the Olympic Games. It’s been the trip of a lifetime and it’s amazing to share this time with family and plenty of new friends.