Friday, February 29, 2008

The scene around Pyeongchang, South Korea

All of the staff and athletes of the World Cup are being staying at YongPyong, a "Four Season Resort" at the base of a ski mountain. To find our selves in a very westernized setting with its huge hotels, buzzing ski hill and even a Starbucks coffee shop made being in Korea even more surreal. I took these photos our first morning there. After 26 hours of traveling in vans, planes, waiting in airports and even on a runway in the middle of Russia (lots of people wearing fur hats and it looked quite cold!) to refuel I got into bed at 1:30am and wasn't quite sure what I would wake up to. South Korea is an 8 hour time change ahead from Europe, 14 hour time change from Sinclair, ME and 16 hour time change from the Colorado Rockies. Basically, I end my day when you begin yours.

I am very focused on racing and training this week, so keep my daily routine of training, recovery, eating, stretching, evaluation, and racing. But I have let myself take off the "blinders" and mingled within the ski resort shops, slopes and Buddhist sites a few times to get a better feel for Korea.
Greenpia - the hotel suites that we are staying in.

At the base of the mountain. Notice that there is also English on the signs.

Check out all those kids on the trail. On these lower slopes you could see a lot of young and beginner skiers. Out of view from this photo are some pretty steep and long ski trails.

Here is a Buddhist pagoda, or place of worship. This building was actually used in a famous Korean film and brought here to YongPyong to continue to honor its importance and presence. Coincidentally, I have seen this film, "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter" and felt it odd to stand on the steps of this monk's home that I first saw in a film.

Here is a photo of one of the panels of the pagoda. The winter lotus symbolizes the winter season and is the fourth quadrant of the wall. Next to and below are spring, summer and fall lotuses, hence the name of the film.

Here is another pagoda tucked away up in the hillside. The area had a quiet, but well kept presence. The pathways were well swept and cleared, and what snow the sun didn't melt was swept from the Buddhist monuments and step stones. This sanctuary was a nice contrast to the busy resort below.

Here is a close up of the detail of the roof line. The colors, designs and carvings are beautiful. There is a dominating floral theme, especially with the presence of the lotus which is an overarching Buddhist symbol. The blooming of the petals is a metaphor for life, birth and renewal present in the spiritual purity of Buddhism. The lotus however is not solely defined by that, but rather has a multitude of meanings within the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religions and varies even more with regions and cultures.

And here it appears again on the top of this monument up on the hillside. Here is another look of the Hangul, the Korean language. From what I can tell, unlike Japanese or Chinese, Hangul is read and written from left to right as well as from top to bottom. Hangul is the native alphabet of North and South Korea, with 24 letters, 10 vowels and 14 consonants. A lot more research is needed to better define this language, so I will save that for another time. As a native English speaker, Asian languages come with a certain mysticism and allure precisely because we don't know what it all means or sounds like.

Finding such Buddhist elements juxtaposed to the westernized and modern ski resort and biathlon venue is more common than I realize. People have been living here a long time. The mix of the historical elements in everyday life defines not only the depth of the roots of religion and culture but it also highlights the technological and modern advancements this country is known for.

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