First Day Transportation Glitches: Par for the Course and Yet as Frustrating as Golf

Volunteers at Tourist Information Center
Volunteers at Tourist Information Center

It’s very early in the Olympics, I was told. We need to be patient as they work out the glitches in the processes. Very wise words indeed, but it was still very frustrating to figure out the transportation system – the network of buses that are supposed to cart the thousands of spectators, officials, workers and volunteers around to the various venues.

I was told that it would take about 15 minutes to go from the Olympic Plaza where I was to the Alpensia Ski area where the Normal Hill Si Jump Qualifier event would take place at 9:30 pm. Thus I arrived at the appointed bus stop at 8:20 pm. I wanted to make sure I had time to pick up my ticket there and walk around the surroundings.

I was early and the actual location of the bus stop was unclear. Vague instructions and maps cycled through a slideshow on an electronic screen at the bus stop area. Questions to people standing around yielded shrugs. When a person in the volunteer uniform walked by, I grabbed them and asked, but very few could communicate in English, even fewer could explain where the bus to Alpensia was supposed to pick us up.

I had been given instructions to take Bus TW7 or 8 at the Tourist Information Center a few hours earlier. There was a lot of asking back and forth as they came to a consensus to my question – a fairly straightforward one I thought. You can see three people peering over a map trying to explain this to me. The English level capability of the volunteers was low, which I understand as English capability in bulk is going to be hard to find in countries in North Asia.

So in my scramble to find someone who could explain where I could pick up the TW7 or 8 bus, one told me that I had to walk about 10 minutes in a totally different direction. I started down that road for about 3 minutes until I realized that it contradicted the instructions I got at the Tourist Information Center. I went back, and realized there was a bigger crowd all waiting to go to the Alpensia Si Jumping venue.

I found one group of young bilinguals also waiting, and they mentioned that TW means Transportation for Workers or Volunteers. I wanted TS 7 or 8, which is Transportation for Spectators. And as we watched bus after empty bus pull up to our location and move on, the natives began to get restless. It was 8:45 pm and Koreans began yelling at anyone who appeared to have some affiliation with the organizers. That is why people in the volunteer uniforms began to steer clear of the crowd. I suspect that something a volunteer had told me in broken English about 15 minutes previously was that these buses weren’t running. But no one was there to state this explicitly.

The crowd moaned and groaned. No buses. Taxis were impossible to find. Families with crying kids, middle aged men who may have had a bit to drink, and elderly women alike were in a state of paralysis with no idea whom to talk to. And then suddenly the crowd began to move, so I followed along.

I wasn’t sure if they were leaving or not, so I peeled off when we came near the Olympic Stadium to see if there were any English-speaking officials or volunteers around, but I couldn’t find anybody. So I rushed back to find the crowd. And the thinning crowd eventually ended up about 200 meters away from the original spot – at a TM bus stop – Transportation for Media. Apparently when I had arrived, a bus had picked up the bulk of the spectators headed for Alpensia. But about 20 of us were left waiting. And waiting. And waiting. It was already 9:30. The competition had already begun. People were giving up. Finally, at 9:35, I gave up to and started walking back to my room.

And then people started rushing back. A bus had arrived. And it was heading to Alpensia! It was 9:40 and people were shouting for the bus driver to go. But he said the appointed time was 9:45. So we grinned and bore it.

We arrived at 10:00. It took about 10 minutes to get my ticket, go through security, walk to the seating area and finally settling into the bright light of a ski jump competition. Twenty minutes of it.

And it was fun!!!

The journey, however, wasn’t. Going home was also confusing, involving a long walk (30 minutes to the bus area) and another long walk after the bus stopped (30 minutes to my room.)

All up, the four hours since I left my room to when I get back, I spent only 20 minutes watching the competition.

But then, they say, it’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey….

Leaving Alpensia 2
The long march out of Alpensia to the bus stop.