PyeongChang Winter Olympics Newsletter KTX

I’m sitting in seat 5A of the third train in the KTX and after kilometer of kilometer of open spaces, ice-pocked rivers, massive housing blocks, we’ve entered darkness. And it’s a long darkness.

But that’s OK, because I have my handy dandy PyeongChang Winter Olympics Newsletter in the pocket in front of my seat, and it has the facts I need. The KTX is the new high-speed train line from Seoul to Gangneung, which will make it fairly easy for Koreans and visitors alike to get to the Olympic venues. And in answer to the question “Would you introduce the newly launched KTX railroad line connecting Seoul with Gangneung?” there is a nugget of trivia that I needed at the moment I read it – that part of the engineering marvel of the new KTX line is a 22-kilometer-long tunnel in Daegwallyeong. That’s the longest tunnel in Korea, and the eighth longest in the world.

This newsletter is intriguing, at least to me. There is a bit of the normal evasive mumbo jumbo that bureaucracies spin. For example, in answer to the first question – “What do the Korean people think about Korea’s hosting of the Olympics, the world’s premier sporting event?” the answer starts off with a 90 degree turn.

KTX

Let us begin with a brief introduction to the Republic of Korea. The country became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1996, and its economy now ranks near the global top 10. Surprisingly, however Korea was the most impoverished country in the world 70 years ago. It gained independence in 1945 but went into war in 1950……

It goes on like that for another three paragraphs without answering the question. Maybe the attitude of the Koreans towards the Olympics are like citizens in so many countries – mixed to negative.

But I suppose that answer would be a downer at the start of a newsletter promoting the pride Koreans have in showcasing the biggest Winter sports event in the world.

This four-page document is not all sugar and spice, however. In companies I’ve worked, in the face of intimidating change, corporate communications will often suggest creating a set of FAQs called “Rude FAQs.” In this case, the effort is put into thinking of the most direct questions an ordinary employee would think of (the directness of which can seem rude in the genteel world of let’s-all-get-along corporate cultures.)

So after the first nine, rather bland questions in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics newsletter come three fairly direct questions, real questions:

  • Q9. South Korea’s “Peace Olympics Initiative” led to North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. Is there any concern about the possibility of the North’s exploiting the Games as a propaganda opportunity?
  • Q10. Isn’t the North trying to gain time for its nuclear armament by participating in the Games, and doesn’t its participation constitute a violation of the sanctions imposed by the international community on North Korea?
  • Q11. Aren’t some South Korean media outlets and politicians worried about North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics?

And the answers were on the whole pretty solid. Here’s the response to the last question, #11:

Considering the fact that North Korea’s latest missile test was held just months ago, their sudden change in attitude is surprising, and indeed, voices of concern have been heard in some quarters.

The government is paying keen attention to these concerns out of the belief that they all emanate from a wish for the successful hosting of the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. The government is convinced that the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics will contribute to the success of the Games for the following reasons:

  • First, the PyeongChang Olympics will aid the promotion of inter-Korean reconciliation as well as ease tensions and build peace on the Korean peninsula.
  • Second, there were concerns a few months ago over whether the PyeongChang Olympics could be peacefully held, but those concerns have now evaporated. Moreover, global leaders are supporting inter-Korean dialogue and the participation of North Kore in the PyeongChang Olympics.
  • Third, the North’s participation has further increased international interest I the PyeongChang Olympics, adding to its potential for success.
  • Fourth, efforts for detente on the Koran Peninsula will mitigate geopolitical risks, providing a boost to the Korean economy.
Madison Rae Margraves gives her impact statement as her parents and sister Lauren listen during the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte
Madison Mangraves gives her impact statement as her parents and sister Lauren listen. February 2, 2018 REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

It was a sentencing hearing for former USA Gymnastics sports medicine doctor, Larry Nassar. Judge Janice Cunningham was presiding over the hearing in Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Michigan, where victims of Nassar’s abuse testified to the pain and suffering at his hands. Nasser was sentenced to 40 to 175 years for molesting 7 girls, although hundreds have said they had been molested by Nassar.

Two sisters, Lauren and Madison Mangraves, had just testified at Nasser’s sentencing hearing in Eaton County, and their father Randall Mangraves asked to speak as well.

“I can’t imagine the anger and the anxiety and the feeling of wanting retribution, and if you need to say something to help you,” said Cunningham to Randall Mangraves. “I’m more than willing to let you say something, but in a courtroom we don’t use profanity. If you have some words you’d like to say, I would like to give you the opportunity to say something.”

Mangraves then took the opportunity.

“I would ask you as part of the sentencing to grant me five minutes in a locked room with this demon. Would you do that? Yes or no.”

The young women behind the left shoulder of Randall Mangrave, were his daughters, Lauren and Madison. As their father began his request, you can see Madison react with surprise, her somber and tearful face suddenly smiling involuntarily, pleased that her father was sticking up for his daughters, perhaps thinking he was being even a bit playful when he suggested he have “even one minute” with Nassar.

But Randall Mangrave wasn’t playing. Madison’s face turned to shock as she watched his father dash across the room and lunge at Nassar. Security quickly wrestled him to the ground, Mangraves failing to get anywhere near the sexual predator. You can hear weeping in the background, presumably one of the daughters who had gone through a roller coaster of emotions, even in the previous 2 minutes.

Randall Mangraves attacks
Randall Margraves lunges at Larry Nassar in court as his sentencing continues REUTERS

After security determined he was cuffed and not going to resist, they let him get up. Before he was taken away, there was a pause as he stared at the security men in disbelief.

“What if this happened to you guys,” he said to the officers who took him away.

There was no reply.

 

 

Unification flag Koreas
By Various – Outline drawn by Ksiom, Blue color from the Olympic rings., CC BY-SA 3.0,

It seems hard to believe that a nation would willingly drop usage of their flag to appease another nation, but that is what both North and South Korea are doing at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

The North Korean rocket tests in 2017 were raising tensions around the world, particularly in Asia, but South and North Korean leaders came to an agreement in January to unite the teams of the two border nations, so that they march together on opening day under the same flag.

The flag is starkly simple, a blue silhouette of the Korean peninsula on white. There are variations that include various islands, but the one that will be seen at the Winter Games will be one that includes the oval of Jeju Island near the southern tip of the peninsula.

North and South Korea have united under one flag at three previous Olympics: at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, the 2004 Athens Summer Games, and the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. But since then, they have marched under their own flags, most recently at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.

North and South Korean Flags

There is precedent for this symbolic unity.

East and West Germany were put together under a single team at the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Winter and Summer Olympiads. Their flag was made up of the tri-colors black, red and yellow with the Olympic rings in white centering the flag. The national anthem was Beethoven’s Ninth – Ode to Joy.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in December, 1991, twelve nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union were banded together under the name “The Unified Team,” also known as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). These countries were banded together in this manner because the now independent nations did not have enough time to establish National Olympic Committees with the International Olympic Committee in time.

At both the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics and the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, members of the Unified Team marched under the Olympic Flag, which was composed of the Olympic Rings on white background. Their national anthem was the Olympic theme.

It’s been eleven years, but North and South Korea will again march under the same flag. The Olympics of Ancient Greece were said to be about taking a pause in the political belligerence of mankind.

Of course, not everyone’s happy about it, as protests against North Korea’s role in the PyeongChang Olympics grow in South Korea. As this AP reports states:

Discontent has grown in South Korea in recent days over plans to include North Korea in high-profile roles during next month’s Games — complaints that prompted protesters on Monday to burn a North Korean flag and an image of the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, in public.

May the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will bring enemy brothers together, show us a better vision of ourselves.

protests against north korea
South Koreans burn a portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in front of the Seoul railway station on Jan. 22, 2018. They were protesting a visit by Hyon Song Wol, head of North Korea’s art troupe. (Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press)

 

Hyon Song Wol
Hyon Song Wol of the North Korean delegation

K-Pop’s really popular all over Asia. But how about NK-Pop?

Thanks to a recent rapprochement by the two Koreas, North and South Korea will unite under the name “Korea” at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. In addition to a figure skating duo which had actually qualified for the Games, an additional 22 athletes will be added to the roster of participating athletes.

A stunning turn of events only weeks before the commencement of the Games, the governments of North and South Korea are working to de-escalate the tension that has risen in the second half of 2017, as test missiles from North Korea flew menacingly close to Japan, and antagonistic words between the American and North Korean leaders were exchanged.

South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, has been actively seeking to bring North Korea to the table, and to the PyeongChang Olympics. On January 18, 2018, weeks before the Winter Games start on February 8, the two sides negotiated the presence of not only athletes and officials in PyeongChang, but also a wide variety of teams that would serve to promote North Korean arts, sports and of course, the government leadership. That includes a team of taekwondo athletes, which of course won’t compete because it’s not the Summer Games, but instead will perform in demonstrations.

Participants at the PyeongChang Winter Games will be graced by the presence of the so-called “Army of Beauties,” a hand-picked cheering squad of 230 women who will chant, sing and cheer at the Games opening ceremonies, among other events.

The Samjiyon Art Troupe, an all-purpose group of 140 singers, dancers and orchestral members will also perform during the Olympics. This particular group is led by Hyon Song Wol, who is the leader of the Moranbong Band, an all-female band that is more well known, and has been performing pop rock since 2012. It is reported that North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, helped establish the band.

Hyon is no ordinary musician. She was a member of North Korea’s delegation visiting South Korea for the rapprochement talks, and is perceived to be close to Kim Jong-un. There have even been rumors that she was romantically involved with Kim before he became North Korea’s supreme leader.

Rumors don’t stop there regarding Hyon. It was believed in 2014 that Hyon was dead, executed by the hand of the State, for the charge of – wait for it – starring in a pornographic films. The rumors of her demise were apparently greatly exaggerated. Today, Hyon appears to wield significant political influence. And at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Hyon and the Samjiyon Art Troupe will take the spotlight on the biggest stage in sports.

Imnam Dam and Peace Dam
Google Maps view of the DMZ

It was 1986. Preparations were under way for South Korea’s coming-out party – The 1988 Seoul Olympics. And on the other side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), North Korean began preparations of their own, breaking ground for a dam to be built on the Bukhan River, a short 19 kilometers from the border. Completed in 2003, it is called the Imnam Dam.

Perhaps fears of North Korean terrorism during the South Korean Olympics were top of mind for South Koreans, so they began to imagine the worst. As the New York Times explained in an article in 2007, then President Chun Do-hwan did imagine a scary scenario – the new dam in the North producing a monstrous flood, pounding waters headed straight for the South.

In response to the so-called water-bomb scare, South Korean television networks broadcast artists’ conceptions of monstrous walls of water unleashed from the North Korean dam, wiping out most of Seoul, 120 miles downstream, with the impact of a nuclear explosion during the Olympics.

A year later, in 1987, the fears were too hard to resist, and the South Korean government gave the green light to their own dam project, today called the Peace Dam. Located about 16 kilometers from the border to the north, the Peace Dam took a while to build, and in fact was finally completed in 2005, seven years after the Seoul Olympics. But it stands today, 125 meters high and 600 meters wide. There is actually no reservoir at the Peace Dam. Its sole purpose is to be peace of mind – a wall just in case the feared flood from the North ever comes racing down the Bukhan River – peace of mind in this case that cost USD429 million.

Peace Dam
Peace Dam in South Korea

It actually seems like a bit of expensive folly, and to be fair, the South Korean government suspended construction work on the dam after a few years. But when satellite photos apparently showed signs of cracks in the Imnam Dam in the North, fears of the deluge arose anew in the imaginations of the leaders. Work resumed, and the Peace Dam was finished.

Actually, it is another dam in North Korea that is causing grief – The Hwanggang Dam on the Imjin River, which is 42 kilometers from the DMZ. Over the past several years, there have been 8 cases where North Korean officials released massive amounts of water, causing significant flooding in South Korea. It’s not the “nuclear explosion” impact that was feared in the 1980s, and yet 6 South Koreans were killed when water was released from the Hwanggang Dam in September 2009.

The South and the North have an agreement that the North would provide notice to the South when they intend to release dam waters, commonly after significant rainfall, but in practice, the North Koreans rarely do.

In the end, should they have bothered building the Peace Dam? I guess one could say that they were dam-ed if they did, and dam-end if they didn’t.

“Like the two Koreas, the two dams are twin brothers, born at the same time, facing each other across DMZ,” said Lee Tae-ik, an official at Korea Water Resources Corporation, which maintains the South Korean dam. “The Peace Dam is an inevitable child of a divided nation.”

Defector shot crossing DMZ
Video footage of Defector Shot While Crossing border

Only months before the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, two North Korean soldiers crossed the highly secure demilitarized zone (DMZ) that maintains the nervous peace between South and North. That makes for a total of 4 soldier defections in 2017, compared with two over the previous four years.

On December 21, 2017 a North Korean soldier took advantage of a very thick fog to walk across the border.

More dramatically, on November 13, 2017, a soldier raced to the border in a jeep. Just prior to the border, the defector’s jeep got stuck in a grassy area, forcing the soldier to get out and run, just as North Korean soldiers with rifles appear on foot, firing at the 19-year old defector, and into South Korea. Shot four times but falling in South Korea territory, the defector was dragged to safety by South Korean soldiers.

 

Clearly, it is very hard to cross the DMZ from North into South. More importantly, only soldiers have access to the North-South border areas, so the general population has very little chance to cross there.

The majority of defectors from North Korea go north to China or Russia. Since 1953 and the end of the Korean War, it is estimated that anywhere from 100- to 300,000 North Koreans have defected overall. Russia has about 10,000, many who have escaped the logging camps in North Korea. China may have as many as 30- to 50,000 North Koreans blending into Chinese society. The majority of those defectors are women, who marry Chinese men, settling into a quiet life in order to avoid being arrested by authorities and deported back to likely punishment in North Korea.

Thousands of others have made the journey down to the southern part of China where they make their way Laos and Thailand, or through Mongolia, assuming that they can avoid the clutches of Chinese authorities ready to send them back.

North Korean boat washes up in Akita
Eight bodies found as second suspected North Korean boat washes up in Akita Prefecture

Japan has also been a destination since the late 1980s. North Koreans make their journey over 400 miles across the Sea of Japan to Aomori, Fukui or the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa. On November 27, 2017, a wooden boat in poor condition washed up on the shore of Akita, in the northern part of Japan. Eight bodies, thought to be North Korean defectors, were found inside the boat. Only the week before, eight men from North Korea arrived on Japanese soil by boat, alive. In fact, in 2017, 44 boats from North Korea have made it to Japan this year.

If you’re flying in and out of Haneda Airport from January 9, 2018, you may be surprised to see a new team on hand to assist you. The team will be made up of seven robots designed to assist staff and visitors at the busy domestic and international airport, located very near the central part of Tokyo.

Robots will be there to provide information, offer interpretation into four different languages or carry your bags, for example. When you’re at Haneda in January, you’ll see a C-3PO ancestor, the”EMIEW3″ robot, which is less than a meter tall and can provide you with information in English and Japanese.

 

Robots at Haneda 2
The EMIEW3

 

With the number of foreign visitors to Japan climbing rapidly – the total number of visitors to Japan exceeding 24 million this year – combined with a tight labor market, Haneda officials realize that they will need robots to increase productivity and meet the needs of travelers. Additionally, there is a pride associated with showing the world during the Tokyo2020 Olympics that Japan is cutting edge.

As Yutaka Kuratomi, a representative from the Japan Airport Terminal, said in this article, “We want foreign tourists to think that the Japanese people are cool when they come here.”