Washington Nationals beat writer Chelsea Janes is switch-hitting this February, covering the Winter Olympics for The Post before heading to spring training. She'll be sharing thoughts and experiences from her “rookie” Games. DAEGWALLYEONG, South Korea ...
Police officers such as these greeted Chelsea Janes when she arrived at her lodgings in Gangnueung. Hers didn’t need riot shields, one assumes. (Carl Court/Getty Images)
Washington Nationals beat writer Chelsea Janes is switch-hitting this February, covering the Winter Olympics for The Post before heading to spring training. She’ll be sharing thoughts and experiences from her “rookie” Games.
DAEGWALLYEONG, South Korea — I’ve always wanted to believe in the power of the Olympic Games, the power of sport, the universal language. To cover an Olympic Games was as much a dream — a box I simply had to check.
So when I arrived at Incheon Airport outside of Seoul Sunday, still stunned that I was going to check that box at all, I was brimming with inspiration, determined not only to dignify the assignment, to prove myself worthy of it all.
I had never traveled farther from the United States than France, so I had spent weeks wondering how different it would feel in those first few moments. I had never been to anything like an Olympic Games before, so I wondered if I would feel the global pulse, or be moved by a world’s worth of hopeful energy.
[She killed 115 people before the last Korea Olympics. Now she wonders: ‘Can my sins be pardoned?’]
One of the first things I saw after pushing through customs was our colleague, Chuck Culpepper, waiting with a sign with our names on it. Oh, the camaraderie! Then I saw a Starbucks. People here need coffee, too. We really are all the same!
These next three weeks have just changed DRAMATICALLY.
A post shared by Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) on Feb 4, 2018 at 12:55pm PST
Then, I stopped in the bathroom, where I was hit with a stark reality: There are some cultural gaps even the uniting force of the Olympic spirit cannot close.
Where a normal toilet has a handle to flush, this one had a control panel with at least a dozen different buttons. Some were different colors. Some were marked with Korean characters. Some of them had pictures of water doing various things that water in American toilets normally does not do.
Despite the fact that I was wearing a black coat, and could therefore absorb some spray, uncertainty about exactly what would be spraying (and where) rendered experimentation too risky. But not pushing anything seemed rude, and rude was an inevitability I had hoped to postpone a little longer. My dignity in premature peril, I chose safety over a soaking. I didn’t flush. I fled. This was my Olympic debut, illustrious to the core, the Olympic spirit flushed away in translation, replaced by the realities of my cultural inexperience.
Then came a glimpse of another side of the Olympics, which I had heard are loaded with logistical challenges, and best defined as a grind. Four of us shared a van from the airport to our respective housing sites, some of us in the mountains, some of us near the main village, and me by the coast. After about three hours of driving, I was the only one left in a chilly van with our driver, a pleasant and attentive man who spoke about as much English as we did Korean.
He and I had not spoken much during the early part of the drive, and he didn’t say anything as he reset his navigation system to take me to the coast. He looked at the map, which showed a winding road with lots of exclamation points — which is not generally something one likes to see on a map like that — and noticed me starting at the screen, too. He smiled, took a deep breath, put the van in drive and leaned forward as if his proximity would inspire the steering wheel to more obedience. I took a deep breath, leaned forward, and braced myself against the front seat.
[No U.S. women’s figure skater has won Olympic gold since 2002. What’s the deal?]
Off we went down poorly lit twists and turns. He took them as carefully as he could — which wasn’t carefully enough to calm either of our nerves, though neither of us said so. From watching him navigate it all, I concluded that the center double yellow lines here must be more of a guideline than a hard-and-fast-rule. I wondered what my parents would think if they saw the whole thing firsthand (and, frankly, what they will think to read about it). A complete stranger in a strange place had my life in his hands on a poorly lit road. But we were in it together.
When we finally got to the bottom, he sat back and took a breath. I sat back and took a breath. Within a few minutes we were pulling in to the apartments in Gangneung, sharing silent relief … until a horde of Korean police officers clad in neon and hollering frantically surrounded the van and began knocking on the windows. In an effort to protect me from the bitter cold, he had tried to take me in a restricted entrance. Ten minutes of heated conversation later, he had talked his way to the closest possible entrance, and unloaded my oversized bags onto the sidewalk. I shook his hand. He nodded to me. We laughed, having survived adventure without a word.
When I got to my room, after 20 hours of traveling, the apartment was clean and warm, with all the amenities. The wi-fi worked perfectly. Redskins beat writer Liz Clarke was there to greet me. My gift bag included a small lamp handmade by someone who lives nearly 7,000 miles from D.C. And the toilet had a traditional flushing mechanism. The Olympics had provided a small dose of redemption. I was right to believe.
Read more about the 2018 Olympics:
Coldest in history? PyeongChang organizers break out hats and blankets.
Emergency appendectomy might not keep U.S. bobsledder Justin Olsen out of Olympics
Mikaela Shiffrin is the world’s best woman skier — and worried that’s not enough
Figure skater Adam Rippon on coming out: ‘I felt myself owning who I was’
chelsea janes, Olympics, 2018 winter Olympics, Olympic results, korea Olympics, 2018 olympics schedule, PyeongChang, south korea, north korea,