There is no female athlete in the world who is paid more money annually than South Korea’s very own Kim Yuna. There is also probably no person who has more completely taken over control of an entire country without being in political office than Kim Yuna. This place is totally obsessed with her. So you can imagine that the last few days have been pretty rough since she graciously accepted a silver medal to retire on.
A little bit about Olympics coverage in Korea–it’s nothing like coverage in the States. First off, events are played live instead of in a recorded and cut format like NBC shows, so the better parts of the waking hours are taken up by curling since it’s events like these which take place at the times no one wants to watch them in Sochi. Events like figure skating or speed skating usually take place in the wee hours of the morning, and so it was for Miss Kim. The first night she took the ice at exactly 2:24 a.m, and there was a shocking number of people who had obviously stayed up to watch it as gathered from all of the puffy faces on the bus the next day. This was convenient for me because it was the night my medical tests required that I sleep only four hours. At least I wasn’t alone.
The impressive bit, though, was what was happening on the rest of the channels the entire day leading up to her performances, because every single one of them was playing something about her. There were variety shows featuring her, there were commercials where she was endorsing a skincare product, and of course her previous performances were on loop. Literally on loop. Here is a photo from the Vancouver performance to prove it.
The day after her first performance, she was all over the TV again. This time, though, there was no variety. It was all the previous night’s performance, again on loop. People watched it on their smart phones on the bus and subway. The ones who couldn’t afford the data for that month looked at stills from it. I was asked about it by total strangers if I had watched it. The nation was nuts. And then–the unthinkable. She didn’t win.
Abraham Lincoln that if you want to test a man’s character, you should give him power. I assert that if you want to test a Korean’s character, you should tell them the Kim Yuna lost to a Russian. Social media was totally blowing up with complaints, a petition reached some ungodly number of signatures in something like 20 hours, and overall, everyone was really upset. I was there on State Street when UK won in 2012, and this might have been worse. In Korean style, of course. Meaning they were generally also respectful to the winner and only said that Yuna’s was better (for the most part). And then turned the topic to Victor Ahn.
On a lighter note, though, I’m noticing that Koreans are amazingly honest. Today while shopping in Costco with my host family, we left our cart totally unattended with all of our personal belongings in it for several minutes while selecting a laundry hamper and trash can. When we came back, it was all untouched. They also have a system in the grocery stores where patrons have to pay a few won to take a cart and then reattach their cart to the others while returning it. You are probably thinking, “There’s no way that works.” Well, you’re wrong. It’s amazing.
Speaking of my host family, I’m finally moved in to my homestay! I love it so far. Here are a few pictures from my room.
My host parents are lovely people. His name is Kwang-su, and he decided beforehand that I should call him KS because it sounds more natural in English speech. It doesn’t, but that’s okay. Kwang-su is a numbers guy for SC Johnson and works something crazy like 12 hours a day every weekday. My host mother’s name is Gye-young, and I call her Kay. Kay is an English teacher at a private academy here. They have two really cool dogs, Jang-gu and Coco. They lived in America for eight years, so what that means for me is that today’s breakfast included bacon. They’re very, very nice and they’re always trying to give me things, which I think is sort of a staple of Korean culture, but I’m still not quite used to it. They are also immaculately clean (they listed one of their ways to spend free time as straightening up the house), so I’m very pleased with that. They live in a nice apartment complex in central Seoul near Namsan Tower, so they assure me that it will be really easy for a taxi driver to find this place if I should somehow not be able to use public transportation correctly (they know me too well already). Kwang-su likes to tell me things I probably already know, and Kay tells me just to let him do this because he is stubborn. They’re really fun, and I think this will be an awesome place to spend a semester!