PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games

I’m not really a big sports person, but the one sporting event I do follow is the Olympics. When I was a growing up I remember checking the newspaper for the results and medal standings in the morning and watching the events on TV after school. I always thought it would be super cool to one day be able to go and check out the Olympics.

There’s just something magical about the passion and pride that goes into competing (and cheering) for your country.

Fast forward to a couple years ago when I was applying to study in Korea, I remembered that they would be holding the Winter Olympics in 2018. I quickly did the math in my head and realized that I would graduate in the summer of 2017 so I’d miss the Olympics unless if I stayed longer or went back to Korea or something. That kinda sucked, but hey, that’s life I guess.

The Gangneung Olympic Cluster under construction in 2015.

I didn’t really want to go back to Korea so soon after leaving, but I knew that I wanted to visit my friends that still live there. That was the main point of the trip but the chance to go check out the Olympics was a huge bonus. So, I planned my trip to Korea and coordinated with some of my friends to go check out an Olympic hockey game as well. Finally, I had the opportunity to actually go to the Olympics for the very first time.

Every Olympics has their own set of problems and issues, and Korea is no exception to that rule. Leading up to the Olympics there was a lot of things that directly influenced the event. For example, there weren’t going to be any NHL players playing in the hockey tournament, Russia had the whole doping scandal going on so they couldn’t play as Russia, like everything about North Korea, and so on.

There was essentially a whole slew of drama and politics that really overshadowed much of the event itself so I didn’t really know what to expect from it. Regardless, me and four of my friends took an early train to PyeongChang on a Sunday morning to start our own Olympic adventure.

The Olympic Mascots by Jinbu Station.

I honestly already felt kinda excited from the moment we got off the train. The train station we got off at was called Jinbu station but they added in parenthesis “Olympic Station” and seeing that simple addition already made me feel kinda giddy.

I was actually going to be able to check out the Olympics!

We started the day by heading over to the Olympic Stadium. After going through security you walk out into this plaza where you are greeted by the flags of all the participating countries. That was a pretty cool moment. Of course, I had to look for the Canadian flag and it was also pretty neat to see the North Korean flag there too considering we were in South Korea.

The flags of the participating nations of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Aside from having the actual Olympic Stadium and Cauldron, the PyeongChang Olympic Plaza had a few stages for performances and a few other art exhibitions. There was of course, a merchandise store as well. That’s pretty much where we went to first and there was a ton of people inside. There was a lot of popup stores in Seoul selling Olympic merchandise but the store there was gigantic and was selling much more stuff.

Next, we checked out the Olympic Cauldron which was next to the Olympic Stadium. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to go into the stadium but you could kinda just admire it from the outside and take pictures with the flame. It was a bit hard to see the fire so I feel like it was a bit of a wasted opportunity there, but regardless, it was cool to see.

The Olympic Cauldron with a tiny flame.

Oddly enough, the highlight of the PyeongChang Olympic Plaza was the art and technology exhibition they had. They had a bunch of cool looking installations you could check out and it was pretty awesome. I have no idea how any of that stuff was related to the Olympics, but hey, it was there and was interesting.

Afterwards we grabbed a quick lunch out in the city before taking a bus to the Gangneung Olympic Cluster. It’s weird because you’d imagine the PyeongChang cluster to be the main one but the Gangneung cluster actually had more things to check out and was the overall more atmospheric area. Our timing was pretty good too because as we were walking through the plaza we saw this random parade go by which was pretty neat.

Most of the major indoor sporting venues were there and so you had a lot more people there. A lot of the major sponsors had some representation there as well. For example, Coke had a giant “vending machine” you could go into and get some cool souvenirs (I went to the one in Hongdae), McDonald’s had some cool burger and fries shaped buildings, and so on.

A traditional Korean parade in front of a giant hockey stadium.

They even had a building talking about the next Olympics which is going to be held in Japan in 2020. That was really weird though since they had some weird scanner thing where you could scan yourself and see a projected cartoon version of yourself walking weirdly down a street. You could also even use some 1990s era camera technology to badly photoshop yourself onto a skateboard. That was weird.

After checking out as much as we could, we tried to get into Canada House since it was supposed to be open to public. Unfortunately I didn’t realize you had to buy tickets ahead of time so we couldn’t get in, but it ended up being alright cause we found this awesome restaurant somewhere else and got dinner there before the hockey game.

The Canada House I unfortunately could not get into.

Originally we wanted to watch a hockey game between Canada and South Korea but by the time we actually got train tickets that event was sold out so we ended up getting tickets for Finland vs Sweden instead. Before entering the hockey stadium we were given the choice of some free cheering tools. Some of my friends went for the Finnish flag but I thought that was weird so I got some Olympic branded face masks instead.

In hindsight that was also kinda weird.

Anyways, it was exciting because not only was this an Olympic hockey game, it was also my first real hockey game. I know, I’m a terrible Canadian who never actually went to a hockey game up until very recently.

Seconds before the puck drops in my first ever hockey game.

It was actually a really fun game. Sweden was obviously the better team but Finland put up a solid fight. Plus for some reason like 80% of the fans in the stadium were cheering for Finland and so there was some real hype in watching the underdogs play. Every time the Finns did something the stadium would go crazy. It was really awesome.

After the game we went back to the train station and took a late train back to Seoul. By the time I actually went to bed it was like 4 am and I was tired as hell but it was totally worth it.

After literal decades of just watching the festivities from afar, it was really surreal to actually be there. Once you’re actually there and standing in the Olympic venues, it’s really easy to just get lost in the moment and bask in the excitement and atmosphere that is the Olympics.

The Olympic Rings by Gangneung Station.

Korea doesn’t typically have a festive mood because they don’t really do decorations or festivities. Even with big holidays like Seollal and Christmas, Korea just kinda stays as grey and unexciting as it always does. The Olympics were different though.

They actually had a lot of decorations going around. Be it banners and posters featuring the athletes or mascots, or just flags of the world displayed along the road, it really did feel like the country was celebrating something. Plus, you saw a lot more foreigners on the streets and a lot of them were wearing symbols of their countries, which just added to the overall environment. I really appreciated that since that kind of festive atmosphere was something I thought the country sorely lacked throughout the three years I lived there for.

People keep saying the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Well, I’m hoping it’s not because I had a great time and it would be awesome to be able to go check out another one in the future.

Global Grad Show 2016

When I was younger, whenever I thought about the word design, I thought of stuff like, fashion design. You know, more artsy, kinda fancy stuff. As I got a bit older that perspective changed a bit, but not by much. I became a programmer and aligned myself with the developer side of things, and you poke fun at designers a bit because that’s kinda just what you do.

Programmers laugh at designers because designers just have these crazy ideas they can’t actually create and then designers laugh at programmers because everything they make isn’t user friendly or like, good, just functional. It’s kind of a fun little dynamic that I’m sure a lot of people in the industry can kinda understand.

So it’s a bit weird how I’m in a design program now and I guess I can be considered a designer. My studies at KAIST have changed the way I think about both designers and design in general and I’m actually really thankful for that. It’s still a bit surreal really, especially since I just got back from a design exhibition where I was invited to showcase some of my work.

The Dubai Design District, a series of ice cube looking buildings in the middle of the desert.
The Dubai Design District, a series of ice cube looking buildings in the middle of the desert.

I honestly never thought that I would be invited to present anything at a design exhibition. At most I thought I’d be invite to present something at a random game convention or tech conference or something. But a design exhibition, wow, that was unexpected.

Unexpected but really cool though.

I was invited to present some work at the Global Grad Show, which was an event held during the Dubai Design Week. The Global Grad Show is an event where they invite students from universities all around the world to showcase their designs. Our school was one of the schools that was invited to participate and somehow our project was selected to be a representative of our school.

Yes, it's a mat.
Yes, it’s a mat.

The project we ended up showcasing is called Tip Tap Mat. It’s essentially a door mat that allows you to unlock doors with your feet. Most things nowadays are designed for your hands so they’re often fairly busy. And when they are, it makes opening locked doors a hassle so we designed a system that moves the interaction from your hands to your feet.

It’s actually quite a simple project, and considering how we managed to get our demo prototype working like the day we flew out do Dubai, I was actually really surprised that it not only worked fairly well, but was also fairly well received at the event.

We even made a tiny door to showcase the interaction.
We even made a tiny door to showcase the interaction.

The event was actually pretty cool. There were 145 projects from 50 universities around the world so there was a lot of diversity in the types of projects as well as the designers working on them. Honestly I thought I was like, the most random person there with the most random project. Everyone else felt so pro, especially those with projects that were pretty much production ready.

It was really interesting to just talk to people and look around the show. Everyone has their own motivations and passion so it was really neat to get some different perspectives while knowing that we’re all joined together by this abstract concept called design.

One of the biggest takeaways I had from the event actually wasn’t the projects themselves but the designers. The show was called the Global Grad Show after all, so you’d expect people from around the world. But the interesting thing was that there were a lot of people that were like me, students that decided to study abroad.

Truly a global event.
Truly a global event.

I mean I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. I am an international student after all and I’m not even all that unique. But it was an idea that really hit me during the event. We had people from schools all around the world, but there were many students that weren’t originally from the country that school was in, making it even more diverse that I originally thought.

It was nice. I’ve realized over the last few years that I’m a really big fan of multiculturalism. People from all over, regardless of ethnicity, religion, etc, getting together and just, co-existing is something I really like. As someone in a creative field, I feel like having all of these different people allows for your own thoughts and ideas to be challenged by different perspectives, as well as giving you new ideas that you might just not have thought of before. Plus it’s just more interesting to have like, differences. Life gets boring when everything and everyone is the same.

Also, as my first content post on this new blog this already feels like a pretty long entry. And I don’t even think I really talked about the actual show that much haha. But hey, Gary’s Rambles right? Haha.