Stepping Back into the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul

Are you interested in sports? Honestly, the subject has never held much interest for me. My sister tried desperately to have me join soccer when I was in 8th grade, but her attempts ultimately failed. Even so, every four years, one event tunes me in and captures my imagination. Men and women fighting for superiority in their respective fields feels epic, be it volleyball, track, swimming, or diving. Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, and since Danny and I hadn’t gotten much alone during orientation, we decided to see how epic Olympic Parks really are.

But first, here’s a brief lesson in Hangeul, the Korean language. 🙂

올림픽공원!

If you are unfamiliar with Korean, know that the above says “Olympic Park” and go on with your life. Notwithstanding, one of the totally fascinating things about the language is its adaptation of English into Korean itself, resulting in “Konglish.” (Really, this is happening with many languages around the world: think Spanglish in the United States.) Here’s how you read it. Each “block” of text is a syllable. Pronounce the first three syllables as “Ol-leem-peek.” See what I mean?

Some Time Alone at the Site of the 1988 Summer Olympics

Yes, we went to Olympic Park in Seoul! For those of you not yet born, Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics. The park covers an expansive area in the southeast of Seoul and is now used as a leisure area for the local residents. The country’s largest sports arena also resides here. Furthermore, art pieces and sculptures dot the several parks within, and taking pictures of each nine “photo spots” yields a prize. You must return to the park’s information desk for the small gift. Danny and I set out to do it but were distracted by other sights. Eventually, it was too late to get any good pictures anyway. For another day perhaps!

The park itself was beautiful. We saw strange and interesting sculptures, including a giant thumb. (It let us know that it was one of the six great thumb statues in the world. Who knew?) This thumb greeted us at the entrance and clued us into many of the wondrous things we could expect to discover inside.

The area is still bumping, too, since the government still uses the arenas for sporting events. For instance, while we were there, we saw what appeared to be a dance competition. Several groups practiced their routines and a stage was set up with an audience. It seemed like they were still preparing, so we didn’t stick around. It would have been neat to know more about it.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about the park was that it contained the old earthen wall of the old Mongchontoseong Fortress. At a certain point, the path you walk climbs the earthen wall and you walk along the top of it, seeing some great views of the surrounding park and the city skyline to the side. Lotte Mall Tower could be easily seen nearby in Songpa. The view was breathtaking, especially with the setting sun.

A Strange Sighting: Rabbits Are Everywhere

Before I move too quickly on, I want to explain how unexpected run-ins with small critters became a most amusing part of this trip. One thing we’ve talked about a lot during the last few weeks is that animals simply don’t exist here. Around the city are many birds of course (mostly dirty flying rats, aka, pigeons). And don’t get me started on the bugs (giant spiders, let me tell ya). But I’ve only spotted one chipmunk (on a mountain) and no other natural wildlife. Until we arrived at the site of the 1988 Summer Olympics, that is. We were walking along a path and out of no where hopped… a rabbit?

I cannot tell you how amused I was. It was so docile. Did someone lose their bunny? Was it free-range? It certainly looked a little dirty. The Koreans nearby us also seemed fascinated by it. We felt certain in our belief that this was something to behold. But that’s when things got weird.

Suddenly, another appeared and joined the previous one. We were freaking out. Little did we know what portent our adventure would bring us.

They were EVERYWHERE. I think I took pictures of at least 9 unique rabbits. Someone must have released rabbits into this park years ago, and they survived due to the lack of other creatures. No birds are going to be able to take these fat bunnies off into the sky.

Perhaps long into the future, you will hear their subtle munching, their quiet chirping, as they tease and beguile the passersby of Olympic Park.

A Good Omen?

Anyway, after that we saw a rainbow, the most beautiful double rainbow I’ve ever seen, so those rabbits must have been good luck.

Double rainbow in 1988 Summer Olympics, Olympic Park
DOUBLE RAINBOW. Look at the profusion of light within the arc versus outside of it. How gorgeous. Everyone stopped in their tracks and stared or took pictures.

At this point, it was getting pretty dark. We saw a few stunning statues such as an enlarged skeletal view of a runner’s foot at the starting block. On another note, during this Olympics, each country brought a stone from their land and placed it within a monument representing time. We saw a stone from each country that came. Additionally, we saw “Olympic progression” with the stone of Greece leading to the stone of Korea for the 1988 Summer Olympics, first to last.

The Olympic Gate at the entrance, moreover, was grand and overwhelming, with artistic depictions of mythological Korean deities surrounding the Olympic flame, which still burns. Perhaps all of this was an exercise in good luck; it certainly made me feel hopeful.

The 1988 Summer Olympics Gateway Arch
The eternal flame rests beneath this arch; you can see it flickering underneath. On each of the four “wings” of this structure is a Korean mythical beast. The detail is fantastic.

A View of Lotte World Tower, Seoul’s Tallest Building

At the end of the night, we decided to skip down a mile of road so that we could see Lotte World Mall and Tower up close. December is the completion date though its outer facade is completed. Many are unsure whether it will make its deadline with the various investigations concerning money matters within Lotte’s upper echelon. No matter, I hope it finishes soon so I can get a view from its observation deck! Take a look at how it towers above the surrounding buildings from further off.

Beautiful sunset with Lotte World Tower skyline

What About You?

Did you watch the 1988 Summer Olympics or are you interested in the Olympics generally? Would you ever go? If you lived through the event in your own city, what was it like to see the park developed? Do you have any plans to go to the Winter Olympics in 2018 in Korea? Let me know below!

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