Itaewon; shopping, bars and nightlife
To the best of my recollection, the cab ride from the Paralympic compound was about 20 minutes. I think the US Team was one of the first to arrive in Korea. Right off the bat we were taken to a facility where we were given very explicit instructions on how to behave while in country. Keep in mind, the Olympic Stadium and Seoul in general was located about 15 miles to the DMZ, the dividing line between South and North Korea. The bottom line, getting in trouble of any kind could be catastrophic and that was drilled into us by some members of the military. Funny the things you remember about a place from so long ago. So keeping in mind that Itaewon was a city that was probably built and re-built over the course of centuries, it was minimally accessible. When I say minimally, I mean not really at all. All the shops with their jewelry, with the knock off Nike and Rebook sports wear, the shops that made custom suits and so much more. We could get into basically 10 percent of the storefronts on our first trip into town.
As more and more teams began to arrive the local business people realized quickly they were losing out on revenue. The very next time, perhaps 2 days later, we went back and discovered nearly every store with a step going in had a makeshift ramp. When I say make makeshift, I mean a piece of plywood steeply placed up into the store. Each store hired a “pusher” to get us up and down the ramp! It was kind of hysterical.
I bought a bunch of knockoff clothing, tee shirts, sweatshirts etc to give out to people who had kicked in funds to get me there and as well to give to friends. What I remember was that the stuff smelled semi toxic! My roommate, sprinter Bob Gibson got his medal early in the 100 meters and then did a lot of shopping. Everyday he came back to our room with more and more of this stuff. It made me and our other roommate, Rory Cooper laugh as Bob’s bed was stacked ever higher with more stuff. The ladies who cleaned our rooms would just shake their heads when they saw the stack of swag on his bed.
I did end up buying a custom suit, and as well so did Mike Trujillo. We laugh to this day about how well those suits fit. Pretty sure we would not be fitting into those suits any longer! Mike and I went into town whenever we could to have a beer and just feel like we were not on a compound. After being in country for about 10 days and eating all the cafeteria food we could eat, Mike and I hopped a cab up to the Seoul Hilton and ate a steak. Now this steak may have traveled far and was probably thawed, but it was so delicious–a taste of home.
Part 3, which I hope to post tomorrow will have some good photos from opening ceremonies and some shots from the dorm area where we were housed.