Here I am in South Korea
Today, I woke up in Gwang Myeong at the Guro Hotel (South Korea, Seoul, about 50km from the DMZ/border with North Korea) and for the first time since we got here last week, it was clear with blue skies.
It's been overcast and raining/very humid for every other day that we've been here. It's an amazing city, the scale of it is staggering. This is the first time I've spent time in a non-English speaking country (apart from the USA, which is still kinda English ...), it's a fun challenge to just buy basic things - yesterday Mikey (Michael Winter, the No.1 mechanic) and I found paint thinner to clean wheels we've been gluing tyres onto, after exploring the main road for a good hour.
It's quite a fun challenge trying to translate "do you have any kerosene?" into Korean!
Racing starts tonight, my job here is pretty simple, Mikey is the chief mechanic and I'm assisting - we pump tyres up, make sure all the right wheels are ready to go, fit them in the bikes, change gears etc so all the kids and coaches have to do it concentrate on racing. It can be challenging if there's an issue that needs sorting in a hurry, but that's pretty rare, if we're organised, things run like clockwork from our position. We're organised ...
It is a little frustrating to be out of the coaching loop, but our job is important to the team and Rik Fulcher, who is the team manager, places a lot of trust in us to do the job right. From my own professional development, it's great experience - not only from the "see how it works at a big championships" perspective, but also, and probably moreso - getting the experience of the mechanics job. I think a good leader (coach) needs to understand all the roles in the team that they work in, and getting your hands dirty and doing the actual work is one of the best ways to get this experience.
Mikey only got here on Wednesday (he flew in directly from the Comm Games in Glasgow, 30-odd hours of traveling and then directy to the track to work with me, hard core!), so for the 3 days prior to that I was the only mechanic for 14 riders. I did a lot of carrying wheels up from our storage pen, inflating tyres etc. I was getting to the track about 2 hours before the team would, getting everything ready so when they arrived, it was relaxed and easy. Having someone as experienced and competant as Mikey to work with is a real pleasure. I'm learning lots about how things work at International level, it's quite an eye opener in some ways, in other ways, it's just another bike race. The big challenges are logistics and the varying levels of respect and competance of riders while using the track for warm ups. Think an early season NJTS round, and make it more chaotic, warm up is *the* most dangerous part of the program for the riders.
We're one of, if not the most, organised and professional teams here, some of the teams are clearly full of kids that are here so they can say they've been to Junior Worlds, not that serious about racing it and it shows in their behaviour and organisation. Others are deadly serious - the Russians, Germans, Kiwis, Koreans, Japanese and us are deadly serious and well organised. We get a lot of interest in how we do things from other teams - all our efforts on track get watched. There's no GB team here, the French only have a couple of riders. We've seen the Polish guys and the Danes and they look pretty serious. We'll see what they're made of in the next five days.
The Speedom velodrome is just staggering in size - it's an indoor, 333 meter concrete track with a very grippy surface similar to the Bendigo track surface. It's about a 30 minute drive from here. The track itself isn't that interesting, but the building around it is use awe inspiring. It's huge, it makes its own weather! The stands extend up for the equivalent of about 4 or 5 stories, it seats around 30,000 we think. It's set up with huge display screens and it's mainly a venue for Korean keirin. A lot of the seats have desks for the gamblers to fill out betting slips and read form guides. We watched a keirin round on the day we arrived. It was a very surreal, sterile kind of thing to watch. There was a lot of people there, I'd guess around 5,000 or so? But the venue seemed empty, as it is so big. The racing was mostly pretty dull to watch and the crowd wasn't all that interested in it save for the results (gambling, that's all it is to most of them).
We've been exploring the local part of town a bit as well. Our hotel is right in the middle of what must be a bit of a hub of food and entertainment - imagine a cross between Brunswick street, Chinatown and very narrow alleyways. Almost all the signs are in Korean (of course!) but some also in English. The food is amazingly good. I've been asking the people in the eateries we've visited to tell me what they like that's local, and just giving it a go. The hot BBQ chicken is pretty special! At least, that's what I think I've been asking, in a combination of mangled English, my three Korean phrases and sign language.
The currency translation is pretty simple, the local currency is the Won, and roughly, one Australian dollar is about 1,000w. So we just drop three zeroes and the sums are pretty simple. Food and drinks are cheap and just up the road is an EMart, which is, as far as I can tell, the Korean version of a Kmart/Target. While the numbers are all in Arabic numerals (same as English), they're not spoken the same way, so when something has no price tag, we can write it down or the locals write it so we can understand. I'm sure they think we're just dumb foreigners!