Pyeongchang (평창), home of the 2018 Olympic Winter…cabbage?

On February 9, in one month, athletes and tourists from around the world will flock to Korea for the most anticipated sporting event of the season: the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

This year, proudly hosted in some city you’ve never heard of, but assume matters.

Cabbages being grown in front of a house in Pyeongchang. | Sadie-Rae Werner

Pyeongchang is located approximately two and a half hours by bus east of Seoul and is home to 9,940 people.

Not to be confused with Pyeongyang (평양), the similarly named North Korean capital, Pyeongchang is a small town where the main occupation is farming and kimchi making. The spelling of Pyeongchang has been changed slightly to add a capital ‘C,’ making it: PyeongChang, in order to avoid international confusion about the Olympic Games being hosted in the North Korean capital due to the proximity of the names.

When South Korea won the bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, the country decided that after showcasing the hyper-developed capital of Seoul in 1988, this time they would introduce the world to the beauty of the Korean countryside.

That beauty, even in the biting cold of late November, is unmissable. The town is nestled at the base of several mountains that rise up over it, giving the appearance of being protected from the outside world.

PyeongChang Olympic Market | Sadie-Rae Werner

It is possible to walk the entirety of Pyeongchang—from the bus terminal, through the winding streets and into the rows of farms that make up most of the area belonging to the town—in under two hours.

The downtown streets are lined with old, run-down houses. The restaurants and shops that appear on the main street look more like an invitation into a family’s living room or kitchen than a business. The Olympic Market is unlit, and dark even in the daytime, offering wares such as screws, sheet-metal, and some local dishes made from buckwheat (the preferred grain in the county).

Farm fields just outside downtown Pyeongchang. | Sadie-Rae Werner

Outside the largely vacant downtown, the cabbage fields stretch out from small houses all the way back to the nearby mountains.  Despite the cold, families work, wearing sweaters and worn down pants, as they call instructions back and forth to one another.

It does not look like a place preparing to host a major sporting event, or at least not one that is aware it is going to do so.

The only acknowledgement of the Olympics anywhere in the town are a few flags along the road and a small, ramshackle display before the community centre.

The role the actual town of Pyeongchang will play come February 9 is hard to determine. The Olympic facilities are currently being constructed in the neighbouring city located in the province of Pyeongchang-gun of Daegwallyeong-myeon (대관령면) and will include all the things generally expected of an Olympic village from ski resorts to stadiums.

No plans have as of yet been announced to make any changes or build new infrastructure in the town of Pyeongchang itself. Following the controversies over how money was spent in Rio, this is perhaps to avoid stigma, but in the case of the small farming village it seems perhaps a greater investment could have been made. With so little time remaining until tourists and athletes begin to arrive, it seems unlikely any changes will be made to the town.

Olympics display in front of the Pyeongchang Community Centre. | Sadie-Rae Werner

Currently, there is no direct transportation from Seoul, the nearest city able to accommodate the expected influx of tourists, to the Olympic facilities. There is also no direct transportation from the town of Pyeongchang to Daegwallyeong-myeon.

A KTX-Train, Korea’s speed railway line, is being constructed between Incheon Airport and the Olympic village and is expected to be completed by the time the games begin.