by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

SEOUL, South Korea — So let me tell you what happened yesterday. I mean today. I mean . . . tomorrow. No. Wait. Do I? Forget it. It wasn’t that good a story.

Welcome to Korea, home of the Summer Olympics, where you never really know what time it is, but if you ask enough people, you definitely won’t know what time it is. You will, however, end up with lots of business cards, which you can give to other people, and maybe one of them will have a watch.

(Personally, I like this Korean tradition of handing out business cards as soon as you meet somebody because you can collect a whole series, then trade with your friends. Some even come with bubble gum.)

But I am getting away from the point. Which is . . . I forgot. Hahahahaha. No. See. That is the point. After several hours at these Olympics, the greatest assignment a sports writer can have provided he is willing to walk around in a state of utter confusion for 21 straight days, I cannot tell whether it is morning here and evening back home or morning back home and evening here. But I can tell you this: I have figured out the language problem.

There is no language here. YOU: Hello. I am an American journalist. OFFICIAL: Hahahaha. Hello. I am sorry. YOU: Can you tell me where to go?” OFFICIAL: Yes. Hello. Hahahaha. YOU: Where should I . . . go? OFFICIAL: Oh . . . hahahahahah. YOU: Hahahahaha. OFFICIAL: Hahahahaha . . . haha . . .

But back to this time thing . . . NBC made prime-time calculations

Let us get this straight: the Olympics begin on Saturday morning. Here. They begin on Friday night back home. What this means is that the NBC-TV executives, who, if they saved the money they paid for these broadcast rights could have bought Finland instead, have pretty much declared: “LET THE GAMES BEGIN . . . EARLY!”

And here is how it works: Ten o’clock in the morning here is 8 o’clock the night before back home. Just about the time you, the TV viewer, are ready for some good, old-fashioned Olympic drama. Remember, you count! You are important! You have the advertising money to buy the official Olympic deodorant you will see advertised 1,037 times! So they juggled the schedule just a teensy-weensy bit. And now highly developed athletes from around the world who have spent years preparing for this single moment will roll out of bed in the Olympic village, and the starting pistol will go off. Bang! First one to the bathroom wins the 100 meters.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone told me to throw a shot put before lunch, I would say: “Where? On your foot?” These may be the first Olympics to host 160 nations; they may also be the first in which an athlete misses his gold medal because he overslept. Korea has long been known as “The Land Of The Morning Calm.” This month we call it “The Land Of The Morning Basketball Final.”

Why am I telling you this? Because it is 7 a.m here. What else should I be telling you? Oh, yes. We, the Olympic journalists, work under the same unique conditions as the athletes. That means that at sunrise, when most good sports writers are just crawling home from one of the finer local establishments, probably one with bug wrestling, the phone in the room will ring and some crispy-clean editor from home will scream: “WHERE THE BLEEP IS YOUR STORY? DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?!”

Whereupon the sports writer will immediately drop dead from a heart attack,

and the newspaper will have to use a wire story instead. Land of the never-setting sun

Did I tell you about the trip over? Golly. Where can I begin? It was the most wonderful 14 hours I have ever spent in a single seat on an airplane on which the sun never set. Really. I am not making this up. We left at 11 a.m. and the sun was out and at 5 p.m. the sun was out and at midnight the sun was out and at 3 a.m. the sun was still out and when we landed in Seoul at 6 p.m. the sun was still out. I asked the flight attendant what was going on, and she said something about flying into the sun and air speed and lift and drag, or drag and lift. I don’t know. I don’t really understand, but it has something to do with why Carl Lewis must long jump before breakfast.

But what the heck? These are the Olympic Games, which begin in two days or five minutes, depending on where you are standing. And this looks like a swell country, and the locals seem remarkably nice. And if any of you are thinking about going into stand-up comedy and are not having much luck, you should come here because these people are the greatest audience in the world. YOU: Help! I lost my passport and all my money. OFFICIAL: Hahahahahaha. Hello.

Personally, my philosophy at Olympic Games has always been pretty simple:



As for the time thing, who knows? I can only say if you’re awake and I’m awake, then one of us has been out drinking.

But that is the charm of the Olympics, where the world’s greatest athletes gather to put their souls on the line for a few glorious moments, then relax with a nice dish of bacon and eggs.

And we are here to serve. We are here to send you the news. I will wash up. I will collect my business cards. I will set my alarm clock for 6 a.m.

And we’ll see what yesterday brings.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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