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Guardian Cities: Gangneung in the Spotlight

The 2018 Winter Olympics will soon open in Pyeongchang, South Korea – which has taken pains, of varying effectiveness, to prevent the world from confusing it with Pyongyang, North Korea. But the games won’t be limited to the tiny mountain town of Pyeongchang itself; with a comparatively enormous population of 213,658, the nearby coastal city of Gangneung can lay claim to being the true Olympic capital.

Located on the other side of the country from the megacity of Seoul, Gangneung’s relatively remote seaside location has long made it an attractive destination for Koreans looking to get away from it all. Now, with the opening ceremonies approaching, it is scrambling to make itself a destination for the entire world. The mood has something in common with the capital’s Olympic Games 30 years ago, but can they introduce Gangneung to the world the same way they did Seoul?

Gangneung today exudes a mixture of readiness and unreadiness. A newly built line of the KTX, Korea’s high-speed train network, began service last December, originating in Seoul and terminating at Gangneung’s gleaming new station. Outside the station wait dozens of equally shiny taxis, each equipped with “empty” signs in both Korean and English (an accommodation not even seen in the capital), and two large-scale figures of the official 2018 Olympic mascots, Soohorang the tiger and Bandabi the bear – smaller versions of whom peer out from shop windows throughout town.

Read the whole thing at the Guardian.