Events, News

Pyongyang vs. Pyongchang Olympics

PyeongChang vs. Pyongyang Winter 2018 Olympics

Judy Zhong

1A Systems Design Engineering


PyeongChang or Pyongyang? Many of us reading this won’t notice or acknowledge the difference in their pronunciation, much less the significance in their corresponding locations as a characterizing factor. PyeongChang is a county within the Gangwon province of South Korea; soon to be a 69-minute, 126 km train ride east from Seoul, the capital of South Korea. The county will be hosting the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, set to begin this February 9th to 25th with over 90 nations participating at the quadrennial multi-sport event. However, many individuals – including some pilots – have confused the county with their homonymous counterpart: Pyongyang, which is located just 295 km north across the border – in North Korea. It is located all the way on the other side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a border barrier that separates North and South Korea, but the similarity in their sounds and the rising popularity of both areas in today’s mass media has attracted issues associated with their differentiation.

In the past, the PyeongChang county had rarely made its way to the public eye due to its small population (< 50 000) and inaccessible location. Not to mention that with a name correlative to that of the North Korean capital, it is not a surprise PyeongChang’s existence was neglected by the outside world. In fact, the mix-up is such a common occurrence that an infamous rumor had been spread throughout various newspaper articles that the county had had to purposely capitalize the ‘c’ in their English spelling just to differentiate between it and the North Korean capital in preparation for their Olympic bid. This is in fact not true, but some problems have occurred due to their resemblance, including a flight of 8 corporate sponsors from Beijing for the Olympics which landed the 8 businessmen in Pyongyang, North Korea – 183 miles north of their desired destination. The pilot of the corporate jet had incorrectly inputted the flight plan into the aircraft’s navigation system, mistaking North Korea’s largest city as their stop instead of PyeongChang, South Korea which, as the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015, is a very common misinterpretation.

You can imagine the fear of the passengers upon hearing they had accidentally landed in the highly-centralized North Korean city and faced armed guards with questions. Additionally, this is not the first time someone’s ignorance has landed them in the wrong place; in 2015 a Kenyan man named Daniel Olomae Ole Sapit, 42, from Kenya’s Maasai tribe had incorrectly booked a flight to Pyongyang, North Korea. He had planned to attend a UN biodiversity conference held in PyeongChang, but had mixed up the two cities and was forced to spend several hours in the North Korean capital and pay $500 in fines for the error. Hopefully, in light of the upcoming influx of visitors for the Winter 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, the tourists will remain mindful of the mixup and avoid it at all costs; and perhaps the South Korean government should look to minimizing the possibility for their visitors by any means necessary, such as through advertisements or partnerships with airlines.


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