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Colorful balloons decorated with Olympic emblems fill the skies. Thousands of Olympic flags in red, white, blue and gold flutter from the city's street lights, and countless Olympic banners hanging from skyscrapers say "Welcome" and "Bienvenue."

With the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics nearing, the mood in the South Korean capital is one of excitement, anticipation, nervousness and, in some cases, just plain fatigue."Seoul is ready," said Kim Eun-young, a city worker.

But another city official's reaction was different.

"It's unpatriotic to say this, but I'll be glad when the Olympics are over," the official said. "We've been working until after 10 every night. I'm tired of all this commotion and the money we're spending."

Park Seh-jik, president of the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee, is understandably tense. After doing everything humanly possible to make the Games a success and to show Seoul off to its best advantage, he is finally turning to the Almighty.

"I've been praying for three things: harmony, security and weather," said Park, a former general. A Baptist deacon, Park has been fasting once a week as well - the ultimate gesture of faith, thrown in just for good measure.

The top man cannot leave any stone unturned, because despite seven years of hard work and more than $3 billion in expenses, there is still room for things to go wrong.

Recently, for example, it was discovered that a text planned for broadcast during the opening parade of nations into the Olympic Stadium contained unflattering descriptions of some of the countries. An African state was referred to as "a nation where pygmies live" and a Central American country as a "banana empire."

The Korean script writer apparently wasn't aware of the implications. Those references are expected to be deleted.

The Seoul Olympics, only the second to be held in Asia - Tokyo hosted the first in 1964 - present many challenging situations for Koreans, who pride themselves on their cultural homogeneity and are not used to widespread contact with foreigners.

"I think it's too early for Korea to undertake something like this," said an editorial writer of a major Seoul newspaper. "We are really straining ourselves."

What the editorial writer meant was that despite South Korea's reputation as an up-and-coming "economic powerhouse," many of its people are still villagers at heart. Due to decades of travel restrictions most Koreans have never been out of their country, and their knowledge of the outside world comes largely from the media.

Many Koreans who have spent time abroad, however, worry that the exposure Korea will get from the Olympics may hurt, rather than improve, its international image.

A myriad of signs remind Koreans: "We Are Citizens of an Olympic Host Country; the World Is Watching Us. Let's Observe Kindness and Order. Kindness Is My Pride; Order Is the Pride of the Nation."

But under these very signs, Koreans push, shove and spit as usual. Pedestrians and drivers continue to ignore traffic laws.

Suddenly, Koreans are experiencing many things previously considered unthinkable. One of the most surprising is the host nation's amicable relations with East European countries and the Soviet Union, which until this year was considered the most fearsome foreign power.

"South Koreans are having a love affair with the Soviets," said Lee Kyung-won, a columnist for the Korea Herald. "It is as if they are suffering from collective amnesia," he said in reference to the 1983 Soviet downing of a KAL jetliner and the Soviet Union's ongoing alignment with North Korea.

In a variety of areas, South Koreans are doing all they can to make the Games successful. The latest developments include:

All four major parties have declared a temporary political ceasefire, and two of the nation's biggest student organizations have promised there will be no demonstrations during the Games.