Although I came to Korea with the intent to be staying in Daegu, I've found myself living in Changwon for close to two months now. When I first arrived I was prepared to sign a contract with Mama's English, teaching part time for the first few months and eventually switching over to full time. Things changed after meeting with my recruiter though and hearing that Hanvit (an academy offering 4 day work weeks) was looking for a new teacher in December. He also knew of a temporary job I could take in the meantime and thus here I am in Changwon, another city scratched off my "places visited' in Korea list. The only thing I knew about Changown before arrivng was that it's a planned city (apparently modeled after Canberra Australia) and Eric Thames used to play baseball here, other than that I was clueless.
My first few weeks here I saw little more than the apartment I was living in, academy I was teaching at and the 15 minute walk between the two. I was traveling back to Daegu on the weekends as I had already made plans with friends, and still had my airbnb booked there with half my belongings in it. Once that rental was over though, I realized how tired the travel was making me and decided to stay put for a while. Changwon is close to Busan so a day trip to the beach was an option, or bus ride to Jinhae (famous during Cherry Blossom season), but I did a whole lot of nothing. Actually, I realized this weekend that I haven't been on any kind of transportation for the last three weeks. Instead, choosing to explore this city by foot, which was a smart choice.
I came to find out that not only is Changwon a "planned city", but it also holds the title of an Environment Capital. Apparently Changwon hosted the "Environment Olympics aka RAMSAR Convention" in 2008 and has since pledged to commit to fighting climate change and preserving the environment. I stumbled across this information during one of my walks when I found a huge monument and plaques boasting the commitment and pledge the city took years ago, had I not stumbled upon that though, I would have had no idea. Honestly, the only thing that has stood out to separate Changwon from other cities in Korea is the availability of a public bike system called Nubija. Other than that it's not all that different from the 30 some other cities I've visited in Korea.
I'm lucky to be here in the fall because the changing of the leaves and painting of fall colors definitely adds a layer of beauty to this city. Had I come a few weeks later once the chill of winter set in and all the plants died I may have been miserable. As it is I'm only content in the city, and rather excited to be on my way out shortly. I wouldn't blame that as much on the city as a whole as I would the neighborhood I'm living in and the fact that I don't really know anyone here. I have my coworkers and students, both of which are awesome and make that portion of my day something to look forward to rather than dread. But aside from them I've only met a couple of people and have spent the majority of my free time alone, and on the weekend that means long walks exploring the many parks of Changwon.
Honestly, the abundance of outdoor facilities is one of my hands down favorite things about Korea. Almost every single city has some type of river walk area, equipped with sports fields, outdoor "gyms", and even clean high-tech bathrooms. I hate wasting a sunny day or being cooped up indoors, so this aspect of Korea has always been something I've enjoyed, from river walks, parks and mini hikes there's always some form of free outdoor activity available in Korea. In my wanderings my favorite park in Changwon so far has been the arboretum which has various sections including a maze garden, pond, sun garden, fountain, Europe garden, and barefoot garden. I'm still not sure what was special about the later, when I walked by it seemed to just be a big field of grass. I don't know, maybe it was softer than the rest of the grass?
While the barefoot garden at the arboretum was nothing special, I did stumble upon a different gem last weekend. Just east of the arboretum is a different park, mostly just the soccer and baseball fields, but also what I would actually call a foot garden. For those unaware reflexology paths are quite common in Asia, you'll find stretches of uneven and various sized stone pathways often thrown along the edges of parks. This one was quite comprehensive though, including a foot bath for washing your feet at the entrance and handrails along the entirety of the path. For the last week I've had tension throughout the whole right side of my body so I decided to talk a walk on the stones, wondering if maybe they could aid in my recovery, as the after effects of my massage lasted only a few days. It could be psychological but I dare say I felt more relaxed after massaging the trigger points as noted on the map at the entrance.
Another unique find I spotted at one of the parks, but unfortunately didn't have the pleasure of taking part in, was "park golf". Walking along the edge of the park I heard a group of ajummas who seemed to be completely enthralled with whatever activity they were doing. My first thoughts went to gate ball, which I've seen in many parks throughout Korea, but as I got closer I was completely confused by what they were playing. It looked like a mix of mini golf, croquet and gate ball, it was only later when talking to a [new] friend, that we figured out what the game was. Also, why are mallet sports only popular with senior citizens, croquet, gate ball, shuffle board and now park golf, I rarely see anyone under the age of 60 playing, but I would totally be down for an afternoon of any of the above!
I guess it's kind of cool I got the opportunity to live in Changwon for a few weeks, I'm not sure I would have ever visited this city otherwise. I was able to experience yet another style of English language instruction, meet some awesome teachers who really seem to be passionate about the students and explore more of my favorite part of Korea, the food and nature. I'm wrapping up work this week and then off for a few weeks of adventure, a weekend in Gwangju, visa run to Fukuoka Japan and then hanging out and visiting friends in Seoul. Fingers crossed I have an apartment soon in Daegu and the new job is as bearable as the last.
Where to start. After living in this country for three years I have memories, experiences and stories galore. I'll now always be a bit partial to the Land of the Morning Calm. Filled with delicious foods, beautiful nature and friendly people, I'm always happy to return.