Saturday, December 29, 2007

Vague plans and imprecise investigations

Changwon doesn't make it into the guidebooks, and I didn't want to sour the sense of adventure by trawling through forums and blogs before setting off, so my only attempt at research into the city had been a quick glance at Wikipedia and a browse of the official Changwon website.

The site is introduced with brilliantly upbeat exhortations like 'green city always clean and blue', and mixes information about the city's industrial prominence with cartoon mascots and a celebration of nature. As well as the mascots (Chang-e and Wong-e, two aliens who represent the harmonious coexistence of nature and technology), the city also has municipal flowers (Azaleas - celebrated in a festival in the Spring) and a municipal species of tree (pine).

The city's logo and official slogan - 'Young City Changwon' - are also liberally sprinkled throughout the website. The slogan refers to Changwon's position as Korea's newest city (It was established in 1974); the logo seems to have something to do with the very ordered (read grid-like) way that the city was planned, with the coloured squares representing the different influences (natural, technological, human etc.) on the infrastructure. Something like that, anyway.

In the 'Culture and Tourism' section of the website, the details of Changwon's annual festivals caught my eye. For example, the watermelon festival features a Miss Watermelon competition and a singing beggar show. Highlights of the sweet persimmon festival include not only a sweet persimmon eating contest but also a sweet persimmon piling contest, as well as the obligatory Miss Sweet Persimmon competition. It all sounded rather sweet natured, whimsical and innocent, somehow, and a long way from the (presumably) overwhelmingly impersonal bustle of Seoul.

After signing up to teach in Korea, I had always imagined I'd end up in Seoul, and was actually quite looking forward to getting lost among 10 million people. When I was offered a job in a city with a population of only 500,000, though, I quickly adapted to the idea. Even if it did sound like it could be the Korean Milton Keynes, with all that apparent buoyancy, greenery and youthful energy, I was sold on the idea of Changwon.

I was looking forward to finding out more about the city and its people, and if the website's apparently very sincere sense of civic pride (okay, so it's marketing, but somehow convincingly uncynical) had any bearing in reality.
Also, from what I could tell, Changwon seemed to be a great base to explore South Korea and Japan, with a major city (Busan) and plenty of historical and natural attractions very nearby. So, with a possibly unfounded sense of optimism safely stowed in my hang baggage, I set off...

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