Saturday, January 5, 2008

'Green city always clean and blue'

As well as its almost preternaturally tidy streets, Changwon also lives up to its billing as a green city, at least in the amount of land dedicated to parks. Even in the middle of a winter, the city's public parks are lovely, contemplative places, especially the gardens around Yongji Lake, which afford a view of something approximating a Changwon skyline.

Also impressive are the grounds in front of the expansive Gyeongsangnam provincial offices, which have clearly been designed to motivate and inspire lunching bureaucrats. It's easy to see how effective this kind of manipulation - or care and attention to detail, whichever way you want to look at it - could be. Even as a short term resident, my civic pride was aroused as I wandered past heroic statues nestling amongst sculpted shrubbery and over ornate bridges crossing carp-filled pools. With no-one in the gardens to undermine my romantic administrative illusions, I lost myself for a few minutes in a reverie for the Working Man.

One of the main landmarks in central Changwon is the huge, flat roundabout which is covered in grass and, for the duration of the festive season, avenues of Christmas lights. Speakers dotted around the display burbled out a constant trickle of piped music - mainly Korean covers and medleys of traditional Christmas hits, but also the original versions of Last Christmas and Christmas is All Around, from Love Actually (the film is immensely popular in Korea, and even has several English language courses based around it).

Changwon is situated on a plain ringed with gentle, pine-covered mountains, which give almost every view a stirring backdrop, especially on a bright, clear winter day. They could also be said to create sense of isolation for the city, both aesthetically and physically. Apparently it's an open secret that Changwon would become South Korea's emergency capital in the event of renewed hostilities with the North, precisely because it's so cut off from the rest of the country. This makes a fair amount of sense: the city certainly seems to have a decent strategic position and the straight, wide roads appear ready-made to act as runways. Even if it's nothing but a good story, it's still crying out to be filmed by someone like Bong Joon-ho or Park Chan-wook. (Apologies if it already has been made into a film and that's where the story comes from - my research hasn't been exactly exhaustive).

A leisurely hike up to one of the many small peaks gave me a sense of the full sprawl of Changwon and my first view of the Sea of Japan/East Sea. I also got to see why there are so many up-market outdoor clothing shops in Changwon - even the casual weekend walker likes to dress the part of the serious mountaineer.
The best dressed hikers were predominately middle aged couples, some of whom seemed to see walking as more of a duty than a pleasure, with the wives often trailing behind listening to music on their mobiles.

There were also many people out simply enjoying crisp winter air, and miles of well-tended path for them to stroll along. Despite the odd burst of tinny music and the muffled sounds that drifted from the city below, it was an appropriately peaceful ramble. Following the trail as it stretched endlessly over the hazy peaks, I felt a tremendous sense of
anticipation for all the journeys I hope I'll soon be making throughout Korea.

Photo albums:
Anmin Uphil

1 comment:

peggers said...

Changwon and surrounding areas look lovely. More bloggage!!