Monday, March 5, 2018

Playing Favorites: Ulsan Grand Park

If you’ve ever thought about getting a dog and read about what breeds would be most compatible for your lifestyle, you’ve probably come across words like, “Very active, need space, not suitable for apartment living.”  They’re usually used for large dogs like labs... but honestly, could also be used on to describe my son.  He's the child equivalent of a ninety-five pound labrador retriever.  (And similarly lovable.)

At six, Wyatt's wearing size 7/8 clothes and his personality seems even bigger than his size.  He loves to move, whether it’s running, jumping, tumbling, or dancing.  So these days, when it’s been so cold, I feel like we’re constantly telling him to stop doing all those things — basically to stop being him.  And when I think about the things that have been hard about moving to Korea, moving him into an apartment remains one of the most challenging.  

I remember making dinner one night at our house in Hawaii, and he was playing outside by the lanai, digging a hole with our dog.  When I went to call him inside, he was dirty from head to toe.  “Wyatt!” I remember saying with a tone of despair.  He just looked me square in the eye and said, “I like dirt, Mom.”  As he should, I guess! 

We had a huge open area in front of our home with a playground I could see from our living room and a drainage ditch that had toads (*shudder*) and minnows in it.  There were trees to climb and loads of space to just run without bothering anyone.  And then we moved into an apartment in a big, busy city.

There’s a small playground on the property we go to sometimes, but to get to the playgrounds where our friends are (and where there’s more room), we have to walk across two parking lot driveways that have cars zipping in and out of them and two busy streets with drivers that sometimes respect the crossing signals, dodging the motos that drive down the sidewalks as we go.  (Related: this article about South Korean pedestrian death rates). Add to all that the fact that we have a downstairs neighbor who actually growls when we say hello in the elevator.  We’ve made it this far with a whole lot of prayer, a few unholy words, and my well-practiced Death Glare at certain drivers, but I can’t lie: it’s not easy.

Fortunately, since most people in Korea live in apartments, the playgrounds, children’s cafes, outdoor spaces, and parks here are pretty amazing.  And my favorite semi-local excursion has to be Ulsan Grand Park.  We discovered it for the first time early in the fall, and I wish we’d known about it sooner!  It takes almost an hour all told to get there, but on the weekends, that’s just far enough to feel like we really went somewhere, and it’s just about the best place I can think of to go. 

It’s huge, for starters, with lovely wide paved pathways.  We quickly learned that we needed to take the kids’ scooters or skates,
 but you can also rent bikes there for a reasonable fee.  After carrying Annalee back to the car asleep once from just about the furthest point in the park, we also take the stroller! 

 The landscaping is beautiful,
 and there are a few hills with hiking trails that we haven’t even investigated yet because... there is SO MUCH else to do! Now that it’s warming up a little, we’ve been visiting it regularly.  We playground hop, which gives Matt and I a chance to talk while the kids run wild.  One playground has ramps for biking or scootering, a rock wall, 
and lots of sand to dig in.  I asked Wyatt what he was doing here, 
and he said, “Just... making something beautiful.”  (Be still my heart!). A little further down the path, there’s another playground with a huge roller slide.  
The kids get such a kick out of this!

There’s also an enormous spray park (only in summer, though), and another “traffic park” which sounds awful because of the “t” word but is really cool.
  It’s set up like roads with real — though slightly smaller — traffic signs, a “train” crossing

 and overhead walkway,

 a roundabout, and even a tunnel.  
Lilly, Wyatt, and Annalee can — and do — spend ages there with every visit. 
Just a little further down the path, there’s an amazing ropes playground 
and another with those giant bouncy “pillows” on the ground. 
 The kids can jump 

— and jump and jump and jump —

 and I don’t have to tell him to stop. 

 And then... there’s yet another giant playground with a little of everything — rock walls and climbing structures and more.  

There are several convenience stores scattered through the park (because Korea) where you can pick up snacks, and picnic tables — both Western style and “traditional” where you’d spread out a mat and sit in the ground — to eat at.
 All this is free, except for a nominal parking fee (less than three bucks), but if you cough up a little money (a couple more dollars), you get access to a stunning rose garden and even a small zoo. 

When I took this picture, Wyatt reassured me: “Don’t worry, Mom, it’s not real.” Whew! ;-)

Bonus: entertaining signage.

At the end of our trips to Ulsan Grand Park, I come home feeling like maybe I’m not such a bad mom after all.   Instead of having a day full of “No! Stop!”, we’ve had a day of “Yes!” and “Why not?”  My kids are happy and tired, and they have spent the day running, jumping, dancing, yelling — in other words, the kinds of things kids absolutely should do, wherever they live.


  1. Perfect place for playing, pausing, praising,pursuing, practicing purposeful peace! so happy for you!!

    1. Thank you! :-) It definitely helps me stay sane!


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