Coworker: Is your bed heart-shaped?
Me:  No…..
Coworker: Is there a bowl of condoms and lube next to your bed?
Me: No…..
Coworker: Well, it could be worse. 

Almost all the foreign teachers here go through it. For the first two weeks or so, as the old teachers finish up and move out of their apartments, and as you get trained and start getting adjusted, your employer puts you up in a love motel. Luckily I knew this before coming, so I wasn’t all that surprised when my driver turned down a narrow alley and dropped me off at my room on the fifth floor of Elegance Motel.

My room on the fifth floor of the Elegance (Love) Motel

My room on the fifth floor of the Elegance (Love) Motel

Even more so than in a normal hotel, I tried not to think of the things that may have happened in my room, and I tried not to be weirded out by the fact that Korean hotels don’t do the American thing of having wrapped up new bars of soap and individual mini shampoo/conditioner bottles for each new guest. Here there’s just a bunch of already partially used items: full-sized soap, shampoo, conditioner, and even an assortment of lotion, hair gel, perfume, and, I kid you not, a brush and a comb. All for your (continued) use. I can deal with the shampoo and conditioner, but I’ve been using my own soap. And I assure you I will not touch that comb or brush.

I arrived in Korea a little early because my employer wanted me to sub for a coworker about to visit her family in America, so I’m holed up here for longer than the normal, about 5 weeks instead of two. I’ll be the first to tell you that living in a motel comes with plenty annoyances. I can’t cook, I can’t store food very well because my key must be in a slot on the wall to keep the electricity to my mini-fridge running, and I don’t have easy laundry access. But it’s true that it isn’t so bad, and it’s especially true because this is Korea. I’m no expert on Korean culture, but from what I’ve read and heard, here’s why love motel get at least a little bit of love in my book:

In Korea young people live with their parents for much longer than young people do in the US. From my understanding, this is partially cultural–as a more communal/family-focused culture, it’s one in which it’s very normal for people to live with their parents practically until they are married. I hesitated to ask a Korean co-teacher the other night whether she lived with her parents (because the US stigma still has a strong hold), asking instead: Do you live with anyone else? But I was not surprised when she said that she lives with her parents.

Yet from what I know this prevalence is also partially because of the way the renting market is structured. To rent an apartment landlords require a “key money” deposit that runs around $10,000 US dollars, so it’s nearly impossible for young people to move out and rent on their own. Even if it *is* refundable, how many young people have $10,000 just lying around? I think not many.

So when young people date, they don’t really have places to be alone. Thus the prevalence of things like cute coffee places with plush couches for canoodling, DVD bangs (‘bang’ being the term for place/room; there are also things like PC (as in computer) bangs) where people are rumored to do more making out than watching movies, and love motels, where people can spend some quality time alone and out of the public eye.

As such, love motels are little bit more of a normal thing than a super sleazy thing, though like anything else I’m sure they range from posh to seedy, and my place is probably somewhere in between. Besides the lack of commodities I know my apartment will have (a fridge! cabinets! a washing machine!) and the fact that I’m further from where I work than I will be in my apartment, I have no real complaints.

Not even about the fourth floor vending machine, which I assure you will no you no good if you’re jonesing for a late night soda. All in all, I find it amusing, and for a snack or a drink, there are plenty of convenience stores nearby.


Check out more What Weekly travel stories here.