Pohang: City by the Sea and “Love Motels”
Just an hour north of the aforementioned historic Gyeong-ju lies the city of Pohang, a destination for many tourists (not of the Western variety mind you) that exudes a unique charm. The beach of said city was surprisingly clean (I for one am accustomed to the litter-ridden sand of Atlantic City, Virginia Beach, and the like). As I said in my previous post, once you exit the Seoul metropolitan area and head southeast, you encounter Koreans who have little experience with (Western) foreigner encounters; Pohang was no exception to this rule. Having braced ourselves for negative if not quizzical glances from the locals, my group was not all too surprised that when walking by outdoor seafood restaurants our presence would make the locals literally stop eating their food and stare at us (mouths still agape from chewing their food). Not to be deterred, a few of us headed toward a patio restaurant that had a direct view of the ocean/beachfront. The moment we stepped onto the pavilion, the other patrons started. . . cheering. If only you could have seen the confused looks on our faces as the restaurant erupted into whistling, cat calls, and laughter–I think it was a positive response, seeing that our table was given free drinks thanks to generous diners.
Above (Left-Right): Friend and I on Pohang Beach; Pohang City
Above (Left-Right): Pohang Pavilion, had a walkway that led to the pavilion which was quite a few yards into the ocean; View of Pohang from the Pavilion
As the night went on, a select number of the group opted to stay on the beach for the entire night (in other words they decided to not sleep and catch the bus back home at 10am); and since I have not the endurance for such shenanigans, some of us made our way into the city to find a cheap hotel. Something we couldn’t help but notice when we would pass a hotel was the fact that the parking garages had these ropes dangling from the top, obscuring the view of the cars inside. (The above photo is a stock image I found on Google, it was too dark to take a picture of the actual garages that we saw, but they had the same coverings).
We immediately asked our coordinator (of the English Village, who planned the trip and accompanied our group) what the deal was with the garages. She plainly stated that the majority of hotels in Korea are “love motels” aka the place that you take your significant other for. . . bonding. Seeing as that many young Koreans still live with their parents until they themselves are married, the purpose of the motel makes sense, but that didn’t clear our confusion as to why the view into the parking garage was obscured. Apparently, “love motels” are where you take your mistress, and the obstructed garage view ensures that any passersby would be unable to recognize who you were fooling around with. This emphasis on privacy was further demonstrated when we went to get rooms (not for funny business, the rates were very cheap compared to American hotels and we were too tired to look elsewhere) and the welcome window was completely blacked out save for the money slot. The speaker box that you spoke through also distorted your voice (creepy much?). To add to further strangeness, with room purchase you received your key, two toothbrushes, a razor, and a . . . ahem . . . contraceptive. The hallways leading to the rooms were adorned with vending machines that dispensed. . . ahem. . . “adult toys;” I think it is safe to say that love motels are not where vacationing families make reservations. A really interesting (albeit slightly creepy) feature of the rooms was you had to insert your key into the wall as you walked in (note that the keys were traditional keys that had large pieces of plastic attached, the latter of which you slid into a wall crevice) and boom lights suddenly go on (and then dim for mood lighting. . . ). Needless to say, I avoided touching all surfaces that I didn’t need to touch, slept in my clothes, and refused to use the provided bathrobes/ shower gels (thankfully I brought my own soap). I think the experience was fascinating considering the general “hush hush” vibe regarding sexuality in Korea (the maximum of PDA you see is holding hands, even then my students said it could be “scandalous”). So the next time you ever need to slink away to a private location with your mistress, you could book a 14-hour flight to Korea and settle into one of the many swanky (and sketchy) love motels the country has to offer (for just $40 a night with a beach view!).