And then there are the hotels with the heart-shaped beds.
A few times, while traveling around Korea on assignment for the Korea Times, back in 2001-2004 I had to spend a night in a yogwan or tourist hotel, but perhaps better known as a “love hotel”.
A lot of these love hotels go all the way when it comes to offering guests a very pleasant—albeit short stay—at the hotel, perhaps even a memorable one with or without the loving.
Love hotels are quite popular in Asia (in Japan they are called ra-bu ho-tae-roo) for a variety of reasons but are operated primarily for the purpose of allowing couples privacy when having sex. Fair enough, especially in places like Tokyo and Hong Kong where apartment space is a precious commodity and sometimes shared with parents. And with those paper-thin walls, some couples need some privacy when it comes to their lovemaking.
For budget travelers though, Love Hotels are an affordable “no frills, no thrills” place to stay. Back in 2002 when South Korea co-hosted the World Cup with Japan many of these hotels were pressed into service to provide accommodations for soccer fans from around the world.
You will find clusters of these hotels around bus stations and train stations which has always made me wonder if people, at least here in Korea are more sexually active before they take a trip, or need a “quickie” after getting into town? To be sure, if you are ever in the vicinity of one of these love hotel clusters, you might come across all these “calling cards” for escort services. Guys on scooters ride around tossing these cards everywhere or stick them inside car doors, car windows, or just throw handfuls of them up in the air and see where they land. There’s usually a scantily clad girl or two on each one and a couple of phone numbers to arrange for whatever escort service one wants.
The architecture of these love hotels can be quite garish with some hotels even looking like miniature castles or spaceships and boasting names like “Bobos,” “Cosmos,” and “Paradise.” Other times, the hotels are unobtrusive, generic buildings blending in with the surroundings with camouflaged parking lots so if someone is slipping off with their secretary or someone’s wife no one will be the wiser. Obviously discretion is the better part of valor when having a sexual tryst in the afternoon.
(Years ago a number of Korean husbands got busted by their wives when they were caught heading off to love hotels outside of Seoul. Turns out that the police were cracking down on speeders, so they would take a photo of a car speeding—including the license plate number and the driver visible in the photo along with the speed limit violation—and then send it to the owner of the vehicle. A few days later, some unsuspecting wives opened this official-looking letter from the police and not only learned about their husband’s heavy foot but also his infidelity when they saw a woman beside their husband in the front seat. Later, the occupants of the car were “blurred” by the police as not to cause any more marital problems.)
These love hotels can be a little tacky, and like the one I stayed in when I was in Pohang (located in on the southeastern coast of the Korean peninsula and famous for Posco Steel) that had a heart-shaped bed and a blacklight mural of a naked woman. That’s right a heart-shaped bed with a red velvet bedspread. Oh yes, and a blacklight you could switch on after you turned off the overhead fluorescent lamp. Talk about a surreal night’s sleep with that buxom blonde standing in a field of flowers staring down at me all night (I could not switch off the blacklight and there were no other rooms available).
I have even seen rooms with rotating beds (sure beats those vibrating beds) and ones with—what could be best described as a pommel horse for those hard to do sex moves and positions. In Japan, I have heard that some Love Hotels have rooms like S&M chambers. Kinky.
With blacklight posters, heart-shaped beds, and pommel horses, you probably wouldn’t expect to find any kind of amenities in most of these hotels. Most of the cheaper ones I have stayed in came with a bar of soap (used by all the guests), one bottle of shampoo and a towel about the size of a handkerchief. If you’re lucky, some of the more upscale love hotels have a few more amenities in the bathroom (like a soap and shampoo dispenser) but most of the items that you might need can be bought in a vending machine in the lobby (which also includes other necessities like toothpaste, body lotion, pantyhose, underwear, panties, lubrication, and corn chips).
While some of these hotels might come up a little short – “no frills” wise – there is sometimes no shortage of the unexpected “thrills” of spending a night in a love hotel.
Not long after I had come to Korea in 1990, I went on a mini vacation and eventually ended up in the southern port city of Pusan where I stayed in one of these yogwans for the night. It was small, clean and affordable and even had a working television that I was able to pick up the local Armed Forces Network. Like most yogwans there was a menu or two from some local eatery that delivered, but not speaking enough Korean at the time to put more than a sentence or two together I went out to eat and then came back to my room around 10:00 to turn in for the night.
Around midnight I was awoken by this woman in the next room screaming for who I thought was her brother. I had studied some Korean since arriving a few weeks earlier and I knew the Korean word for brother was opa. And that’s what I heard this woman screaming at the top of her lungs “opa…opa…OPA!” I wanted to rush out of my room and save this damsel in distress yelling for her brother to come and rescue her, but even if I did, what could I do? I heard some doors open and slam down the hall, then some shouting and more shouting, followed by some more door slamming, and then quiet. No more opa’s were uttered or screamed.
Obviously, someone else on the floor had heard her screams and came to her rescue and I went back to sleep. Later, when I told some people what had happened, they told me that opa, is also a term of endearment used by a woman to call her lover in a moment of passion.
Well, there might not have been any of those little bars of soap but there was plenty of in-house entertainment.