The Love Motel is one of those things about Korean culture that is so common and everyday, it now seems perfectly normal and unremarkable to me, but I do remember how surprised I was by the concept when I first heard of it.
First, you need to be aware that couples in Korea don’t move in together until they’re married. That’s just the way it is. Sex before marriage, however, is pretty standard – they just tend not to discuss these things, so they remain a bit taboo. However, if you’re sleeping with your boyfriend/girlfriend, but pretending you’re not, and still living with your parents in a tiny apartment, then the question arises… where are you doing it?!
Enter the Love Motel. These motels are everywhere in Korea, often several on just one short street. At first, you might wonder how they differ from any other motel – and then you see a price list. With hourly rates. Yep. Let’s face it, young people can’t afford to rent a room for the night every time they want to have sex. So instead, they nip out to a Love Motel and pay for an hour or two, have their quality alone time, and go home to their individual homes as innocently as if they’ve just been to the movies.
Although it sounds really seedy, I was surprised to discover that Love Motels are generally pretty nice places. Not that I’ve been to one for a quickie, I hasten to add – no, it’s also possible to stay for the whole night just as you would in any hotel. Because of their reasonable prices, they’re popular with travellers on a budget, and as I fit nicely into that category, I’ve used them several times since I’ve been here. Actually, I’m in one right now (I’m in Seoul (ish) for a training weekend), and since it’s the first time I’ve been alone in one, I thought I might as well use the opportunity to blog about the experience. Usually, I’m squashed into the bed with two friends, perhaps with a couple more curled up on the couch or floor!
The most amusing part of Love Motels, to me, is the attempt to protect bashful, loved-up customers from embarrassment. That’s why the receptionist sits behind a big screen, so they don’t see your face. You arrange your stay without seeing who you’re talking to, and then give your money to an anonymous and polite pair of hands via the gap under the screen. Your key is given to you in the same discreet manner, and off you go up to your room!
Apparently Love Motel rooms come in all kinds of wild and wacky themes, but so far I’ve only encountered rooms that look no different from my apartment. No, wait. That’s inaccurate. They’re better than my apartment. The one I’m currently sitting in has far more space, a more comfortable bed, more storage space, and a far nicer bathroom, which actually has a bathtub (an unusual thing in city apartments here)! I mean, I even have a sofa and a coffee table – I’d kill for the space for that at home! Plus I have a huge flatscreen TV, a computer with internet access, a DVD player (you can borrow DVDs and CDs from the selection in the lobby), a stereo system, and all the usual hotel freebies like a fridge, towels, kettle, hairdryer, tea and coffee, and a wide range of toiletries with everything down to hair gel, skin toner, cotton buds, nail files…
I long ago revised my opinion of Love Motels as seedy, dodgy, possibly dangerous places. I think they’re great places to stay, for the price. I know that I, for one, would be very happy living in a room like this, and would even view it as a considerable upgrade from my actual home. ;)