So-called “love motels” are ubiquitous in Korean cities, and exist primarily to provide couples a secretive, swanky place to hook up. But as we’ve discovered, they’re also a valid option for budget accommodation, for those who are more interested in sleep than sex.
We checked into Motel Time after an exhausting day of sightseeing around Gyeongju: our first day trip outside of Busan. In case there was any doubt as to the motel’s intended purpose, the walls were decorated with pictures of lingerie-clad women and slogans reminding us that “Motel Time” was for “Sexy Time, Hot Time, Love Time, Fun Time”. The front desk was behind an opaque window so that the woman checking us in couldn’t see our faces. Anonymous Time.
Our room was insane. Laser lights, mirrors everywhere (including the ceiling), a giant HD television, a computer, triple-pane soundproofed glass, robes to change into and look sultry in, a full set of cosmetics like hair gel and deodorant, a récamier and, naturally, a two-person whirlpool bath. If I hadn’t spent the last twelve hours hiking around the city, I’d have whipped my clothes off and started humping everything within reach.
Aversion might be the proper reaction to the idea of sleeping in a motel primarily intended for lovestruck teenagers and married men on liaisons. But unless you’re willing to sleep on a floor mat — as you would at most normal Korean guesthouses — or shell out big bucks at a Western-style hotel, love motels are among your best options. They’re clean, comfortable, affordable and, hands down, the most fun.
The lids of my right eye had been forcefully pulled apart by a circular metal device. While a voice near my ear whispered “relax, relax”, a microkeratome blade made its incision. I was able to see everything that was happening (“just relax”), and watched as a flap of my eye skin was peeled back like the filmy skin of a hard-boiled egg. Everything went completely out-of-focus. And then the lazers started. Relax, you say? Sure!
I’ve had terrible vision since I can remember. Glasses, contacts, waking up every morning blind… severe myopia has played a major role in my life and always been a part of who I am. When I first heard of LASIK technology, probably twenty years ago, it sounded like a dream from some futuristic fantasy world, too good to be true. “But one day”, I thought. “I am totally doing that.”
The day finally arrived. Bolstered by Jürgen’s entirely positive experience at the Good-Gang-An Hospital, I decided to get my eyes zapped. South Korea is a country with supremely advanced medical techonology, and the procedure is far cheaper than it would be back home. Plus, it was my 35th birthday — a better present than perfect sight could hardly be possible.
We chose the Sojunghan Nun Ophthalmology Clinic, largely because of their advertisement in Busan Haps, the city’s English-speaking magazine. After my initial visit, any concerns I’d been harboring had vanished. This was a super-modern, obviously affluent clinic with a ton of equipment and a large staff of friendly people. My eyes were measured, and the doctor explained the Wavefront-guided LASIK technique which would be used. “Keep your contacts out, and come back in a week”.
A week later, I was back. They gave me another round of tests, then sat me down in a cozy massage chair so that I might relax before the surgery. When it was time, three nurses came to fetch me, leading me through an air shower into the operation room where the doctor was waiting. I laid down on the bed and, ten minutes later, it was done. Besides the mental anguish of watching my eye skin be peeled back, there was no pain.
The doctor asked if I could see him, and I almost let out a sob of joy upon answering “Yes”. It was hazy, but I could see things far away, sharply. After another rest in the massage chair, this time with tea and cake, the clinic provided a private driver to take me home. The next morning, I returned to have the protective contact lenses removed, and confirmed that my new vision was 20/20. The doctor said it would probably improve even more over the next couple weeks.
The incredible service, cutting-edge technology and perfectly executed procedure cost a grand total of ₩1,300,000 ($1170) for both eyes. About a fourth of the price I’d have paid in the states. The cost also includes all of my follow-up visits.
To say we’re head over heels with Korean healthcare is a huge understatement. Even more than the price, it’s the service and the attention to comfort that astound us. In hospitals in the US, Germany and Spain, we’re accustomed to being treated like nuisances, sometimes with an attitude that approaches contempt. None of that in South Korea; it’s as though they recognize how important comfort and ease of mind is to the recovery process. And that’s something we completely appreciate.
There’s a small street in the shopping nexus of Nampo-Dong filled with stands offering a cheap outdoor lunch. Hot noodles, kimchi, rice bowls, tteokbokki (a spicy rice cake dish), all served up by a colorful collection of Korean lunch ladies. The map refers to this as “Eatery Alley”, which is about as accurate a name as possible.
Each lunch lady is hocked on the ground in front of her “kitchen”, which consists of a big, solitary pot. They’re always at work, slopping more noodles into bowls, speedily preparing more gimbap, or counting their earnings. Each has her own specialty, and we opted for a plump, smiling lady serving a spicy-looking bowl of glass noodles. We chose her stand because… the noodles looked so good! Because… it seemed popular with the locals! Okay, okay, fine. We chose it because, after hesitating for a second in front of her, she yelled at us to sit down. And down we sat, onto tiny stools fit for a Barbie doll picnic.
We each got a bowl of the noodles and split a plate full of snacks, such as rice rolls, kimchi and seaweed. It was all delicious, and cost ₩7000 ($6.30) in total. At least, that’s what it cost the Korean couple sitting next to us. But the crafty old broad charged us 10000, even though she knew that we had been closely monitoring the other, just-completed transaction. She must have reasoned that we wouldn’t be able to argue… and she was right. I held up my fingers, trying to sign “7?”, but she just smiled and waved goodbye.
Still, it was a good deal, and we left full and satisfied. We promised to return, armed with Korean phrases like, “Please, my dear, I do believe you’ve miscalculated”. Or, “Could I have the local price?” Or, “If you don’t stop ripping me off, I’ll kick your damned table over”.
We're Jürgen and Mike, from Germany and the USA. Born wanderers, we love learning about new cultures and have decided to see the world... slowly. Always being tourists might get lame, but eternal newcomers? We can live with that. So, our plan is to move to an interesting new city, once every three months. About 91 days.