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.
Okay, Busan’s Light Rail Transit (also known as The Purple Line) isn’t exactly as fast as light — and I suppose that in this instance, “light” is used in the “not heavy” sense rather than “beams from the sun”. Whatever, it’s still a cool name for a cool ride.
The Light Rail connects Busan and nearby Gimhae, itself a sizable city of 500,000 people. It’s most useful as a direct connection to the airport, and actually the only time we’ve ever used it is when we were completely lost, after hopping on the wrong bus and ending up in a city that definitely wasn’t Busan.
This small above-ground train is conducted automatically and only opened in September, 2011. We sat in the very front, and had a great view of the scenery south of Busan.
I’m not sure which is more audacious — billing yourself as the “world’s best and biggest fountain”, or calling yourself the Fountain of Dreams. Big words, Dadaepo, and you’ve set the bar high. Would your musical show of color and water be the “magnificent and dynamic banquet of light” which your website promises us? We expect no less!
Actually, the show was pretty good. I’m not saying it was life-changing or anything, or that I was whispering under my breath, “Finally I have found the fountain of my dreams“, but I was reasonably entertained. And one can’t expect much more from colorfully-lit water splashing to the beats of Andrea Bocelli.
Around the huge, circular fountain, 60-meters in diameter, all the seats were packed full. Mostly, it was families with young kids, like the group seated next to us. The mom was pestering her son to practice his English on us, which was fine with me, since he kept giving us his potato chips for another instructive exchange of “thank you”, “you’re welcome”.
Before the show began, we had a chance to check out Dadaepo Beach: a beautiful stretch of sand overlooking a peninsular park. This section of town, on the far southwest of the city limits, is a lot more popular and interesting than I had figured during the interminable train ride here, and we promised to return.
Among the best experiences we’ve had in Busan have been our visits to Sajik Stadium to watch the Giants. Any American baseball fan who’s ever complained about their team’s high ticket prices, expensive food and drink, or paltry attendance, should definitely pencil in a day at the park while in Busan. This is the stadium experience perfected.
First off, tickets are super cheap. We paid ₩7000 ($6.30) for seats in the outfield. Better seats down the lines aren’t much more, though they can be difficult to get ahold of. The Giants are incredibly popular, and home games sell out quickly. On a sunny Saturday, we showed up two hours early and tickets were already gone. Luckily, plenty of scalpers hang around and we were able to score a couple tickets for a big markup (₩15,000 instead of 7000).
You can get tickets at Busan Bank on the day before the game (note: not the day of). They only sell general admission (outfield) entries, but at least you’ll have them in advance and not have to wait in the frustratingly long lines at Sajik. Alternatively, you can get tickets on the Lotte Giants website, but only if you’re a Korean or have a Korean friend who can do it for you. It’s not just the language — they actually restrict online sales to citizens.
Once you’ve got your tickets, you might want to do some shopping before entering the stadium. This was the single most shocking thing to me about baseball in Korea. Spectators are allowed to carry in whatever food and drink they want, and everybody does so. We watched in awe as fans arrived with stacks of pizza, cases of beer, plates of sushi, buckets of chicken. Compared to the US, where they’ll search your backpack and confiscate half-empty water bottles, this is amazing. I couldn’t get over it.
We didn’t bring anything on our first trip to Sajik, but were well prepared on the second. There’s a superstore called Home Plus near the stadium, and inside is a chain called “Redcap” which has stacks of pizzas ready to go for hungry fans on their way to the game. We got one, and picked up beer and chicken in the supermarket. And now, properly supplied, we could march into the stadium like pros.
But even if you show up to the stadium without any of your own beer, there’s no worry. Inside the park, they only cost ₩2000 a can ($1.80). Food is cheap, too.
So, we’re already having a great time before any players take the field, but the atmosphere really improves once the game gets going. The Giants are the most popular team in Korea, continually setting attendance records, and their fans are wild about them. Jerseys and hats are requisite gear; based on the numbers worn in our immediate vicinity, the most popular players seemed to be #12 (Kim Joo Chan) and #47 (Kang Min Ho). We also saw a weird amount of Cleveland Indians t-shirts and hats. Busan-born Shin-Soo Choo is their right fielder, and Busanites have accordingly turned themselves into boosters of the Tribe. Hey Cleveland, did you know you’ve got a big fan base in southern Korea?!
We seem to be good luck charms for the Giants, who’ve won both games we’ve attended. In the first inning of the match against the Nexen Heroes, they even hit a grand slam. And we got a video of it! There were three home runs in this 8-0 blowout, and the crowd was going wild. The atmosphere inside the stadium rocks. People dancing in their seats, cheering on the big stars, watching the sexy cheerleaders jiggle to K-Pop between innings, booing opposing pitchers when they check the runner at first, and doing the wave.
I’ve never seen a slow-motion wave, and in fact have never heard of one; I wouldn’t have considered such a thing possible and, in the US, it probably wouldn’t be. But here, the crowd fully participates in this amazing feat of coordination, slowly standing out of their seats when the snail-paced wave finally reaches them. Then, when the wave hits the “Exciting Section” (really, that’s its name), it kicks into super-speed. It’s fun, especially when the game is an 8-0 blowout which doesn’t require a lot of attention.
“Lotte”, by the way, is the name of a major company here in Korea. In the US, we might name our stadiums after corporations, but not our teams! It’s kind of weird to see a crowd full of happy families and impressionable children singing “Lot-te Lotte LOTTTT-te!”; the company’s coporate overlords must be delighted about the mass brainwashing going on in Sajik. Towards the end of the game, plastic orange Lotte shopping bags are distributed throughout the crowd, who tie them onto their heads. Again: a tradition of putting plastic bags onto childrens’ heads? It would never happen in the States.
So, though I never would have expected it, baseball in Korea turns out to be an amazing experience. Don’t pass up a chance to visit Sajik Stadium, when in Busan.
The Busan National Gugak Center opened in 2008 with the mission of bringing Korea’s culture to the masses. We went to an incredible Tuesday night performance which introduced us to some of the peninsula’s traditional music, dance and drumming.
We weren’t sure what to expect on taking our seats in the Gugak Center’s comfortable Yegi-dang (small hall). At just ₩6000 ($5.40) apiece, the tickets were cheap and the hall was packed full with Koreans of all ages. We were the only foreign faces in the crowd of around 300, despite the fact that foreign residents get a discount. The show got underway at 7:30pm and, over the course of its 90 minutes, brought the house down.
Act One: Percussion
As the lights came up, a group of seven drummers were seated in front of traditional percussion instruments. Five barrel drums, a gong, and two horrid things I’ll call “metal clang pots”. This act lasted at least forty minutes and I don’t really know how to describe it. Imagine the sound of 50 sugar-fueled five-year-olds equipped with metal spoons and their parents’ best pots and pans, just banging like crazy, non-stop for forty minutes. Except they’re very talented and keep an amazing rhythm. The drumming got softer and louder, building up into exhilarating crescendos or descending into asynchronous cacophony, but it never stopped.
It was awesome, but the drummers in charge of the ridiculous “metal clang pots” prevented us from truly enjoying the music. And we were way toward the back of the theater! I have no idea how the old women seated in the front rows weren’t covering their ears and screaming in pain, but they weren’t. They were clapping, squealing, dancing in their seats and generally behaving like Mötley Crüe groupies. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a bra thrown on the stage.
Act Two: Pihyang
Things quieted down considerably for the second act, a graceful court dance featuring a solitary performer. Dressed in a flowing red robe with overly long sleeves, the woman glided around the stage to the sounds of drums and flutes. I’m not sure whether this dance is actually called “Pi-hyang”… it’s listed in the program as 비향, but we couldn’t find any information about it online. Regardless, it was a pleasant intermission between the riotous first and third acts.
Act Three: Pangut
Pangut is a traditional rural dance of South Korea, featuring a troupe of drummers wearing hats with long white ribbons affixed to them. As they drum and dance around the stage, they rotate their head or twist it from side to side, causing the ribbon to spiral above and behind them. The skill which needed for this, I can hardly imagine. Not just the complicated drumming, but an intricate dance and — on top of that — knowing when and how to twist your head to induce the correct ribbon swirl. Amazing.
Act Four: Geumho Drum Dance
For the fourth act, an additional pair of dancing drummers joined the stage. These two were wearing bizarre giant feathery hats which made them look like human ice cream cones. One all in white, and the other in a mix of red and green. It was about the last thing we’d expected and, while they danced around in their poof-hats, I wasn’t sure whether to take it seriously or die laughing. And then six other featherheads joined them on stage, and I couldn’t help myself. This was hilarious.
But my mirth wasn’t out of place; this was clearly a joyful dance and, as it concluded, the troupe pranced out into the audience and encouraged us all to follow them outside. For fifteen minutes, performers and spectators danced and drummed in the Gugak’s courtyard.
Quite a night. We hadn’t been expecting to have anywhere near that much fun, and began to plan our next trip to the Gugak Center during the subway ride back home. What a great way to experience traditional Korean culture.
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.