Monday, August 18, 2008

Korean Condoms and Hotels

Last year I promised I'd retell my tale of condoms in the amenities baskets of the hotels I stayed in. Now I'm making good on that promise.

I made a point of never staying in a "Western" hotel while in Korea. I only stayed in local places, sometimes by chance and sometimes by invitation*. In each place I stayed, there was a basket of amenities in the room. The baskets always included a large bottle of shampoo and one of conditioner. There was also a large bottle of lotion. There was a tube of toothpaste and two brand new toothbrushes. There was a disposable razor, a comb, and a bar of soap. Most of the time these items were reusable, meaning that they were neither individually sized, nor were they meant to be taken from the room.

Most of the rooms also had micro-fridges and two 20 oz. bottles of water and 2 8 oz. cans of Chilsing Cider (think 7-up, only better). A few of the rooms I stayed in had complimentary condoms in the amenities basket. Of course, Korean porn is on regular cable, as well. They fuzz out the genitals, as apparently that's a taboo thing to show, but other than that, it's straight-up porn.

I found that staying in the locally owned hotels was a far more amazing experience that if I'd stayed at American chains. Frequently only Koreans stayed in them, and several times doors were left open. I did always get a Western room, with a mattress and box springs, as opposed to a traditional Korean room with just floor mats to sleep on. I was a bit disappointed by this, but it was their way of trying to be good hosts by giving me what I was used to. I actually wanted to sleep in a traditional room, but didn't want to offend them by asking for one.

*And back to that invitation I mentioned earlier. In Seoul we found a cab right off of the train depot (we took the Korean Rail everywhere... from Seoul to Waegan to Daegu to Busan and back). The cabbie asked where we wanted to go and we said "a local hotel". After his shock that we didn't want to stay in the high-rise Westin that he pointed at, he smiled and said "I know just where to take you. You give me 10,000 wan, and I'll take you there."

We agreed. And we got in his cab. He drove us exactly one and one-half blocks away from where we started and turned down a very crowded and very small street off the main road. Half a block later he parked the car in the middle of the street and hopped out.

Ten thousand wan was about $13 at that time. So we paid $13 for a 2 block cab ride. He came back a minute later and said "You stay here for 35,000 wan." He was accompanied by an almost smiling but very gracious hotel owner. He had just gotten us an invitation to stay somewhere very few Americans ever stay. He told us that it was very prestigious for the hotel that we stay there, and that they only had a couple of western rooms in the whole hotel, so we were lucky to get the invitation to stay there.

We stayed, of course. For starters, he went to a lot of trouble for us, and refusing would be one of the rudest things we could do to him and the hotel owner. It was very conveniently located to the train station, so we wouldn't need a cab again, we could just walk. It was very close to the subway, so we could spend the night getting to the shopping/dining area of Seoul we intended to go to. And it was pretty inexpensive to boot. If I ever go back, I'll only stay in local hotels, and I recommend the same for anyone else visiting Korea.

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