My months in a love hotel
Stars and Stripes
For about two months, Room 1003 of the Come Inn hotel served as both my temporary housing quarters and office.
Many of my stories about North Korean aggression, soldier trials, base relocation and more were crafted under the pink neon light hanging over the complimentary computer in my bedroom.
This wasn’t my original plan.
Before my arrival at Camp Red Cloud as Area I’s new reporter in February 2006, the Army demolished my office on post to make way for a new bus station. The temporary replacement office lacked a few trivial things, like a phone and a reliable Internet connection.
Comparatively, the Come Inn was like an executive suite with a bedroom and kitchenette.
Sure, there was the official Gyeonggi Province Tourist Hotel nearby. But for the same price, my room had character.
And by character, I’m mostly talking about the body-contoured hot tub with red and blue disco backlighting. But I was disappointed that after a week, the maids stopped leaving me bubble bath.
I would have asked for more, but I could not find the words for “Excuse me, may I have more bubble bath?” in my Lonely Planet Korean-English pocket dictionary. Which is strange, since the book does teach you how to ask a waiter if he has seen any North Korean infiltrators (Page 234).
The room décor was futuristic, in that Jetsons-style of what people in 1967 thought the future would look like.
Silvery wallpaper surrounded the shiny, neon-blue light fixtures, underscored by wood accents and an aquatic scene under a glass-topped bar table. A small glass box above the water cooler sterilized the drinking glasses with ultraviolet light, which, while probably a good idea, got me thinking far too much about the sanitary needs of the clientele.
I saw few other patrons at the Come Inn, though I knew they were there. Customers were usually discreet about their activity. They parked underground and covered up their cars to hide their license plates.
Every now and then, a couple didn’t need the privacy. After a commissary trip, I shared an elevator with a 50-ish businessman and a girl who could have been his daughter, but wasn’t.
I gave him a quick look and a nod. He looked at my bags and gave me the “What’s he going to do here with two Russet potatoes and a bag of washed spinach” look, like I was somehow the freaky one in this situation.
Since my entertainment options were more limited than those of the other patrons, I got to know a lot of the room’s details. For example, the toilet came with a control panel that played a little song. Mozart, I think.
The bed’s control panel was even more sophisticated. I always wondered who bought those Craftmatic adjustable beds that used to be advertised so heavily between 1980s morning game shows. Turns out they’re in Uijeongbu.
There also was a complimentary DVD menu. I couldn’t read the movie titles, though I was told that one of them translated loosely to “Ajumma Fever While Husband’s Away 3.”
Since the idea didn’t appeal to me, I was left to seek entertainment with the big-screen television’s satellite programming.
Along with CNN and a few movie channels, it gave me a chance to catch up on the latest Britney Spears-inspired Korean music videos. I also enjoyed watching South Korean rappers tell me about growing up “hawd” on the mean streets of Hongdae.
I moved out of the hotel with a tinge of sadness. After two months, I probably earned some sort of world record for solo length of stay at a love hotel. I know I’ll never again be able to walk by a disco hot tub, a classical-music-playing toilet or a pink neon light without thinking of the Come Inn, a place I once called home.
Love Hotel 101
The term “love hotel” started with a swiveling sign, according to Vitamin Miura, who runs the Love Hotel Total Research Office in Tokyo.
“Hotel Love” in Osaka — a tall, concrete building with a parking lot in the basement — was built in 1968. Its revolving sign had “Hotel” on one side, “Love” on the other. Depending on where you were in the revolution, it could read “Love Hotel” or “Hotel Love.”
Consequently, Osaka drivers started calling hotels set up for couples “love hotels.” The term spread throughout Japan after the Osaka Expo two years later.
Tokyo opened its first love hotel in 1973 — the “Meguro Emperor,” Miura said.
Love hotels also are called “boutique,” “leisure” or “theme” hotels.
what’s the difference?
The major difference between a love hotel and others is that a love hotel has hourly rates, Miura said. This is known as “rest time.”
The average “rest,” usually two hours, in Japan costs about $43, with an overnight stay going for about $77.
Love hotel prices in South Korea vary, depending mainly on location. In the heart of Seoul, a two-hour stay runs from $20 to $40, or $40 to $70 overnight. Prices fluctuate, running higher on weekends and holidays.
Love hotels lavish their customers with what they won’t find at home, like bathtubs built for two, behemoth beds, flat-screen televisions, karaoke and in-room food and drink service.
women and love hotels
Women are the target market for modern-day love hotels, with rooms designed for feminine appeal and filled with luxury lotions and free stockings, Miura said. Women commit to their reservations more often than men and are more likely to return to the same hotel with different partners, he said.
Women would rather go somewhere they know, Miura said.
advice for Americans
Check the price up front. Miura said that foreigners are not used to the “rest” system, which has set hours that vary during the day. Going over the hours incurs extra cost. Also, many hotels require a “stay” payment after a certain time of night — this means if you paid for a rest and didn’t leave, you can get charged for both, he said.
— Allison Batdorff and Hana Kusumoto