[FORUM]'You mean you want to sleep?'

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[FORUM]'You mean you want to sleep?'

When we are in trouble, we have several different styles of grumbling. Koreans like to complain, and they have a lot to complain about, or think they do: out of money, hungry, lost and a long way to go, an annoying baby's wailing...

Big or small, listing the array of our difficulties, we poke fun at ourselves and our jinxed life. Humor in the face of adversity is a way of life, wisdom we use to surmount our difficulties.

One recent Friday evening, I drove out of Seoul on the way to Gangwon province. Because of the weekend traffic jam, it seemed to take forever to get out of the Seoul area. The traffic was bumper to bumper, and I was getting tired and cranky, unable to avoid nodding off at the wheel. My wife, sitting next to me in the passenger seat, was very anxious about my condition and finally suggested that we put up at the next hotel we could find.

Beginning at the outskirts of Yangpyeong in Gyeonggi province, about an hour's ride from eastern Seoul, we searched for a hotel or inn. We excluded the obvious "love hotels" from our list. "Love hotels" usually accommodate guests not by the night but by the hour. It was too awkward for us to try to go into one of those gaudy establishments; we were just a tired, middle-aged husband and wife. But our search for a hotel was in vain. Although there are many places along the river, none of them looked inviting to us.

When it got late, after 11 p.m., we stopped being choosy about the kind of hotel we wanted to stay at. Tired and frustrated, we chose a hotel at random and went in. A clerk said, "No vacancy" even before we asked if we could stay overnight. "Well, that could be true," we thought to ourselves, and went looking for another one. The second hotel had only five or six cars in its parking lot, so we had some hope. But we were also treated inhospitably there. In a moment of bewilderment, I told the clerk that I would pay double the room rate, but we were still rejected. I was angry and ashamed of myself and that made my walk back to the car a very long trip.

Well, I thought to myself, I would rather sleep in the car, curling myself up in a seat just as we did when we were young, but that didn't sound like a very good idea. I went into a third hotel and, as might have been expected, got the cold shoulder again. Fortunately, the clerk at that hotel had enough sympathy to tell us how to get to another "hotel" located in the riverside woods. The fourth hotel had the word "rose" in its name, which meant that it was a typical love hotel. But we didn't have any alternatives. Eventually we had the "privilege" to get some sleep. Our room had a circular double bed and was decorated in a sexy mood, but those touches were not at all stimulating. The starry night and the beautiful scenery of the Namhan River outside the window were not romantic at all. We were just disheveled, vexatious and gloomy "Sleepless in Yangpyeong."

When taxi drivers refuse to take us to our destination, we can notify the authorities and demand that they be punished. But in the case of hotels or inns, that is not possible. Three years ago, the law to that effect was swept away by a wave of governmental deregulation. As a result, hotels can choose their guests according to their own financial interests. That makes the owners of love hotels prefer youthful clients; that guarantees a high turnover for the rooms. They definitely prefer youngsters to middle-aged couples who, they know, want to sleep instead of play.

And this is not just a matter of hotel room rates. Ordinary hotels are disappearing as love hotels mushroom here and there. Love hotels in cities are just the same as those at resorts in the countryside. It is getting to the point where the middle generation poor second-class citizens will have to stay either in luxurious hotels or humble ones in back alleys that only local residents can find.

The World Cup is just around the corner. Some love hotels in the 10 cities where soccer matches will be held have changed their names to "World Inn." In spite of tax benefits, some love hotels have refused the designation of World Inns.

Just think about that. How embarrassed foreigners will be, astonished by the pornographic films playing next to the front desk, dazzling neon signs and shabby rooms with only one bed sheet. Will love hotels be willing to provide thermos bottles for Chinese tourists who enjoy hot tea? Will restaurants adjacent to the hotels be able to supply slices of toast and coffee for breakfast instead of the "morning-after" soup that Koreans want for breakfast to cure their hangovers? I am pessimistic that these hotels will upgrade their services. I don't want middle-aged foreigners to be kicked out of love hotels just like this middle-aged Korean was.


The writer is an editorial writer of the Joongang Ilbo.

by Choi Chul-joo

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