For globetrotters, here's a place to put your feet upTraveling around the world or just around Korea for the World Cup, culture shock is bound to set in. The WOW! Guesthouse in western Seoul works to make visitors feel at home, not alone.
Song Jee-soon, the owner of WOW!, which is just west of Yonsei University, says this is the busiest summer the hostel has had since it opened in 1998. The 25 beds in WOW!, which is named after the nearby Mount Wau -- more like a hill the size of a reclining cow, really -- have been booked since the end of May.
Mr. Song is "Jimmy" around the house. Alex Brogden, a tourist from Manchester, England, staying in the hostel during the World Cup, says, "Jimmy is short for James, and you're only a Jimmy if you're a legend."
Mr. Brogden says he has an around-the-world airline ticket. "My plans change every day."
Another guest, Diego Jimenez, is on an exchange at Yonsei University, from Southwest Missouri State University. "I'm staying here about a week," he says. "I'll move into the university dorm when classes start July 1."
Jimmy's wife, Suk-hee, who speaks little English, giggles and says something to her husband. "Julie," as she is known around the hostel, and their children, Han-vin and Yeon-ju, give the place a family environment.
Another guest, who goes by "Skate," has been on the road since the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City ended five months ago. An avid snowboarder and computer whiz, the 1992 Penn State graduate bought a U.S. team pass, giving him access to every World Cup match the United States plays.
With the U.S. team out, Skate decided to see any game. This day he is on his way to Suwon. Then perhaps Japan. "I'll go until I run out of money. Then I suspect I'll find work, maybe in Switzerland this winter."
Skate has convinced Han Joon-young, a 24-year-old girl from Jeonju, to go to Suwon with him. "I'm happy to meet people like [Skate] who are rooting for other teams. In Jeonju, they are only rooting for Korea."
Ms. Han has been staying in the hostel for two months, studying English at a hagwon in Sinchon. She occupies one of the private rooms and receives a small salary. "I help translate," she says.
There are three dorm rooms in the guesthouse, all named after Seoul palaces -- Gyeongbok Palace, Unhyeon Palace and Changdeok Palace. Actually, palaces they're not, but they're nevertheless comfortable.
The dorms occupy the third floor. Outside is a patio where the young guests can lounge and drink a beer. A pyramid of empty bottles rises from the stone floor.
Inside is a communal kitchen. Breakfast -- bread, jam and coffee -- is served from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Near the kitchen is a laundry room. Another patio leads to a clothesline, filled this day with tie-dyed shirts and breakaway pants.
"The dorm rooms are better, quieter," Ms. Han. says. "I wouldn't recommend the private rooms. They're right next to the TV room." The World Cup rate for a dorm bed is 20,000 won ($16), and a private room runs 25,000.
Jimmy the legend joins in the cheers for the United States this night against Germany. "The U.S. is strong team," Jimmy says. "I wanted them to win." He still has his other team. Skate is packing his laundry. Mr. Brogden? Maybe in a pub in Sinchon.
During the World Cup, lots of plans change.
by Carson K. Smith
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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