We are here and officially in “Spring Semester 2021”. The Busan interlude has concluded.
The ride to Changwon for training was the easiest travel I’ve had by far. I took the subway for forty minutes to the Busan bus terminal and then rode an intercity bus for forty minutes. I snagged a taxi at the bus stop.
“Please go here,” I said and handed the old cabbie a slip of paper where I had written the hotel address in lopsided hangul.
“Who wrote this?” He demanded.
“….I did.” I admitted.
“It’s so small…”
Note to self: taxi drivers are usually older men, write address in bigger font.
We chatted for a few minutes (“Your Korean’s not bad!” That’s a new one.) and after a period of silence he put on headphones to call his relative to make plans about going to his brother’s house.
We jerked to stop on the main tree-lined road in front of a long line of building plastered with neon signs.
“Bye,” he said before I had opened the door.
I thanked my luck for this building having an elevator and when the doors opened on the reception floor, I was taken aback.
I have never seen a hotel more pyshically embrace the Clue aesthetic. If I didn’t know nearly everything in Korea had been built after 1960, I would have easily assumed paranormal investigators had been here.
Not a single light in this wood paneled hotel with red light sconces was set above the lowest dimmer setting.
This is definitely a place where a businessman came to secretly meet an escort but instead met his demise. If American horror story hotel needs an Asian filming location, I found it.
House Owner’s sister lives in the same city and kindly dropped off my luggage on her way back from Busan. The man at reception wheeled out my suitcase without me saying my name or showing ID and simply handed me a set of keys, no questions asked.
I suppose foreigners never stay here and my face was sufficient enough as ID.
I texted House Owner to thank her sister for me and also describe the murder mystery theme of the hotel.
“Yeah actually my sister said the same but I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to make you scared.” I found it all morbidly delightful.
I struggled opening the door with a metal key until a random man in the hallway assisted, and then once inside for the life of me I could not figure out how to turn on the lights. There was no light switch, no automatic sensors. I wandered with my phone flash light then gave up and headed back down to reception.
I garbled a half sentence out and then gave up again to simply say “lights” and the manager immediately understood. An older woman behind him shooed him off then led me back to my room where she demonstrated that the seemingly innocuous plastic hotel keychain had to be slotted into a sleeve on the wall. From there I could use the remote to turn on the lights.
A remote for lights? I thought again about a sleazy businessman.
She explained that because of COVID there was no breakfast but if I told her now, she could make me some toast in the morning.
“Uh, no thanks.” Everything had been such a quintessential Korean experience that I choked back a laugh.
Hunger called in the evening and I braved ferocious wind and rain to get some pork soup.
This entire area was near a convention center so restaurants seemed to be centered in the ground floors of various hotels. After a few blocks I came to the store front and walked passed a sad looking old man smoking a cigarette.
I wouldn’t call the restaurant uninviting necessarily, but the contrast to the soup restaurant in Busan was stark.
A table of men left and soon it was only me and the woman working. The soup was just alright and even the rice seemed to deflate in misery. I ate quickly but not quickly enough before the sad man came back inside and returned to the kitchen. He soon started to cough a death rattle cough, the same one my Busan neighbor polluted the street with at night. It’s the kind of cough that makes you ask how soon they’ll pass from this earth. It’s the kind of cough they could record and use for wounded soldiers in war movies.
That was not enough to make me leave, he didn’t make my food so why rush, but I certainly didn’t linger.
On my way back I stopped at a coffee shop, or more accurately, was stopped by a coffee shop. I can’t read so I didn’t know the sign on the right glass door meant fixed and after a few moment of pushing and pulling I switched to the left door. A trio of middle aged men watched the whole debacle and then again when I struggled to grab my dripping umbrella and open the door without dropping my coffee or takeout tiramisu. I wanted to say, hey why don’t you help me instead of staring, but had already pushed the door open.
Again, a very strange and uninviting atmosphere. I thought once more about what Japan Aunt said not too long ago— don’t go to deep into the countryside because the people view foreigners with suspicion. Not that Changwon is country, so it has no excuse. I also thought of the implications of looking like a Russian woman in a convention district.
When I finally got back to the hotel the manager stopped to inform me that the other teachers had arrived. I asked him when they got here and what rooms they were in which he divested easily. Ah, Korea. Well, the benefits of speaking the local language strike again!
I played with the light dimmers in my room then watched Romanian drama and a talk show about Chinese media. A fitting end for such a day.