Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Walk Thoughts #157: Day 11, Leg 10 assessment

I don't even know the name of the guest house (minbak?) I'm staying in. Yesterday ended in an angry blur of fatigue and confusion. I had reserved two nights at Sangju Bridge Hanok Guest House. Some guys I'd met at the certification center pointed me the way over to the guest house, which they considered shacking up in themselves. I limped up the road to the place and was effusively greeted by the loud, aggressive Hausfrau who ran the place. In her thick southern accent, she complimented me on my Korean (we had texted a lot before my arrival), then ordered me to put my backpack down on a specific table, take off my shoes and socks, put on a set of sandals, and go take a shower. "I'll be doing your laundry for you," she said briskly, "but because we've got a lot of guests coming, you need to be quick about it." Too tired and too in pain to complain or demur, I shambled over to the indicated shower/laundry room, left my dirty clothes in a pile, showered, dressed in my spare clothing, then came out to some bad news, which I'm still not sure I understand fully.

The Hausfrau approached me with a distressed look and tone, saying something about previous customers changing their minds and how there was no way I could sleep in the room that had been designated for me-- something about the room's lacking a bed. I told the lady I was fine with sleeping on a blanket on the floor, and that I'd already done so a few times this trip. I'm still not sure how the lady's excuses all fit together; what the previous customers had to do with my current situation was beyond me.

The upshot was that the lady apologized, but I'd have no choice but to spend my two nights in a different guest house. A vehicle would be coming to pick me up. She told me this around 5PM and said the truck wouldn't be by until after 6, so I'd have to repack my things (including my laundry) and wait. Meanwhile, she refunded me in cash: W60,000 for two nights.

While I waited, two bikers rode up and had no trouble getting a place to stay, which irked me. My instinct was that I was being shunted for a bullshit reason, which didn't improve my mood. I sat on the house's porch and uploaded my May 1 photos while I waited. I also watched the Hausfrau run desperately all over the place, looking frazzled and not exactly on top of things. Mentally, I contrasted this with my very first guest-house experience during this walk: Yeongneung Baekga Guest House (YBGH). At YBGH, there was no pressure, no ordering guests around, no sense of confusion and urgency. The lady running that place had been infinitely kind and solicitous. And she'd been organized.

The SUV, already full of other bikers, arrived around 6:45PM. I was told to get in the front. The driver was friendly, but he stopped about a kilometer into the drive and got out, to be replaced by another, quieter, driver who revved the SUV and had us screaming along the hilly roads. I made conversation with the four passengers squished into the back seat; they were all biking the Incheon-Busan trail, about 600 kilometers from beginning to end.

The sky was darkening by the time we arrived at the new guest house. I had talked with the first driver about the possibility of dropping me back at my stopping point so I could start there on Thursday; he said it would be possible, though difficult, because he meant to drive most of the group out that way an hour later than I wanted. So it's a bit up in the air as to what's happening tomorrow morning.

The new guest house was also run by a pushy Hausfrau, this one much stockier than the first, but just as prone to ordering people around. I'm not exactly against a "my house, my rules" attitude, but I didn't appreciate the brusque approach these ladies were taking. I was told to put my backpack down, go wash my hands, and get ready for dinner. We would talk about my room later.

Dinner was in a large dining area with several tables to accommodate a couple dozen guests. The meal was an informal, downscale Korean buffet with rice, a standard medley of picked vegetables, soup, and some strange meat that smelled and tasted like bottled bolognese sauce. Yes: beefy and tomato-y, not normally part of the Korean flavor profile. I ladled too much food onto my plate but somehow managed to stuff it all into my gullet. A biker came and sat with me, but because of the noise in the dining hall, I don't think we heard each other very well.

The Hausfrau saw that I was finishing up, so she brusquely said, "Come with me," and led me to a room. "This isn't your permanent room," she explained. "Not everyone has gotten here yet, so we're working on getting you your room for two nights." (I had paid the lady in cash right before dinner.) "Meantime," she continued, "Just take a nice rest while you wait." (What she really said in Korean was "Puk shwiseyo," where the adverb puk means "deeply," as in "sleep deeply," and the verb shwida means "to rest.")

The room was nice. It had a bunk bed piled with pillows and covers. My brother Sean texted me while I waited, so I spent my time talking with him. Here's part of what I texted:

Tonight kind of sucks, though. I had reserved a spot in a guest house, but at the last minute, the ajumma was going on and on about "other guests who changed their plans" and "giving you a room with no bed is no good," so she refunded my money and made me wait for a car to come pick me up and take me to another guest house waaaay far away. These places are all run by loud, pushy ajummas who order you to do stuff like shower, change your clothes, and wash your hands before dinner. I showered at the first guest house and ate dinner at the second. Am in a room, but it's not my permanent room. I've been told to "rest" and to wait to be told which room will really be mine. Meanwhile some guy came into my room, took a shower, then left. All sorts of weirdness.

Yes: my temporary room wasn't mine alone. In fact, a second dude came in and showered while I lay there texting.

It wasn't until 10PM that the Hausfrau came in and told me I had a room. "Why aren't you resting?" she asked in alarm when she saw I had been fully awake when she barged in.

"How can I rest when I don't know my schedule?" I responded with irritation. This whole experience has alerted me to the fact that "guest house" is a vague term covering a wide spectrum of good and bad. I'm pretty sure I don't want to try guest houses ever again; give me a nasty, roach-and-pube-infested yeogwan any day.

An ajeossi was waiting outside for me. He beckoned me to follow him down the street of the village we were in; we walked in the dark past several buildings, and I found myself in the man's residence, being led across the living room and into the bedroom that was to be mine for two nights. This is what my W60,000 had bought me.

My bedroom proved much more spartan than my previous, temporary room, but it was quieter: the temporary room's walls had been paper-thin. A gentle heat radiated quite unnecessarily from the floor. A single mat was to be my bed.

I slept well enough, I think, but when the ajeossi popped his head into my bedroom window at 6:30 this morning to tell me they were serving breakfast, I resented the intrusion and waved the man off, saying I planned to sleep in. So I skipped breakfast. The place doesn't serve lunch, and dinner will be too late for me to eat it without worrying about having to poop while on the trail tomorrow. End result: I've munched four Survival Tabs and am otherwise fasting today. I've done my laundry (the house seems to be empty), and the only question that needs settling is whether and how I'm going to be driven back to my stopping point tomorrow morning.

So that's the story of how my walk ended. It ended badly, although I suppose I'll be able to laugh about it in a few months. Meanwhile, boys and girls: stay away from Korean guest houses! 2 out of 3 of them will suck... unless you're okay with being ordered around and not knowing what's coming next. As a major introvert, I found this to be a bigger turn-off than a nasty yeogwan's squalor.

Some stats: my pedometer claims I walked 524 minutes yesterday, for 50,608 steps. It puts my walked distance at 24.05 miles, not Naver's 19.13 miles. I supposedly burned 3958 calories, which means I probably burned closer to 3200.

Tomorrow's walk will be, according to Naver, 17.1 miles (27.48 km), assuming I'm reliably dropped off where I stopped yesterday. Since I'm done with guest houses for the rest of this trip, I can look forward to staying in a yeogwan tomorrow night: the upcoming town has plenty of them. Tomorrow, I also collect two stamps: the first will be at Sangju Dam; the second will be at my destination, Nakdan Dam. I'll be spending a single night in that neighborhood.

If tomorrow's walk is as hilly as yesterday's drive was, tomorrow isn't going to be pretty. But we'll take each step as it comes.

1 comment:

Charles said...

The dangers of the minbak. I will admit that I have rarely stayed in minbak myself, but the one or two times that I did were OK. I guess it's a bit of a crap shoot.

Also, it does sound like you might have been the victim of a stereotype: Westerners have to have a bed to sleep on! She might have thought she was doing you a favor.