As Donald mentioned in the last post, we had no idea what we were in for when we started working at Kimchee Guesthouse Busan. After meeting up with Scott, the manager, and seeing that the place was still undergoing a lot of renovations, we were skeptical that the hostel would open in two weeks. We checked out some of the floors in the six story hotel building we would be living in. We found rooms stripped of furniture and often wallpaper, wires spilling out of the walls and ceiling, the staircase an absolute mess, and the downstairs area completely demolished. We had to admit to ourselves that we were living in a remodeling nightmare. We were wondering where the kitchen and other cozy facilities were hiding; our eyes scanning the crevices in hopes they would jump out and surprise us. No luck. Luckily, the upstairs where all of us volunteers would be staying was completely renovated. We also lucked out with Scott and Sean being very nice guys and could see that they were genuine when they apologized and explained their frustrations with what they called the project, “the construction site.” They were happy we were willing to join them despite the circumstances. Donald helped them with lifting all the new furniture and setting up the bunk beds and other features. I was in charge of recruiting more volunteers and greeting the new volunteers as they arrived. I knew the hardest part for me would be to explain the current condition of the hostel, but since the building was starting to improve immensely, I kept telling the new volunteers, “You should have seen it a week ago, it was so much worse!” >.<
Kimchee Guesthouse has several locations in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and this was their first location in Busan. The company decided to buy a former love hotel in the Seomyeon downtown area. Love hotels are basically hotels where couples can book a cheap room for one night. Many young adults continue to live with their parents until they get married in South Korea. So where do you go when you want to continue having fun? The flashy love hotel, no doubt. Anyone can see these hotels a mile away since they have bright LED lights with colorful designs reminding everyone that they have rooms for your early morning pleasure. Since the new guesthouse was once a former love hotel, there were over 40 rooms! This was destined to be their biggest location!
Since Donald and I were the first volunteers, we were eager to meet the others, especially since I was emailing them about their arrival times. The volunteer dorm had 10 bunks beds, able to accommodate 20 volunteers. There were separate boy and girl dorms and I would soon be in a room with 5 other female volunteers. Having not shared a room with someone in almost 2 years, I was nervous about how things would go. I reminded myself that it would only be temporary, even if things didn’t go perfectly. Now that we no longer work and live at Kimchee Guesthouse, I honestly miss living with the 5 other girls known as The Pajama Squad.
I don’t know how the group name came about, but I can only guess it had something to do with the fact that every night we would stay up late endlessly talking, walking to 711 for midnight snacks, and falling asleep around 3am or chatting more on the rooftop balcony. On the weekday nights we would go out to the norebong, which is karaoke bar in Korean, and head to the beach to swim on our days off. We’d have the same nightly routine and wake up in the morning before work scrambling to eat breakfast and wake Cennet up :p
I enjoyed getting to know my roommates and admired each one because they all had unique, inspiring personal traits. We were all from different backgrounds, had different goals, and even different hobbies but we all enjoyed discovering new places, learning new languages, and going to the beach 🙂
One of my roommate’s was from Berlin and was not only German, but also Turkish. She spoke German, Turkish, and spoke great English too. She wanted to live in Korea so she could learn the Korean language and landed a job at a German pub before arriving to Busan. She loved going out and getting the group to walk around Seomyeon, get bingsu, bubble tea, or her favorite eis (ice) pop. She also loved drinking chocolate milk at night but we’d have to cut her off since she’d get too giggly! One of her favorite quotes is, “Don’t just wait for the storm to pass, Learn to dance in the rain.” I’m learning how to do this now along my travels since everyday can’t be a perfectly sunny day.
Another one of my roommate’s was also from Germany. Before volunteering at the Kimchee Guesthouse, she volunteered at a place where they practiced English with refugees who had fled North Korea, which I give mad kudos for doing. Her personal stories gave me insights to situations I have not experienced such as being an Au Pere. It was fun doing cleaning duties with her since she always played music on her speaker. She was also a talented artist and I hope to see her art in her graphic design work soon!
My two other roommate’s were from northern Italy and have been friends for so long, they acted as if they were sisters. They taught me all the Italian words native English speakers butcher and were my go-to roommates for teaching me basic Korean words since they had been living in Korea for almost a year or more. One had abs of steel and the other had the prettiest makeup and an eye for picking out brands (I still need to find that lip stain you use, Sara! :p) I loved going with them to karaoke since they could sing the Korean songs without missing a beat! It was fun learning more about Italian culture and diffusing stereotypes.
My other roommate was from Morocco and I envied her extensive knowledge of languages! Her native language was Moroccan French, and she also spoke French, Arabic, English and Japanese! Even her boyfriend from Japan said she spoke great Japanese and it was cute to hear them talk to each other 🙂 I learned a lot about life in Morocco and her recent travels in Asia; all eye opening and insightful. She also boosted my confidence in speaking French and I felt like I could easily talk to her and practice, even though most of the time we spoke in English since I’m still too shy, haha. It was wonderful hearing her angelic voice sing at karaoke. She sang high notes well and mimicked Celine Dion perfectly!
When one of our roommates left and we had an empty bed, it would still be taken by the funny and zainey Zann. She would take naps in our room and actually fall asleep even though we’d all be giggling and talking! She was from Singapore and decided to extend her stay in Korea for a month by joining our volunteer team and I’m glad she did. She led some awesome get together a like kimchi fried rice and taking SanE out for walks. When Donald and I left, she made the coolest good bye card! We have many goofy pictures from her like this one below:
Looking back now, what made all of us volunteers perfect roomies was the fact that we had each other’s backs. We would share our food, snacks, bubble tea, soju, vodka, beer, ice, poki sticks, shampoo, and would expect nothing in return. We were always checking on each other’s well being and made sure everyone in the room felt at home, especially since our homes were many miles away. I definitely couldn’t have asked for better roomies, even the ones that lived in the other rooms. We had the best crew for working, going out, and hanging out. Donald mentioned it in his latest post, but I’ll have to reiterate since it’s so true. Traveling is not often about the number of stamps in your passport and visiting the most spectacular sites everyone flocks to; it’s also about the people you meet along the way and the friendships you form. Thank you, Pajama Squad, Kimchee Volunteers and Staff for being amazing roomies, and ultimately, great friends! 🙂
A shout out to all the volunteers who were a blast to work with: Mimi, Astrid, Sara, Cennet, Katarina, Maru, Kamila, Arina, Shunya, Negie, Ismal, Jamie, and Keiran, the managers: Scott and Sean, and the Kimchee Guesthouse Busan Staff: Arim and Jayden, and we can’t forget, the lovable SanE! 🙂 Thank you so much again for a wonderful experience working at your giant hostel! Wherever Donald and I land you are all welcome to come stay with us at any time.