A traditional home stay in Seoul – by accident

Jin is waiting for me when I return from Yongsang, placidly sitting at the picnic table in the atrium and staring off into the distance. When I knock on the astroturf covered door he looks up and grins, then lopes over to the door to greet me.

It’s only been one night at the MaMa guesthouse (46, Waryong-dong, Jongno-gu) in Seoul, but I already feel like I belong. Between the Angok (Line 3) and Jeosan (Line 1) stops in the district parallel to Insadong, my discovery of the homestay was purely by accident. Walking toward my original hotel earlier the previous night, I saw the flashy sign of MaMa splashed across the traditionally-styled home and made a mental note: if things didn’t work out with my current accommodations I’d return.

As usual, Jin Sung Jai was resting in his room when I first showed up, and through the front door window I could see his feet hanging out from the sliding doors of his room. He greeted me with enthusiasm – yes, there was a room available tonight, the “mother” room for only 60,000 Won – discounted 25% off of the normal rate.

It would be a traditional room, one not unlike those in a traditional Japanese household with a heated floor, a thin mattress in the center of the room and two linens on top. A sliding, rice paper door was the divider between the main atrium and my room, the same divider that went into Jin’s and four other rooms around the perimeter of the atrium. For this and most other rooms here, the bathroom and living spaces would be shared.

In a way though, that’s the sort of package that a solo traveler needs a foreign land – a small splash of traditional culture, a community space in which to reflect your thoughts and a shepherd to guide you through the process. In the morning I help Jin update his website as a meal of hard boiled eggs, toast and apples is delivered. He shows me through the stacks of paintings with a style that he’s perfected with years of study across parts of Europe, North America and Korea. And with a handshake and a smile he sends me on my way to Incheon Airport. I would give a hundred stays in a big box western hotel in exchange for another night in a place like this.