I was going to write a post all about Korea’s noraebangs, but last night I discovered something even better.
Noraebangs (literally meaning “song rooms”) are ubiquitous in Korea, and a truly wonderful concept for anyone who’s ever been kicked out of a bar for refusing to heed staff requests to stop singing. Yes, they are karaoke venues, and there’s one on practically every street corner – often more than one. It is very easy to leave a bar at any time of the night or day and dance merrily into a noraebang without walking more than a few feet. You go in, you pay, you buy some drinks if you wish, and then you’re shown into your own private room with sofas, a table, screens, disco lights, microphones, tambourines, and a karaoke song book. Sing away to your heart’s content, safe in the knowledge that no matter how bad you are or how crap your taste in music is, you’re not annoying anyone other than your friends. Hurrah! And because there’s no bar audience to applaud your efforts, the machine will even score you for your attempt after each song.
My two soju-drinking nights out so far (now that I’ve recovered from all illnesses and commenced a social life) have somehow ended up in a noraebang, dancing wildly under a colourful disco ball, singing tunelessly, and playing the tambourine. I’ve found that the privacy element means that everyone in the group will sing, dance, and be silly – even those you know wouldn’t dream of doing it in a public karaoke bar. I love it.
But last night, after a quieter, civilised, soju-free meal at a Vietnamese restaurant downtown, I found myself in the sober person’s alternative to the noraebang. Described as a “multimedia café”, it’s called Smile, and it’s basically a place to come and hang out with your friends. It’s a great idea for young Korean adults, in particular, who generally live with their parents until they get married. A place like Smile gives them a bit of space to be with their friends and do their own thing. It’s also great for foreign teachers like us, who live in tiny one-room apartments and can’t have more than one or two visitors.
We went in and paid for a room, noraebang-style. The rooms come in different sizes – there were eight of us, but there are smaller rooms (and possibly larger ones) too. Then we picked some things to do from the communal area, which reminded me slightly of a hostel lounge. It had shelves full of computer games and DVDs, board games, and books, as well as a clean and bright kitchen area where you could help yourself to free popcorn and snacks, or buy cheap soft drinks.
Then we went into our room (which is priced by the hour, and worked out at about maybe a couple of pounds per person per hour), which was a cheerful little space with low foam sofa-mats and a coffee table, a big screen, a Nintendo Wii, a PS2, a DVD player, a karaoke machine (and tambourines, of course!), optional disco ball lighting for the karaoke, and lots of cute homely touches like a bright, furry ladybird rug, a giant teddy bear, and the bright “smile” design made from coloured plastic balls on the wall.
It was a lovely way to pass the night with a new group of friends. We played Wii sports games (and I surprised everyone by being unbeatable at boxing, even against the cocky guys, despite losing at every other game I’ve played since coming here. It seems I have a lot of stored-up anger and aggression. ;) The thumping and punching and beating felt extremely theraputic!) and Mario games, we ate popcorn, we drank some weird-flavoured Korean soda drinks, we lounged around chatting on piles of cushions, we sang some karaoke songs, we laughed a lot. Before we knew it, it was 2 in the morning. So we, erm, went to McDonalds for bedtime snacks.
I have to say, it really is fun to have a social life again. And in Korea, there are so many things to do with friends that a social life can be more than just drinking. I can’t wait to see what the next entertainment will be!