Friday, August 11, 2006

Karaoke? No, in Korea It’s the 노래방 or Noraebang!!!


Well, work is over and what do you do in Korea when you work is over? Like everywhere, you go out and party! Now the thing is you have to know what partying is all about and how it’s similar but, most important, how it’s different.

We started at Outback Steakhouse and that was torturous for me because I avoid chains if at all possible. However, for most foreigners and expatriates here, it means a decent meal with the typical Westernized trappings. For Koreans it means overpriced food and the status of having Westernized tastes and sensibilities.

However, I’m not out to recapture home, I’d move back if that was want I wanted. Also, I’m not out to prove much of anything, so overpriced Western cuisine isn’t my thing when I can just pop by Costco, purchase the ingredients, and make it myself.

At this point and I much prefer going native. So after we went to a song room or karaoke room which, in Korean is called a 노래방 “noraebang” (노래 "norae" = song and 방 "bang" = room).

Now a Korean 노래방 is not like karaoke ones seen in the States where you’re in an open bar and you expose to the world your bad taste in music and what an off-key singer you are.

In Korea you have small rooms where you go with friends, co-workers and others you know and basically geek out singing, screaming, rapping and dancing around in a semi-private room. The rooms have TV screens and the lyrics pop up to help you get through the song. They have tamborines so you can accompany whoever is singing. They have disco balls so that you can dance and jump around for both entertainment or to entertain. They're just essentially well-equipped little rooms with a top of the line karaoke machine.

While inside they’ll bring you liquor, drinks and snacks. In fact, it’s expected that you won’t just buy time, but that you’ll purchase at least one plate of overpriced snacks which they call 안주 or “anju”. You can get dried fish, nuts, or other finger foods. Our choice tonight, and the choice I always make, is fresh fruit.

Anyway, it was good fun as two in our group had never had the 노래방 experience before and were quite perplexed when they realized we were going to sing to each other in a private room. However, once we got rolling they realized it was good fun.

It is also economical. There were five people and for about two hours of time we spent 37,000 won or close to $40.00 US dollars, including food and liquor.

For me it’s fun because you get to know the people you’re with. You can tell a lot about a person through the songs they like. You also get to release stress. There is nothing like screaming out Radiohead's Creep when you've had a bad Korea day. It’s fun because you do let loose after a bit of time and you have fun jumping around and singing or screaming songs.

I have to admit during this night out I was thinking how will I fill my occasional need for a 노래방 fix once I leave Korea. I realized that I’ll probably settle back in a major metropolitan area and there will always be a section of town that is Korean. There I’ll have my Korean food market, song rooms and other businesses where I can recapture that taste of Korea when I need it.

I do suggest if you ever have a chance to experience a 노래방 that you do it even if you aren’t the best singer because it’s not about proving what a great crooner you are, but it’s about just letting loose and having fun.

I definitely did tonight. Now it's time for bed.

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