I’m embarrassed. I’ve been living in Korea for over 4 months now, galavanting around this country like a kid in a candy store, and I have yet to give proper praise to an immensely popular Korean cultural phenomenon. It lifts you up when your feeling down, it breaths life back into a night that is beginning to die, and I spent my first few hours of 2012 reveling in its glory. Nore bang (noh-reh bahng) which literally means “singing room” in Korean, is the activity known to everyone else as karaoke, and has cleverly inserted its way into my life here in South Korea. You will find nore bangs everywhere you go in this country — there are tons of them in Yeoju, my small town 1.5 hours outside of Seoul, if that gives you any perspective on their omnipotence.
We’re not talking about a bar filled with people gabbing about themselves, while some loser in the corner is singing his life away while staring at a tiny screen, fulfilling his own Piano Man fantasies, whether or not anyone cares to listen. No No No. Karaoke in Korea is a totally different ball game.
You and your group of friends are given your own private room for about 30,000 won, ($30.00), which includes a top-of-the-line flatscreen TV, big ass remote, and a book containing millions of songs and their code numbers which are easily entered into the computer system. It’s also possible to have drinks and food delivered to your room, although they are usually quite pricey and sneaking in beverages is a common practice.
The room also comes with tambourines, maracas, and 2 or 3 microphones, so everyone has a change to join in the revelry. If nore bang happens for me during the weekend, it usually means I’m going to be struggling with a hoarse throat all week and consuming copious amounts of tea every day. But the strain on my vocal chords is totally worth it–the sensation of belting one’s heart out after a week of hardly being able to communicate with one’s students is probably one of the best feelings on the face of this peninsula.
Nore bang is utilized by people of all ages. Families go to singing rooms together, adults go after business dinners, and teenagers take part in the music-making on their own. A few months ago, I met my father’s Korean friend from college and after eating brunch, we headed into the nore bang in their fancy apartment building to sing! Quite a different experience from the late-night song sessions with my English teacher peers, but a lovely one at that. The word “karaoke” is Japanese, and the technology was developed there, but the popularity of the activity itself has blossomed throughout Asia. I’m excited to experience nore bang on my upcoming trips to Malaysia and the Philippines!