How to Properly Enjoy The ‘Noraebang’ Experience

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Probably Radiohead
Probably Radiohead

So you’re somewhere in Korea and you’ve just finished a great dinner with galbi and soju and you’re wondering what to do next. If you’re lucky, your next destination will be that perennial favorite, the noraebang.

Noreabangs are interesting for lots of reasons. One of them is that, in Korea at least, there are two versions. Ziller and Kyumyung (sic?). Your choice of Ziller or Kyumyung makes a huge difference. Ziller is “young people” music, while Kyumyung is “old people” music. I hate Kyumyung so much that I have go from noraebang to noraebang in search of one featuring Ziller music.

For me, personally, the difference between the two boils down to one band: Radiohead. I kill Radiohead and Ziller has a wide range of songs to choose from. Kyumyung, on the other hand, has Creep and maybe one or two other songs.

The traditional Korean date goes something like this: have dinner with galbi and soju. If things go well, you go to a noraebang. (If things go really well, you go to a DVD Room, but we won’t go into that.)

Anyway, if only the walls of your typical Korean noraebang could talk. You’re young, you’re drunk (or at least tipsy) from all the soju you’ve just had and you’re in a small, dark, confined place. What do you expect happens?

Inevitably, you signal what’s on your mind with the song you pick. To get things going, I usually pick “Crazy,” by Aerosmith or “I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi. Both of them, especially the latter, are great noraebang songs that put you in the mood to get a little frisky.

But you have to be careful. Stay sober enough to figure out if she’s in the mood, too. If she starts to belt out songs in response that signal she’s not interested, keep away. But if she starts to sing songs that give you a sense that she’s interested, go for it! I love what I call “noraebang song flirting” where you go back and forth with songs until you start making out.

Another interesting thing about noraebangs is Koreans cut songs short like crazy. A Westerner assumes that as long as it’s your song, you get to “have the floor” if you will. A Korean, on the other hand, gets to a point where they think the song is done and just hit the button for the next song. This could be that they simply want more people to be able to sing and they go to noraebangs all the time so they see things a little different.

One tip to keep in mind is to keep looking for songs to sing while someone else is singing a song. This keeps the things going and the party hoping. You don’t want to be the person who causes there to be silence.

I like dirty, dark noraebangs that have seen better days. The one in the Western ghetto of Haebonchon is just my type of noraebang. It looks like hobos have been living there for months and the occasional small furry creature zips past you on your way to your room. But it’s cozy and it’s Ziller music, if I remember correctly.

That noraebang is memorable for the time ROKon writer Miss Tiff did a great rendition of “Girls and Boys” by Blur that had us all bouncing around the noraebang. To this day, I bounce around the norebang whenever someone sings that song. It’s great energy song.

The cost for an hour at a noraebang varies depending on where in Korea you are. Usually it’s between $10 and $15, but it can go up as high as $20 or $25 for a really nice one. Also, the number of people in your group (and hence the size of the room) also plays a factor in how expensive a noraebang is. The cost is usually split amongst a group of people, so the price is no big deal.

Now, remember, this is Korea. So unless you burn the place down, they’re going to give you “service” of 20 minutes or so. Sometimes, as your time grows short, you might want to sneak out and ask for service, but usually they do it without asking for it. Sometimes, the service seems to go on forever and you endup the next morning at 6 a.m. wondering how you were able to sing the entire night.

Yes, you can usually sneak booze into a noraebang without any trouble. But be careful, sometimes they check and you can get in trouble.

Well, enjoy your noraebang experience. Just remember to find a Ziller one and sing a Radiohead song for me.

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Migukin has been in the newspaper business off and on for about 15 years. He lived in South Korea for about 5 years total. He co-founded ROKon Magazine in Seoul, South Korea several years ago. He currently is a freelance writer and photographer living in the Richmond, Virginia area. You can read his personal Website at migukin.wordpress.com.

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