i think the thing i will miss most about korea when i leave has to be noraebangs. it is so much fun to go and sing with your friends. and it provides such a unique way to bond over music. you find out all the songs/musicians that you all love then you sing and dance to them together in a private room. we just spent three nights in busan over a long holiday weekend and we (my friends rachel, ceri and i) went noraebanging (yes, it is a verb. why not?) all three nights. it was amazing. each night was more fun than the last one.
the first night, our noraebang was on the top floor of a skyscraper across the street from the beach. the view was ridiculous, and we had a blast. that's when we decided to noraebang all three nights.
the second night, we got back to the busy beach area (haeundae) late (around 10) thanks to IN-SANE traffic. the, normally ten-minute) bus ride took about 2 hours because we were moving at a snail's pace. when we finally got back to haeundae, we ate dinner and tried to find a noraebang. this turned out to be more of an ordeal than we ever would have expected. mind you, there is no shortage of noraebangs in korea. there are probably at least a dozen within a 10 minute walk of my apartment in donghae.
the first one we tried was in the basement of a building and was rundown; had a bit of a stanley kubrick vibe. we started walking down the walkway and a guy popped out from around the corner making a huge "x" sign with his forearms (koreans use "x" to mean "no" a lot) and shouting that there weren't any free rooms. we turned around and walked out, happy to be rid of the place. next we tried to go back to the place we had been the previous night. again, all booked up. (note: koreans hardly ever take time off of work so on national holidays, the crowds can get out of hand since EVERY SINGLE PERSON in korea, including foreigners, only gets time off of work on the same handful of days.) we tried for a third, it was dingy as heck and cost 20,000 (about $20) won per hour. there are really nice noraebangs in donghae that are 15,000 for 2 hours. we walked out since the price seemed really outrageous, then tried a fourth next door. same price and this one looked terrible, too but we figured they all probably cost the same so we might as well just hand it over. this is what we get for trying to party in the popular beach neighborhood where all the foreigners go, right?
this was the worst noraebang i've ever been in. normally there is a big table and a booth that wraps around the corners so that it runs along at least two sides of the table. this noraebang was like a prison cell. it was really narrow and the the table was in the middle with one straight booth along each wall. noraebangs have huge binders with all the songs in them. they are always divided into sections by language, so the biggest section is korean, but there are japanese, thai and english sections too. the books at The Worst Noraebang Ever did not have an english section, they only had a small corner on every other page of the "pop" section that had 6-10 english language songs, and they weren't in any particular order. well, okay. i found one song and tried to punch it in. fucking remote didn't work! that was the last straw. thankfully, we managed to get our money back without too much hastle even though we had no clue how to explain our grievances in korean.
next we went and sat on the beach for a bit. some of us wanted to give up, but some of us hated the thought that we had sat in traffic for two hours only to eat pizza. we walked all the way back up the main drag looking for more noraebangs. we tried one or two more, but they were booked up. seriously insane! by this point, we had been activiely trying to find a noraebang for about 2 hours. not exaggerating. it was now past midnight. we decided to just head back to the area where we were staying (a fishing village-like area of busan) and find a noraebang there. we tried to flag down a cab for about 10 minutes with no success. somehow we ended up on the corner of the next street over that runs parallel to the main drag. we saw a noraebang sign from the corner and decided to give that one a go.
what a difference it made just getting off of the main street!! this noraebang was awesome. it was roomy and nice, the owner was really nice and there were loads of songs we love... AND it was $5 cheaper per hour than all of the places on the main street!! how that night turned around once we found that place.
on the third day, we decided to stay out all day to avoid the traffic as much as we could. we went to nampo and walked through the insane, sprawling outdoor markets.
best purchases of the day:
"beauty masks" like this are ubiquitous in korea. they sell them on every street corner, only normally they are a bit more... sane? like "cucumber" or "aloe"... and don't normally contain the word "venom." the snake venom one is truly terrifying to me. just the snake scale border and the weird thing in the upper lefthand corner that looks like a model of a molecule... to show how "scientific" it is, obviously. the diamond one made us think of this:
seriously, the way that rihanna sings the line "shine bright like a diamond" is truly iconic. we spent the rest of the day doing our best rihanna impersonations and singing this line to each other. we decided that if they had it at the noraebang, we would have to sing it and wear the masks. this was mostly a joke since noraebangs rarely have songs that new.
flashforward to later that night at the same Magical Noraebang as we were at the previous night. the first thing i did when we got in was to scan the english section for "diamonds." no dice. disappointed, but we got on with the night by singing such noraebang classics as "like a g6" by far east movement, "we r who we r" by ke$ha and "firework" by katy perry.*
at some point it occured to me to check the korean "pop" section to see if it had a few english language songs in the corners like at the horrible noraebang. BINGO!
*there is a science to finding a good noraebang song... 1) it has to be upbeat (in both meanings: energetic and positive) 2) it should be popular enough so that at least two people in the room know it and 3) the lyrics have to be sung slow enough to keep up. the last one is trickier than you'd think. if you've just listened to a song a lot but never tried to sing the whole thing, you have no idea how hard it is to sing. even though i LOVE lady gaga, she is banned from the noraebang because all her songs are too hard to sing.... guess what is the world's most perfect noraebang song?? (hint: it shines pretty bright!) also, bonus points if the song is about partying and having fun because that's what noraebangs are all about.