This first week in Korea has been one for the ages. Our orientation group has explored Seoul in our downtime and enjoyed one of the most Korean of activities: the karaoke singing room called noraebang. It was a night of revelry and mirth, one no one shall forget for a long time. This experience is far different from karaoke in the States. But before I get in on that, I must tell you about something else that is just as surprising…
While toilets in South Korea are generally a mixed bag, we’ve discovered the wonders of the bidet in our guest apartment. Let me explain myself.
Forget Western Toilets: Join the Flush of the Future
At first, I couldn’t understand what the buttons did. But a careful glance at the minimalist pictures might give you an idea. I never thought there’d be a day I’d have to google the buttons on my toilet, but this was a week of firsts. Luckily for me, many foreigners seemed mystified by The Apparatus on the toilet too. Here’s your 411 on the bidet: In many European establishments and houses, it’s typically another bowl that one uses to “cleanse” oneself after having purged the evil from one’s body. Here, it’s an appliance that attaches to the commode.
So I’ll get right to the point: After doing the deed, you push that third blue button (yes, the one with a butt). A fountain deploys from underneath you, sending a slightly surprising (every damn time!) burst of water into your secret place. At first, you’ll be dismayed. Then, confused. But at last, you’ll wonder why you’ve never done this before. Maybe this is TMI, but hey, I didn’t know it’d be that easy to convert me, and I’ve converted.
This isn’t to say that all toilets in Korea are wonderful. The bathroom situation here is different from America. Notice that a small trash receptacle sits by the toilet. That is for used toilet paper. While toilets in newer areas don’t require these, older parts of town still have outdated plumbing systems. And if you try to use the restroom out and about, you may find yourself face to face with a squatter. (It’s just as terrifying as it sounds.) Well, we’re here for new experiences, right? But ah, for the main attraction…
Karaoke Singing Rooms: What’s Noraebang like?
On Saturday, one of our friends decided it was time we learned what Koreans did in their nonexistent free-time. Literally translated, norae means sing and bang means room. It is so much better than karaoke in the United States. As a few veterans of Korea were in the group, we decided to go to a place near Hoegi Station called Avenuel to sing campy American pop music in an embarrassing manner in front of each other. What better way to solidify the ties we’ve made this past week?
I’ll describe the set up. You’re led into a room that’s roughly 10-by-10 with couches, disco lights, and a TV hooked up to a karaoke system. You can pay for however many hours and pick song after song. Here’s the thing: It plays the most random videos with the words overlaid. We watched people cook while singing. We watched cartoons dance during “Single Ladies.” Even travel documentaries showed up. It made no sense. It just was. And you accepted it. And then you sang, sang, and sang. After almost an hour, I noticed our time left had doubled. When we got back down to 26 minutes or so, it doubled again. And again. Apparently they thought we sounded so good that we deserved extra time! (Disclaimer: Before I get too smug, I hear this is a thing that actually happens a lot. But I’ll believe my version.)
Who can blame them though; we sang from some amazing selections.
Someone Bring Noraebang to America, Stat
For instance, what’s funnier than watching these girls rap or turn a song into spoken word? Later, we sang the duet to “A Whole New World” and lost ourselves as we sang Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” To say it was a bit much is an understatement, but it was such fun. So I must ask: Why is this not in America? Why do people subject themselves to awful karaoke bars when a simple, more elegant solution rests in the noraebang, where friends can sing in relative privacy while drinking? America’s a great market for this. Work on it, people. Make it happen. At a certain point, someone brought in carbonated drinks. 밀키스 (or Milkis) is a drink that tastes something like either a Cream Soda or a Root Beer Float, and it is divine. I never imagined carbonated milk sodas tasting good.
So much more could be said about these that I must cover it at a later time. Heard of coin noraebang for instance? And what about those rumors of seedier establishments? Not all noraebangs seem to play by the same rules! Either way, we definitely plan to return.
To hear about our other weekend plans, take a moment to read my next blog!
What About You?
Have you ever sung karaoke in a bar in the States or gone to a noraebang in Korea? How would you compare it to what I mentioned above? I’d love to hear your thoughts! I’ve always thought that karaoke bars in the US were fun, but you meet the strangest people! Anyway, till next time all!