Ode to the Noraebong
The sky is dark and the stars are out, though they can’t be seen through the haze of neon bright lights that blanket the city. Young girls in heels and young boys in their blazers are out and about with twinkles in their eyes. Businessmen in suits have wrapped up work, though they’re still with bosses and coworkers getting a bite to eat with the required soju shot or ten to be drunk. People are wandering the streets in search of the fun to be had. Should we find the nearest bar? Where is the nearest restaurant? Who knows the best street food vendor in the area? Does the makkoli man make it to this neighborhood? What time does he usually arrive?
It doesn’t matter where you be; in Seoul, outside of Seoul, in Hongdae or otherwise, there’s always a noraebong nearby beckoning those that pass with loud songs and bright signs.
A quiet neighborhood it may seem until you step in just the right place to hear the students inside the basement of the building you’re passing singing loudly. Even the poshest of areas can’t get by without a noraebong in a basement.
It’s a place for the young. It’s a place for the old. It’s a place for those that can only speak Korean as well as for those that can only speak English, Japanese, Spanish or Chinese.
It’s a place for those in their heels or those in their suits or those in the parkas or sweatshirts they tossed on five minutes ago. It’s a place for friends. It’s a place for coworkers. It’s a place for people that have just met. It’s a place for those that only like 80s Madonna or 90s Madonna or 2000s Madonna. K-Pop, rap, ballads and oldies. Pages and pages of songs. Some songs you will know and some songs you will not. It’s a place that welcomes all and in you should go.
You’ve come to the right place to make some noise with your friends, your coworkers, or even by yourself. The noraebong is always ready to please. Some people enter with a list of their favorite songs and the numbers already made so that every minute inside is used to the fullest with song after song cued up. Some people enter unsure what awaits or if those in the group like to sing as much as they do. Should we go straight 90s? Will everyone know the tunes? Are you a soprano? Can you even sing? Can I sing? Will you laugh at me when I sing? Though these questions seem like good ones, they aren’t necessary.
It doesn’t matter here. Whether you’re a soprano or an alto, whether you can carry a tune or not, no one makes it out without singing at least one song. A bonus to the noraebong though, unlike karaoke bars back home, is that they’re private and only those that you’ve gone in with will be privy to your singing aptitude. There will be laughs, there will be tambourines, there will be mikes that echo. There will be songs you thought you knew but in fact don’t and typos in lyrics. There will be moments when you can’t remember who sings one of your favorite songs. Do not let this things hold you back though, for a night out with a noraebong for a stop is sure to leave throats dry and scratchy and will bring smiles to the lips of those that attended the next day upon waking. Remember when you sang…?
If a month or a few has passed you by without a visit to a noraebong that sits nearby, grab some friends or go alone to belt out the songs you love. This is my ode to one of my favorite activities in Korea. My ode to the noraebong.