Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'll have what she's having.

There are lots of interesting things in Korea; so many in fact that after a while here everything seems rather normal and you stop noticing it. One of the favorite things to do here that at first seems bizarre but later just seems par for the course is the nori-bong. Nori-bong literally translates to singing room and it is a favorite drinking and sober pastime for many.

I’m a fan of the nori-bong regardless of my state of intoxication. The first time I went to a nori-bong was at my first school here. We went just after world cup soccer had happened to celebrate the leaving of Korea of someone who would become one of my best friends. We sat in that basement bong and belted out tunes for at least two hours.

The bong had a spinning strobe light, a big silver disco ball and a wall with a t.v. set it in so you could do your music karaoke style. It’s like karaoke but only on a small scale with friends. Inside while we sang we had beer and soju brought to us along with lots of anjou. Anjou is Korean for side dishes which typically include peanuts, dried fish, and squid. We ate our anjou sang our hearts out and had a great time. When you sing well you get points splattered across the board and can score anywhere from 0 to 100.

It’s a big challenge to go into the nori room and sing and manage to score 100 points. The microphones are wiggy and give your voice a strange echo. The music is elevator remixes of your favorite songs. The couches cover a whole wall and there are tambourines so your backup singers can keep a beat. In most bongs there are two microphones so you can have two singers at any one time. I’m not bad at the nori-bong and have scored a few hundreds in my time.

There was a bong I used to go to over in the other side of town that was really odd. Outside they had life sized replicas of Aliens from the movies of the same name. It was creepy to enter and you went into the basement down a long cold flight of stairs. The walls all the way down covered with plaster re-creations straight out of something by H.R. Giger. The room was cold and shallow. When you piled in with your crowd of people you were surrounded on all sides by the exploding angry humanoid exoskeletons bearing double sets of teeth.

It’s sort of a wild thing to be surrounded by when you are singing Shiny Happy People, but appropriate for things like What’s Going On.

Like many things in Korea a nori-bong is a cheap way to have a good time. Generally renting a room at a little bong will cost you about seven dollars and hour and you can pack in as many people as you can fit in the room. The bigger the party of people the larger the room, and the more surreal things can get. Something fun always happens at the nori-bong.

One of the features of the nori-bong used as a promotional tool is broadcasting singers into the streets so you can listen as you walk by and decided whether or not to go rent a room. I suppose the philosophy is you will hear someone singing and with your party everyone will agree that you can do a better job and down (or up) the stairs you will go and you will sing your heart out. The poor sap that is being broadcast into the street however does not usually have any idea that they are singing prime-time for the crowds of people walking by in the evening.

Evenings like tonight.

I walk after a quiet coffee with my friend Monolycus down the streets of Korea. It’s a bit chilly in the air as we walk. We are on a quiet side street and had paused a moment in our chatter when suddenly we heard what can only be described as the sounds of a woman in the throws of ecstasy. Either that or someone watching porno with the sound turned up full volume. I stop and as soon as I do so does Mono and we both look up and at the same minute the moaning girl is cut off, a rather cruel coitus interuptus for the listening audience.

“Was that…” I start.

“I think it was.”

“It was right?”



“No idea.”

I look up and notice the sign in Korean. Nori-bong. I look at the sign and look at Wolf.

“I think…”

“Oh, yep, that was exactly what it was.”

“Man, you think they would screen those rooms before they start broadcasting it into the streets.”

“I think I need a cigarette.”

“I think they are going to need one too.” We walk down the streets and shake our heads laughing.

Nori-bongs, aside form being fun places to get your groove on, also occasionally pass as cheap rooms for college students with curfews.

1 comment:

linda said...

The first line of this post might just be the greatest summing up of Korea ever.