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Amateur Night in Korea

 

Koreans sing their hearts out! A very popular business in Korea is a nore bang. “Nore bang” is translated literally “song room.” You can find these businesses everywhere in Korea! If you ask someone what they did for fun over a holiday, they often say “We went to the nore bang.” They are on almost every street in Seoul, and if you go to the country towns, they are there too. You can rent small rooms for just you and your friends to enter and sing karaoke for the night. You don’t have to go to a restaurant or bar and sing in front of a lot of strangers. The only people who hear you are your friends. On election day, my daughter had the day off, and my daughter, Hanul, and I decided to go to the nore bang.

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The sign on the door of the Song Practice Room.

The place we went is not actually called a nore bang, but a nore yongsub jang or nore yongsub shil. It is the same thing, but it is cheaper, and you are less likely to run into drunkards. My first year in Korea, all the teachers from my school went out to eat together. After the dinner, some of them were trying to get everyone to go to the nore bang together, but my teacher friends were telling me that the ones going were drunk, so I didn’t want to go with them. At that point, I had a bad impression of nore bangs, but I later learned that yes, there are some where drunk people go, but if you choose the right one, there are no drunk people, but even kids. I have been to the nore bang since with several preachers and Bible professors. Nore bangs are respectable places, but there could be bad people no matter where you go, but we have never run into any drunkard or other bad person at a nore bang. A nore yongsub jang is a “singing practice room,” but it is the same thing as a nore bang, and you will find more kids there, so there is no chance of running into drunkards, and nore yongsub jangs are cheaper than nore bangs. When they asked me to sing “Amazing Grace” in front of chapel at Korea Christian University, I went to the nore bang and practiced before I ever got up in front of the other professors to sing. When I tried out to sing in a musical here, I went to the nore bang to practice first. It is just a singing place that is designed for fun.

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The streets are narrow with people walking down the middle of the street and cars parked along the street, and it makes it really hard not to hit someone or something.

Hanul likes to go to the nore yongsub shil close to her house where she has been going her whole life, so we agree to go to the one she likes. The streets are extremely narrow, and I have to go slow not to hit cars parked along the road or people walking through the streets. We finally get a parking space, but it isn’t easy.

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The ceiling over the stairs going down into the basement.
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The main desk inside the front door
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The hallway with several singing rooms

For some reason, most nore bangs or nore yongsub jangs or nore yongsubshils are in the basement. Some are on upper floors, but this one is in the basement. There are fancier ones and bigger ones than this one, but Hanul likes this one, so we go there with her. As we enter, there is a front desk as with all nore bangs. If you look down the hallway, each room has a number, and we are assigned room number 3.

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Our room for the evening is number 3.
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The Table in the Middle of Our Room
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the karaoke machine in our room
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My daughter bought us all something to drink.
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the microphones, karaoke machine controller, and a book full of song titles and their numbers

As we go into our room, I smell a disinfectant. At times, we have gone to a nore bang and asked to change rooms because someone smoked in our room before we got there, and none of us like the smell of smoke, and it bothers our throats if someone has been smoking in the room before we got there. Someone could have been smoking in ours before we got there, but the owner had cleaned it, so I wasn’t sure. If I thought for sure they had, I would have asked for a different room. On the table in the middle of the room, there are microphones to sing into, covers for the microphones to make them cleaner, a controller for the karaoke machine, and a book where you can find your song and the number to enter into the controller to get your song to come up on the Karaoke machine. These books have sections of Korean songs, English songs, Japanese songs, Chinese songs, and Russian songs. My daughter was smart from the beginning because she supplied us all with something to drink knowing we would need it.

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Songs are listed in the book with the number next to them you need to press on the controller.

Hanul singing the song from “Secret Garden,” a popular Korean TV show. It ended up a duet between Hanul and my daughter.

Amateur night

 

Hanul grew up going to nore bangs, nore yongsub jangs, and yongsub shils,  and she is an extremely good singer, but she is too shy to sing professionally. The first time I picked up a microphone to sing in one of these places, my knees wobbled because my nerves had a hard time adapting, but eventually, I made it. I have been with lots of friends who are really good at singing and love to give me hints on how to do better, and I listen to everything they have to say and try to do it. The first time my daughter picked up one of these microphones, she was so scared not only were her knees wobbling, but you couldn’t hear her. She has come a long way since then. We are all amateurs, but we just keep trying and enjoying ourselves.

She is sincerely having fun!
Between the songs, occasionally, we can hear singers from other rooms. Some sound really good. Some sound like someone is trying to kill a cat.

 

This is the Romanian song, “Dragostei din Tei.” Someone else decided to help me at the beginning,

 
We sang for several hours. We sang in several languages. Hanul speaks English as well as she does Korean and doesn’t shy away from singing songs in English. My daughter speaks Korean better than any foreigner around, and she also sings Korean songs. As for me, there is one Romanian song that is always at every nore bang, and I always sing it. I am fluent in Romanian, and my Romanian friends like to hear me sing it. My Korean friends like me to sing it too because they recognize it as a popular song that was translated into Korean. My kids began me singing it, and they like to hear me sing it too. A fat American guy made it popular on You tube a few years ago by lip singing it and dancing, and everyone calls him the “Numa numa guy.” He became rich because of being silly on You tube. The Name of the song is actually “Dragostea din Tei.” The beginning of the song is really silly and means nothing, but the gist of the song is a guy trying to get a girl to talk to him on the telephone. I also sing in English, French, Spanish, and some Korean. I speak some Japanese, but I don’t know any of the Japanese songs they have at the nore bang. I love to sing in several languages as well as sing downright silly songs, and the Romanian song I sing is downright silly.

This lady sincerely has talent!
At one point, Hanul begins singing a song in Korean that I recognize and like. It is from a very popular Korean television series that my daughter and I watched and really enjoyed called “Secret Garden.” It is kind of a Korean Cinderella story about a rich guy from one of Korea’s big companies who falls in love with a poor girl, drives her crazy, but eventually wins her over. I recorded Hanul singing it, and half way through the song, I realized she wasn’t singing alone, but my daughter was singing a duet with her.
There are so many different selections among the songs. I always sing songs my parents listened to when I was growing up as well as songs that were popular when I was in high school. Sometimes, I know the newer songs and sing them too. I took a video of some of the songs we were singing for you to see what we were doing, but just videoed parts of some of them. The words were always on the screen. We sang our hearts out like we always do when we come to a place like this. After a bit, my voice began giving out. I was singing “Indian Reservation,” a song I like to include because of my heritage. My daughter was filming me, and I thought she might stop because I pointed to my throat, but she just kept filming. After the song, I had finished all my water already, so I went to get more water to help my throat, and the guy at the front desk gave me a bottle of water for free.

I decided to just sit listening and drinking my water for a while and let my daughter and Hanul sing. I kept hoping my throat would come back to me and I could sing again. Hanul’s voice begins breaking too, but she refuses to give up. They just keep singing and singing, and the time we had paid for was over, but the owner decides to give us what the Koreans call “service.” Many Korean business owners try to give extra to the customers they like. Often times at a nore bang, the owner will give you extra time to sing. This owner just kept giving us more and more time. Finally, I decide to try to sing again and get up to sing “Hotel California,” but half way through, I realize my voice is beginning to give out again, so I hand the microphone to Hanul and the other to my daughter, and they finish the song as a duet. My phone is out of space, so I can’t take any more pictures or videos. Soon, we realize the owner could just keep giving us service all night, but it is getting later and later, so we decide we are tired, so it is time to go.

 

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At the end of each song, the machine rated us on how well we did. We rated in the 80-100% bracket all evening, and this is one from my daughter.

We had a good time. None of us are professionals, but we were able to stand up and sing with a microphone in a private room where we didn’t have to worry about who was watching us and have a really good time! We have all gained confidence since beginning to sing at the nore bang. I have often thought it would be a good business for America, but someone would have to teach Americans because they would all think they couldn’t in the beginning. You just have to get used to it, and you can have a blast!

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