Do You Sing? Let’s Nolaebang in South Korea?

Nolabang or karaoke in South Korea

You’re having a great time already and a few of your friends ask you to go to Nolaebang with them. Sure, let’s go. You should know Nolaebang is not the name of their favorite bar, it’s the name of all the bars where they sell beer only to get you to sing and buy more beer. So do you nolaebang?

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Do You Nolaebang?

Nolaebang is the Korean karaoke bar and they are just as common as the coffee shops and make-up stores found all over South Korea. Most Internet posts translate it as noraebang, however, my translate app on the phone does not recognize noraebang and translated Korean karaoke as nolaebang.  노래방, is broken down as norae (song) and bang (room). My friend Misun also confirmed the translation as nolaebang, so I’m not sure why there are so many articles about noraebang. Maybe you know something I don’t know?

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Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Morgan Humphreys

I learned a Couple of Things Last Night

Unlike American karaoke where you get up on a stage in front of a room full of strangers. Nolaebang is sung in private karaoke rooms in front of your friends. I’m not sure which is worse. At least you’ll never see the strangers again.

We don’t have to venture far to sing. Because we have a nolaebang on our street. And we pass by it almost every day. However, we had never gone in. Until last night. We opened the door to find two short flights of stairs down where I was met and surprised by the owner. Sunny was the only person in our group who spoke Hangul. As a result, she negotiated a discount for both the private room and beers.

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Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Morgan Humphreys

 So How Do They Work

Rooms are rented by the hour and can easily range in price based on size and location. We were led into a large room that could easily accommodate our party of 9. The room normally rented for 50,000 Won per hour, but we received a discount and ended up paying 30,000 Won and 4,000 Won for the Hite Beers.  Don’t look for that beer outside of Korea, you probably won’t find it and if you did, you’d drink something else anyway. You might as well drink water… but I digress.

There’s were two large wall-mounted flat-screen TVs, a karaoke machine, a long table and sofas, and moveable ottomans all around it. Two large books full of songs in both Hangul and English sat atop the table next to that large remote for the karaoke machine. There was a bathroom off to the side, where the owner said was for “ladies only”. The guys had to use another one outside the room which was described as a hole in the floor. A minute later, the beers and a few snacks were placed on the table–the door shut firmly behind him. Not sure if it was for our privacy or his sanity.

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Singing All Night

The first hour went quickly. We took turns holding one of three cordless microphones. As the words to popular American classics songs scroll across the screen. The words seemed to come fast and we all struggled to keep up with songs we were very familiar with. And that is where the real appeal of Korean nolaebang begins. When I wasn’t singling, I provided backup to my friends.

The second hour went by just as fast the first, if not faster. By consensus, we rented the room for another hour, drank a few more beers, and had a great time. I spent the last half hour trying to remember some of my favorite songs, even looking for a Beyonce song as a tribute to my daughter (her biggest fan), but I forgot my glasses in my other purse. Here is a list of the 50 greatest karaoke songs according to Time Out New York.

Do you agree or disagree with their list? We ended up splitting the tip, each person contributing 11,000 Won to the night’s entertainment and the pledging that what happened in Nolaebang, stays in Nolaebang.

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  1. Veronika

    In Korean the “ㄹ” can sound like an “r” or “l” — It can be somewhat interchangeable — usually at the beginning of a word, “ㄹ” sounds more like “r” and at the end of the word it sounds more like “l,” kind of like how daegu is/was also referred to as taegu.

    I’m still learning the language, and am often confused!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Veronica, confused doesn’t touch how I feel dome days. I have Korean friends who come to Daegu and get the same “huh” from the locals because the language is not only based on sounds but those sounds also have regional accents. I am stubborn and I refuse to give in yet!! Thanks for stopping by and make sure you either subscribe or come back often.

  2. Carol

    Sounds like a great way to spend an evening. I would have loved to see a video of the experience. And what is the exchange rate of won?

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