Why Korean karaoke (노래방) is the best.

Karaoke, or “noraebang” as it is called in Korea, is an extremely popular pastime in almost every city or town across the country, and is truly one of my favourites.

It differs to American or European style karaoke, where one would get up in front of a crowded bar with a group or friends, completely plastered and scream out the lyrics to one of a small selection of 90s hits. This, in my opinion, is not fun, and certainly not enjoyable to watch. Karaoke done Korean style, on the other hand, is a private room, perfectly sized to the number of members in your group (as small as 1, sometimes as big as 15).

Each noraebang differs from the other (in Seoul there are generally at least 2 on every street throughout the city): some are fancy, some are crusty; prices can be laughably low or stupidly high. Some even come with “helpers” – to help you sing and Have Good Time! (These ones can apparently be recognised by pictures of women on the outside.)

The best one that I ever went to was a large room that could fit about 10 people. Inside there we 3 ornate sofas and a large glass table. There was one huge flat screen on the main wall and about 4 other small screens on the side walls. At the back of the room was a staircase leading up to a mezzanine level – this came in very handy when me and my 2 girl friends sang Girls Just Want To Have Fun by Cindy Lauper, as we entertained the other members of our group below us. The selection of songs was unbelievable, with a large section of international artists as well as Korean, Japanese and Chinese. There was a set of tambourines and even a drum kit. All around were funky multi-coloured lights and neon walls to give that “disco” feel. Inside we could drink, we could smoke, we could eat snacks – the perfect night out!

If singing isn’t your thing, it’s still worth going even for the experience. More than this, it is an experience in itself just seeing the hysterical videos that the noraebang companies put alongside the lyrics on the big screens. Some are pleasant scenes of exotic locations from around the world. Others are music videos from washed-out Asian artists of the 80s and 90s. But the best the are the cheaply made “dramas”. Here is a typical example:

A man is driving in the rain and swerves across the road to his death. His girlfriend rushes to the hospital and falls to the floor in despair. After several days of walking in the rain she collapses as a good-looking man on a motorbike rides past. Next scene: she wakes up on a couch with a blanket covering her, and the man making her warm tea. They fall in love and share happy moments of walking in the park and eating noodles together, having completely forgotten the previous boyfriend.

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Seoul Subway Guidelines

Things to expect when using the Seoul subway system: getting lost, confused, angry, and amazed; getting hit in the sides and head by backpacks and handbags; being stared at as if in the zoo; receiving bruises; and so much more. Thus, there are some guidelines that should be followed if you want to survive a trip from Jamsil to Hongdae.

  1. Now, it’s not that the Seoul system is particularly overcrowded. On the contrary, it is relatively spacious compared to the London Underground, or the Tokyo system, which even hires people to shove the crowds compactly into the train. So, most of the time you will be able to get onto the train. But it is the survival of the fittest when it comes to grabbing a seat, and the fittest in this context are generally the “ajumas” (old ladies). They will literally push you aside, step on your toes, grab your arm and pull you away, or even beat you off a seat that you have managed to find.

Daffy Duck disguised as an old Korean lady.

So, in this situation the best thing to do would be to assess the platform before the train even arrives. Make sure you stand next to a carriage door that does not have a disabled sign pointing towards it on the ground – this is where the ajumas and ajoshies (old men) go to take advantage of the seats reserved for the disabled, elderly, and those with children. Also make sure that, if the platform is busy, that there are no old people standing in your queue for the carriage door. If there are, you better head further down and find another point. As a warning, this becomes increasingly difficult on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

  1. Making transfers can be a hellish thing. Crowds of people walking in separate directions with no demarcation between left and right lanes (you are meant to keep to the right). You’ll get the few people in particular hurries walking straight into you, or the stray foreigners wondering bemused and getting in everyone’s way (many of us have been there too).

In this situation you have to plan ahead. Take a look at what is coming up in front of you – it is easy to pick out the ones in hurries and the bemused. It is also possible to pick out the slow-movers, the ones absent-mindedly talking on cell phones, and the children crab-walking away from their parents. All these are necessary things to take into account as you work out the perfect route between or away from these people. To improve this skill even further, take up some dancing lessons – it will teach you to be quick and light-footed.

  1. If you are of a foreign appearance (i.e. non-Asian), it is a fact – you will get stared at. Mostly by our old friends, the ajumahs and ajoshies. Sadly, there is little one can do about this. Staring back at them hardly deters them.

    So, either you can ignore them. Or you can entertain them! Speaking to a friend on the phone in English is a good one. If the “starer” can see your phone (i.e. is sitting/standing next to you) you could send a text, or watch some English videos on Youtube (for those fortunate enough to have smart phones). Then have a look at their fascination in you, as if watching a trained monkey! ^^

  2. Finally, do not assume that the other people on the subway cannot speak English. Yes, Korea is quite a homogenous society, and English is not their first language, but as most of the expats living in Korea will know (a large majority of them being English teachers), the importance on the English language here is vast. Most people under the age of 60 are learning or have learned the language at some stage in their life.

So, once again, do not assume that the people on the train cannot understand English. Certain topics – let’s say for example, oh, the sizes of Korean men’s’ members – should be kept for the privacy of your own homes and not the public arena.

Index finger to thumb is a good size guestimation.

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Kpop – Life don’t get better

Miracle SJ Miracle – Super Junior

OK, a fair bit of an oldie but f*ck me is it a goodie! This has to be one of THE MOST EPIC music video’s I’ve ever seen in my life! It’s got it all; Forced smiles, naff clothing, up-beat lyrics, the chorus repeat with an octave raise, not to mention all the cringy cringy gay gay. Who couldn’t love this music video?!

Bullshit Intro

Miracle opens up in the regular Kpop music video fashion with a long-winded intro that has no relevance towards anything! The band group-huddle in what looks like a dance rehearsal studio, probably discussing if they’re all there. Super Junior at the time had 13 band members. THIRTEEN! For our benefit the conversation is sped up double speed to a reduced length of 25 seconds of bullshit. That’s 1.9 seconds per band member.

Story

Super Junior are all hanging around, the majority of them glum. A couple of the members walk amongst the down trodden and with the power of song they change their despair into pure joy. The forced smiling is infectious and they collectively announce their new-found optimism by singing “Life can’t get better!”.

Location change and we see a legion of home-made-sign-holding-fans. Super Junior push their way through the crowd (that seem to be there just to poke the band with their signs), and onto their tour bus. While on the bus, Super Junior show their cute/prepubescent side by playing with stuffed animals, each other and themselves (using the stuffed animals as visual aids). Fortunately the private stuff happens at the back of the bus while the rest of the band are at the front busy camera whoring themselves.

Then there’s a brief interlude where the dancing portion of the video becomes the focus of the lone fat guy in Super Junior – Shindong. [Incidentally if you type in Google “Why is there a fat”, it finishes your sentence with “guy in super junior” and the first link will bring you here. ^^]

In his feature display he shows his cute/goofy personality by dancing into a cowboy pose, making his hands into gun shapes while imaginarily shooting as the music goes “pew pew”, while another band member crawls out from in between Shindongs legs and shoots his own imaginary gun…. *Ahem* As if that wasn’t enough, IMMEDIATELY AFTER, in an apparent re-take Shindong gets down on his knees, bounces himself up and down on the floor while pulling back his jacket for the rest of the group to grope his very promonant breasts. Text book cringe moment.

Location change again. Some of the band go to the roof for a good ol’ night time sing while the rest f*ck around while their stylists work. Group huddle – this time it’s only a five second roll call, and then off to the ball with yee. The rest of the video is Super Junior at a concert dancing in front of their adoring under age fans, too young to show their faces as they were clearly there without parental consent.

Highlights

Naff hand me down fashion.  – Through out but especially 0:33

Forced Smiles – Through out but especially 0:58

Overly happy to be on the phone  – 0:46

Wanking stuffed animal into another guys face – 1:44

Cringe – 2:25

über Cringe – 2:50

Awesome face – 3:25

Conclusions

Miracle by Super Junior is definitely an all time classic. What it lacks in musical appeal it more than makes up for in balls to the wall cringe factor, sprinkled with the delicious aura of “They’re all gay… They just haven’t realised it yet.”

A+

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Happy Campers

Recently I went camping and was blown away by the Korean level of camping. Locations, services, weather, camper mentality was all pretty cool.

Not like Ireland… The Ireland camping scene is pretty shit. It’s just a big pile of dirty, smelly, unsafe, cold, grossness. Unless you’re at a music festival, in your twenties and are willing and ready to put up with crap to save monies, or you’re a Jippo, there’s no reason to camp in Ireland… ever.

In Korea, seems like if you have a family or some free time it’s the thing to do. Having seen how they do things, I say damn right!

What makes camping in Korea different? First of all they know how to camp the right way.

Step 1 – Fuck Nature!

I'll just blast "Sounds of Nature Vol.5" from my surround sound speakers.

Nothing like being one with nature and sleeping in the wilderness while the hydraulics on your car gently rock you to sleep.

Step 2 – I’m gonna have me some fun…

One time when I was 20, I was in the woods in Ireland with two mates. We walked till we got bored and then stood and did nothing. Then my best mate saw a plastic pint glass/cup on the ground and put it upside down on a wooden pole. Then he goes “Lets see if we can knock it over by throwing stones at it, so we stood about 15 meters away and threw stones at it for like 20 minutes till we knocked it off. – That’s called fun with nature in Ireland.

What do Koreans have?

I guess he got bored of throwing stones.

Nothing says countryside like fresh road kill. They got proper toys for the kids to go play with, unsupervised no less so everybody’s happy. So while little Kim Min Gyu (aka Johnny) goes and plays, what do the adults do?

.......obviously

One of the benefits of raising independent children; they don’t have to sit and wait for you to finish your drink. Also there’s something to munch on when they come back with roadkill.

Step 3 – Foresight.

There comes a point that when you immerse yourself into something new, the novelty wears off. “Ok. I’ve been out in the woods for several hours now… I know what a tree looks like, I just wish I could compare it to what trees look like in say.. Gears of War 3?” (There’s no trees in Gears of War 3 you say? Well I guess I’ll have so search harder!) The Koreans have this totally figured out.

I call this masterpiece, "Tent in a Tent with a TV".

Not only do they leave their TVs on with nobody watching (Just like home.), they got their smart phones, iPads, Kakao Talk. They’re never disconnected from their online lives. So when they’re done taking photos of the beautiful place they went to and get all the bragging rights of going there, they still get to do what they enjoy most on a daily basis.

Genius.

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