Noraebangs and Tambourines

Last weekend a friend who is stationed in Japan right now came to Seoul for the weekend with some others.  We met up, had dinner at Korean BBQ, got some drinks, went to a jazz club (was okay), and then ended our night with a bang at a noraebang.  For those of you who aren’t enlightened, a noraebang (노래방) translates to singing-room, but basically is a karaoke place with private rooms that are open all hours of the night.  It’s not just going to a regular karaoke room that has an extra microphone.  These noraebangs feature several plasma flat screen tvs, different sized rooms depending on your party, great sound systems, food/drinks (at some you’re allowed to bring in stuff), sofas, tables, and most importantly… light-up tambourines!  I never knew that I would love on a tambourine so much, but get some soju in me and I won’t lay off it all night!  Case in point-

 We had several Koreans with us who sang Korean songs, but the Japanese and English song selection wasn’t bad at all.  In fact, there were a lot of newer songs to choose from.  Some of the shadier looking noraebangs, or ones out in more rural areas unfortunately don’t have all the new hits.  Anyway, you can rent out rooms by the hour and is a pretty inexpensive way to spend an evening with friends.  There are some nicer noraebangs that are decorated in themes too.  Nice plush couches and more have a hotel like feel in the rooms.

I hear there are noraebang busses that travel throughout Korea.  That would be a pretty fun way to get to some of the distant cities.  Wonder if the driver ever partakes in the fun.

Just an FYI, there are other types of ‘bangs’ (pronounce the “a” like “ah”) besides the noraebang.   There are PC bangs for playing computer games or surfing the web and also DVD bangs were people go to watch movies (sometimes some scandalous happenings go on there).  Several of each of these can be found in virtually every neighborhood here in Korea.  However the noraebang is by far my favorite.

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Throwing Money in Someone’s Face

So life in Korea isn’t always rosy.  Actually daily living seems a lot more difficult for me here (probably because my commute is so long) but that’s not the hard part.  It’s the little things.  I knew that the language would be different, food would be different, etc.  But I miss little things like having personal space on public transportation, grass, diversity of people, and other stuff. 

I got into a little bit of drama earlier this week though.  A friend and I went shopping in the underground cheap shopping mall area at Express Bus Terminal station.  Basically it’s a bunch of cheap stuff at tons of different stalls.  You could really shop down there for hours.  Our plan was to leave after work, then get a few summer tops, since the weather is already getting quite a bit warmer, then head home.  In the middle of our shopping experience we hit a big of a snag. While looking through one particular rack of clothes, my friend was standing near this crochet shrug on a mannequin, which had a string hanging down from it.  More like a big thread, one of the crochet things or whatever you call it came loose.  But then she got her bracelet caught on it.  I quickly and surreptitiously tried to yank the string off her bracelet, but it was proving to be difficult without further pulling the string from the shirt.  Of course one of the ladies working there sees us breaking it free from her bracelet and begins to chew us out in Korean.  Now, I understood every single word this lady was saying to us, but I thought it best under the circumstances to act ignorant and pretend that I didn’t know any Korean.  My friend is blonde so she probably just assumed neither of us understood any Korean.  Another girl who worked there was a little nicer, but the main girl yelling was incredibly rude saying that we ruined the shirt, how can she sell it, she has to buy it, etc.  I was hoping that our not ‘understanding’ Korean would be in our favor, but this chick was not letting us leave without a fight.

At this point, one really has only a few options.  One is to run (which really was not an option to either of us), two is to just pay her for the shirt (which my friend really didn’t want to do because it really wasn’t her fault), and three come up with some other solution, maybe split the difference?  Anyway after my friend and the lady started arguing some more a huge crowd of Korean women- shoppers and other shop keepers, started to gather around us.  Just great.  Other people whose English was not very good at all tried to explain to us what the girl was yelling, but I think anyone could understand even if you didn’t speak Korean.  She wanted 10,000 won for the shirt, which really is nothing at all, only $10.  But it was the principle of the matter.  How could she make her pay for a shirt that was already fraying and then  blame it on us.  In the end my friend had had enough and threw a 10,000 won bill in the girl’s face (I’ve secretly always wanted to do that).  We immediately turned and left and that was the end of it.  The girl didn’t chase us down or yell at us anymore.  She was happy because she only cared about the money.  We tried not to let that event ruin the rest of our shopping experience.

The next day my friend said that she felt a little bad about throwing the money in the girl’s face and I just told her not to worry about it too much, it’s over and we can move on.  In the past she said she would have really blown up at the girl and just waited for the police, but we both knew why we shied away from that solution.  Since we were foreigners, the police pretty much would have taken the side of the shop owners.  It’s not to say they wouldn’t have listened, but I am 99% sure that’s how it would have ended.  We would have had to pay them anyway or been hauled down to a police station and in the end that’s not worth it over $10.  But I’m glad that we both got over it more quickly than we would have thought.  Especially myself, even though it wasn’t my bracelet that got caught, in the past I would have thought about the incident for days, perhaps a week or so and replay the event over and over in my head.  But the way that girl was acting was out of control.  It’s not like many people here, she was obviously having a bad day.  Maybe tired of having to work underground getting paid very little for watching shoppers and then having to go home and live with her overbearing mother.  With an attitude like hers, I’m sure she had a hard life.  And so, it was easier to forget.

So in the end, the moral of the story is- watch out for your jewelry while shopping.

Happy Birthday, Buddha

So this past Tuesday  was a vacation today for me- no work!  It was a national holiday too- Buddha’s birthday.  Although it seems there are just as many Christians as Buddhists in this country, everyone gets to partake in the celebration.  A month prior to today, streets all over Korea have lanterns hung up, which are nicely lit in the evenings. 

On Saturday, I went to the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul.  During this festival weekend there were dance and music performances, vendors selling various Buddhist related items (bracelets, lanterns, etc) and more.  I chose to attend on Saturday to see the 2.5 hour long parade which featured all kinds of big and small lanterns.  Here are some photos from the event.  I took a bunch at the night parade but am too lazy to put those up here.  Maybe I’ll stick them on picasa or a facebook link or something.  What do most of you people use, flickr?

Also, a friend of mine took some video with my iPhone.  I stuck it altogether really quick.  If you’re bored you can take a look at some of the paper and plastic lanterns.  In the parade are adults, kids, monks, and even some pets too.  My favorite lanterns are the peacock, the dragon, and the turtle ship.

Spoiled Kids on Children’s Day

Many of you perhaps celebrated Cinco de Mayo yesterday (the one kind of food I miss the most is Mexican, having a hard time finding it here).  Here in Korea, yesterday was a national holiday- Children’s Day.  It’s a pretty big deal for the kids, almost like a second Christmas.  Pretty much everyone gets the day off, which gives parents the opportunity to take the kids to a zoo, park, museum, amusement park, movie theatre, or some other funtastical place.  Children get showered with money, candy, gifts, not always just from parents, but extended relatives.  And then there are those kids who complain a little the next day to their friends because of their lack of ‘fun’ gifts (just like Christmas!).  I overheard an eight year old whining to a friend how that all she got was a book.  Spoiled kids!

This coming Sunday is also Parent’s Day (same day as Mother’s Day in the U.S.) but I don’t think they may it quite as big of a deal as Children’s Day.  The reason why Children’s Day came about is probably explained by this quote from a 1951 Time Magazine article:

“Some 30 years ago, in the days of Japanese rule, the elders of Korea saw no hope of freedom for themselves. But their children, they felt, might be more fortunate. They began to observe May 5 as Children’s Day. Last week battered Seoul celebrated Children’s Day with a parade by the police, who marched 600 strong behind a brass band and a huge placard: ‘Children Are the Nation’s Flower.’

“The nation’s flowers emerged from caves and broken buildings. Beside the budding, shrapnel-scarred elms along the streets, they watched. Now & then a youngster clapped or smiled, but mostly they stood with wooden faces, like tired old people who have found life very hard and who take little joy in parades.”

The article noted that the band avoided the South Gate and the bombed Seoul Station where “the abandoned, the homeless, [and] the orphans prowled restlessly, begging, stealing, conniving to stay alive.” It ended by noting that the police handed out small packets of candy and food to the children, and those with parents then went on long happy walks, while those who were orphaned by the war and “had no parents to take them home melted back into their caves and cellars.”

This year, even Hillary Clinton sent best wishes for the holiday:

“Press Statement

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 3, 2011

On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I am delighted to send best wishes to the children of Korea on Children’s Day this May 5.

On my visit to Korea last month I saw the promise of Korea’s future. Korea’s investment in education has given countless children opportunities and experiences considered impossible only a generation ago. The unique perspectives that your children now carry with them help cement our partnership for years to come.

We all share the responsibility to give our children a world that is cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous than the one we inherited. On this special day, as we reflect on the future of our children, know that the United States is your partner and ally in this important cause.”

So there you have it.  Doubt that any children now really think about the meaning of Children’s Day (like Jesus on Christmas, right?) but it makes a little more sense to see parents spoiling them now.