Singing in Korea

Stereotypes aside, karaoke is big here in Korea. But karaoke is the Japanese name. In this neck of the woods the art form is called norae bang. You can find norae bang in the weirdest places: on big make-shift stages set up in a market to platforms erected within labyrinthine subway stations. We saw one of the latter just the other day. The stage was framed by speakers, like a concert stage, and behind were a few TV screens showing real singers performing. In front of the stage were honest to goodness spectators reclining on cheap plastic patio chairs. We stood at the back of the crowd were we could not only see the stage, but also the commuter-suits passing by. The Koreans have a proclivity for sap-head pop songs, but every second person has a pretty decent singing voice. We only stayed for two songs.

A bunch of us Canuck English teachers and some of our Korean teacher counterparts went out the other night. After a big bowl of noodles, we found the nearest norae bang establishment with a price in our range. Now, if you are imagining that we went to some big smokey bar and had to perform Captain & Tennille’s Love Will Keep Us Together in front of a bunch of strangers, you’d be mistaken. We got our own private room for the nine of us, complete with TV monitors, mics, light-show, tons of tunes to choose from and all the soju (Korean rice wine) we could sneak in. I found out that, in spite of all the norae bang infrastructure, I am still a very bad singer. Oddly enough my best performance was not to the Stone’s Start Me Up or Earth Wind and Fire’s September. I brought the house down with that Celine Dion’s song from the Titanic movie (My Heart will Go On). Okay, okay, before all the indie kids throw up their arms in dismay, let me explain…

At the end of camp, each class has to do a performance for the rest of the camp and all the parents. Think grade school recital. I tried to get my kids into Jungle Boogie by Kool and the Gang, Sedated by The Ramones and even Take Me On by A-ha. But they wouldn’t have any of it. They hated it all. But not Titanic (see aforementioned Korean proclivity). So, fine. I gave in. In the final performance, my eleven kids sang like little cherubim, each one holding a piece of their own art-work that, when lined up side-by-side, formed an long paper Titanic with the ship’s name running down the side. (In the dress-rehearsal only the kids carrying the two T’s and the first I were held up, so the audience was treated to TIT. Magic.) At the end of the song, I came out in my paper iceberg costume and smashed through my singing angels. It was great. So, needless to say, I had some familiarity with the song by the time I got to norae bang.

Martha, however, rocked the norae bang. Even with a gravely throat brought on by a cold, she wailed. Such a trooper.

Comments are closed.