Category: noraebang


Monday, December 13:  Alex sleeps in while I schlep into work today.  Again, he visits the DVD bang during the day.  In the evening we go to Lotte Cinema to see The Tourist, with Angelina Jolie & Johnny Depp; it’s quite cute.  We have an exciting dinner at Mr. Pizza afterward, where we are the last customers of the night.

Tuesday, December 14:  Alex goes to Chojeon with me, where one of Coffee J’s 4th grade boys plays the flute for him.  Alex thinks Little Miss Jailbird is quite a character and he likes her edgy personality; she’s the girl who constantly insults me and wears the gray and black striped knit pants (see my previous blog: insults korean style).

In the evening, I expose Alex to the samgyeopsal and noraebang experience with Anna, Seth, Maurice, Myrna, Lilly and Ben.  Samgyeopsal consists of thick, fatty slices of pork belly meat (similar to uncured bacon). Usually diners grill the meat themselves and eat directly from a grill. It is often dipped into a spicy pepper paste and wrapped in lettuce leaves along with other vegetables.  Noraebang, literally a “song room,” is similar to what we Westerners know as karaoke; it’s different in that a group of friends rents a room for an hour or two by themselves, and the public is not involved (as in Western-style karaoke).

Maurice, Ben, Lilly, Seth, Anna and Alex eating samgyeopsol

Maurice, Ben, Lilly, Myrna, Seth, Anna and Alex eating samgyeopsal

the thick slabs of fatty bacon that are the main staple in samgyeopsal

the thick slabs of fatty bacon that are the main staple in samgyeopsal

Anna :-)

Anna 🙂

Alex tries samgyeopsal

Alex tries samgyeopsal

At noraebang, Alex wears dreadlocks and belts out songs along with the rest of us, losing all his inhibitions.

Maurice, Alex and me heading into noraebang

Maurice, Alex and me heading into noraebang

Ben, the masked man, and Alex in his crazy wig

Ben, the masked man, and Alex in his crazy wig

Myrna belts out a song

Myrna belts out a song

Alex sings a serenade in his dreadlocks

Alex sings a serenade in his dreadlocks

Wednesday, December 15:   Tonight, we go to my neighborhood Italian place for dinner, visit an outdoor Asian market near my house, and then try a different DVD bang where we watch The Time Traveler’s Wife, which happens to be the first book I read when I got to Korea in March.

Thursday, December 16:  Tonight, we go to downtown Daegu and eat fat juicy hamburgers at Gorilla Burger.  Later that night, Alex, prone as he is to making exaggerated sweeping statements, says, “This is the best December I’ve ever had in my lifetime!”  This is so much in character for him; I remember when he was a little boy  and he’d meet some random kid at a soccer game and he’d say, I just made a new best friend today, Mom!

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Monday, March 15: I teach at two elementary schools in rural Seongju County, but I live in the city of Daegu. So… each day I have about an hour commute each way to work; luckily I’m able to carpool with some of my fellow teachers.  Otherwise, I’d have a horribly inconvenient trip by city bus and then by rural bus which could take me 1 1/2 hours and 10,000 Korean won/day.  The teachers offered me the option of carpooling with them during my first week.  I think it may have been a temporary offer, but now, much to their dismay, they are stuck with me; I’m like the guest they can’t quite shake, the visitor who is overstaying her welcome.   I’m playing dumb as long as I can….

Welcome to Seongju

Welcome to Seongju

Carpool #1 to Chojeon Elementary (M, T, F): I ride to work three days a week with three funny guys: my co-teacher Coffee-J, Mr. Yun, the PE and head teacher, and Mr. Sun, the 5th grade teacher.  During the entire drive, they talk together animatedly in Korean, laughing, making hand gestures, cracking crazy jokes; it’s high jinx.  Despite the fact that I can’t understand a word they’re saying, I find myself laughing along as if I understand their jokes.  I want to belong to their little group, but clearly I don’t.  Being the only woman and having very limited Korean speaking abilities, I mainly stay quietly amused in the back seat.

Coffee J, Mr. Yun, and Mr. Sun

Coffee J, Mr. Yun, and Mr. Sun at Chojeon Elementary School

I don’t know quite what to do with myself.  Some days, I simply fall asleep when my mind wanders off into an imaginary land where Englishy is spoken….inside my own head. (Koreans add “y” to the end of many English words: Englishy, lunchy, clothies, etc.) Sometimes I pull out my Korean flashcards and mutter words incorrectly to myself until one of them overhears me and corrects my pronunciation. (Odee, Yogi, Chogi – Where? Here. There.)  Other days, I stare absently out the window at the miles of vinyl houses where the yellow melon is grown. Other days I just can’t keep quiet and I start yapping to Coffee-J in English, probably taxing the poor guy’s mind first thing in the morning.  When I do that, of course, Mr. Sun and Mr. Yun become the outsiders, as they can speak very limited Englishy.  I don’t like to do this too much as it disrupts their camaraderie and may get me ousted from the carpool.  That’s something I DO NOT want to happen.

This past Friday afternoon, Coffee J and I got behind a slow-moving vehicle and he impatiently tried to get around.  He said, “What do you call this, this slow-moving car?” I said, “Hmm… I guess you’d say he’s pokey.” He said “porky? like the food?” I said, “No, p-o-k-e-y, pokey. Not a food!  You’d probably call him a slowpoke.” He said, “Oh, ok, a slow-pokey! That’s funny!” Then he kept saying that word all the way home.  “Oh, another slow-pokey. Haha!”

Tuesday, March 16: Carpool #2 to Byeokjin Elementary (W, Th) : My other carpool is with Mr. O, the 2nd grade teacher at my other school.  He is also my “manager” at Byeokjin.  I was excited before I met him because Coffee J said Mr. O has a Ph.D. in English.  However, Mr. O speaks very limited Englishy!!  As a matter of fact, hardly anyone at Byeokjin speaks Englishy; I honestly have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing at that school!!  Apparently Mr. O got his Ph.D. in English many years ago and, like many who study foreign languages, learned to read and write but not to speak.

Mr. O

Mr. O

The first day Mr. O picked me up, Coffee J met us in his car at the pick up spot.  Coffee J and Mr. O got out of their respective cars and Coffee J introduced me to Mr. O.  I promptly got in the front seat of Mr. O’s car, but first I had to move his briefcase, his phone, and his jacket to the back seat.  It happened to be snowing that day, and Mr. O drove very nervously and slowly to Byeokjin.  I could tell he was quite on edge, between the snow, trying to speak to me in his very poor Englishy, and having a strange woman in the car with him.

On Friday, I was back in my regular carpool with the Chojeon guys.  Coffee J’s phone rang and there was a very loud voice on the other end.  Coffee J held the phone away from his ear and then thrust his phone into the air so everyone in the carpool could hear what the other party was saying.  The three guys were laughing their heads off, but I was clueless as usual. After he hung up the phone, Coffee J said, “That was Mr. O.  He called to say that the next time you ride with him, he wants you to sit in the back seat. He can’t concentrate with you in the front seat and he feels very nervous!”

What???

The next day, I dutifully got into Mr. O’s back seat when he picked me up.  I figured since he wanted me to sit in the back seat (despite the fact that a perfectly good front seat was available!!) that I could just mind my own business in the back seat.  I planned to busily occupy myself putting phone numbers into my new Korean phone, looking over my lesson plans, reading emails on my blackberry.

Surprisingly, Mr. O talked to me non-stop.  He told me a story that went something like this: “I don’t like autumn.  It remembers me of my girlfriend in college.  She was rich and liked to eat (some kind of food I didn’t understand). She was the brother of my wife.  OK? You understand?”  There was some other stuff about the girlfriend eating a lot of some kind of food.  I tried so hard to understand what he was trying to tell me.  Did the girlfriend get fat eating all that food?  Did she leave him or did he leave her because she got fat?  Did he meet his wife through his girlfriend’s brother??

Vinyl houses for growing the yellow melon

Vinyl houses for growing the yellow melon

a typical rainy winter day waiting for the carpool on the main road from Daegu to Seongju

a typical rainy winter day waiting for the carpool on the main road from Daegu to Seongju

I patiently tried to process his convoluted tale.  Then Mr. O said, “By the way, I talked to Mr. Kim (Coffee J) and he told me you are a lot of fun, that you like to drink alcohol and soju.  So one night, I want to drink alcohol with you!”  Huh???  Now that’s an experience I can’t wait for:-)

Monday, March 29: Today, I’m informed by Coffee-J that our carpool is going out for dinner and drinks tonight after work.  This seems to always be the way things work in Korea.  No one asks if you might have other engagements; they simply announce some plan and expect you to follow along.  Usually, because I’m a foreigner and hardly anyone speaks English, I’m always the last to know.

Tonight we go out to a Korean restaurant in Daegu and eat bulgogi.   On this outing, it’s just the Chojeon car pool teachers; Mr. O is not included.

Mr. Yun and Coffee-J, making a toast with soju

Mr. Yun and Coffee-J, making a toast with soju

Bulgogi is made from thin slices of sirloin or other prime cuts of beef.  Before cooking, the meat is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, pepper and other ingredients such as scallions, garlic, onions or mushrooms.

Bulgogi is traditionally grilled, but pan cooking has become popular as well. Whole cloves of garlic, sliced onions and chopped green peppers are often grilled or fried with the meat.  This dish is sometimes served with a side of lettuce, which is used to wrap a slice of cooked meat, often along with a dab of ssamjang (a thick spicy sauce made of soy bean paste, a red chili condiment, sesame oil, garlic, green onions, and optionally brown sugar), or other side dishes, and then eaten together. (Wikipedia: Bulgogi)

Mr. Yun, Coffee-J, me and Mr. Sun at our bulgogi dinner

Mr. Yun, Coffee-J, me and Mr. Sun at our bulgogi dinner

As always at any Korean gathering, the meal is accompanied by huge amounts of beer and soju, a distilled South Korean beverage traditionally made from rice.  It tastes similar to vodka but sweeter (Wikipedia: Soju).  There are always some bottles of Fanta also floating around.

Me and Mr. Sun

Me and Mr. Sun making a toast with soju

In short order, with all the soju and beer going around, everyone is quite drunk.  We laugh a lot and I feel like these carpooling co-teachers of mine are becoming good friends.

Mr. Sun and I have a race to see who can drink our soup the fastest

Mr. Sun and I have a race to see who can drink our soup the fastest

Mr. Yun doesn't speak a word of English, but he's always a jolly fellow

Mr. Yun doesn’t speak a word of English, but he’s always a jolly fellow

After dinner, we go to noraebang, where we all have a grand time belting out songs, both Korean and English.  Crazy times!!

me, probably singing Hotel California, always my song of choice! :-)

me, probably singing Hotel California, always my song of choice! 🙂

me and Mr. Yun singing in the noraebang

me and Mr. Yun singing in the noraebang

Tuesday, April 27: Today, I’m informed once again that we’re having a carpool party, this time including Mr. O from Byeokjin Elementary.  After work, we head to a restaurant between Seongju and Daegu.  As always, the meal includes a lot of beer and soju and as always, there are lots of laughs and high jinx.  This is typical Korean culture that I experienced too many times to count!

Coffee-J's face always turns bright red when he drinks

Coffee-J’s face always turns bright red when he drinks

me holding a bottle of soju

me holding a bottle of soju

Coffee-J with chopstick teeth

Coffee-J with chopstick teeth

the typical Korean pose with the V-sign

the typical Korean pose with the V-sign

Take one down and pass it around, 99 bottles of soju on the wall :-)

Take one down and pass it around, 99 bottles of soju on the wall 🙂

a pose with bottles of beer and soju

a pose with bottles of beer and soju

Friday, March 5: ON DVD-BANGS: On our first Friday night after we settle in Daegu, Myrna and I have some dinner at the adorable restaurant on the bottom floor of our apartment building.  The entire menu is in Korean, so we have no idea what we are ordering.  Finally we agree on something the waitress, who also speaks little English, describes as “egg roll.”  It’s nothing like what we imagine it will be.

the cute restaurant on the bottom floor of our apartment building

the cute restaurant on the bottom floor of our apartment building

me and Myrna at the restaurant

me and Myrna at the restaurant

"Egg roll"

“Egg roll”

me eating some "egg roll," basically an omelet rolled up

me eating some “egg roll,” basically an omelet rolled up

After dinner, Myrna and I check out videos in a DVD-bang (pronounced bong). This particular DVD-bang is like a cozy version of Blockbuster…. It’s dimly lit, but inviting.  Someone with a sense of style, an artistic flair, has definitely had a hand in creating this hole in the wall…  Myrna and I wander in, browse the video titles, and rent a movie, Vicky Christina Barcelona, which also happens to come with a private room.  The room has a big screen TV, a couch built for two, and a big fuzzy blanket with a picture of a tiger on it.  It also has its own special heater that looks like what in the US is a rotating fan, but it actually puts out heat….. It is so cozy in there, Myrna almost falls asleep during the movie.

Myrna gets comfortable at the DVD bang

Myrna gets comfortable at the DVD bang

me in the DVD bang

me in the DVD bang

Later, I tell some of my Korean friends that Myrna and I went to a DVD bang.  They find this hilarious beyond belief:  This place is supposed to be for couples who want to be alone!!  It’s like a drive-in movie without the car and a lot more privacy!  The people who run this bang must be wondering about these two foreign girls who come in to watch movies on Friday nights.  I even went one night by myself…. that must have been truly baffling to them.

Vicki Christina Barcelona

Vicki Christina Barcelona

This is the amazing thing.  We CAN baffle. We can confuse people or make them scratch their heads in wonder. We are in a foreign land!!  We get to experience foreign things…. People might think us odd, but they will forgive us because we’re “aliens.” We can create the selves we want to be!!  We can be oddballs; we can be nerds, we can be cool; we can be anyone or anything we want.  Thus we venture into strange and unusual places…. including the world of the bangs

Happy Myrna

Happy Myrna

A “bang” is simply a specialized room.  Wikipedia describes bangs as such:  In modern South Korea, the concept of a bang has expanded and diversified from being merely a walled segment in a domestic space, to include buildings or enterprises in commercial, urban, space.  Some examples are a PC bang (internet cafe), a noraebang (a karaoke, or “singing,” room), sojubang (a soju room, i.e. a pub), manwhabang (“manwha room”, where people read or borrow manwha – comic books) and a jjimjilbang (elaborate Korean public bathhouse).

Monday, March 8: ON NORAEBANGS: On Monday night of our second week of school, all of the teachers of Chojeon Elementary go out for a teacher dinner.  The principal and the vice principal, in fact everyone, keeps busy filling my glass with soju, or beer, or Fanta.  Other teachers pile reams of barbequed duck on my plate.  Mimi, the young woman who runs the school cafeteria, painstakingly tells me the Korean names for each and every food, which I can’t understand, and even when I do, I promptly forget them.

Dinner with the Chojeon teachers

Dinner with the Chojeon teachers

Coffee-J and me at dinner

Coffee-J and me at dinner

After drinks and dinner, we all go to a private room called noraebang, the “singing” room.   Everyone takes turns singing Korean songs, some rockin’, some lovely ballads, some classical songs.  I try my voice out as well… botching terribly the Doobie Brothers’ Listen to the Music.  I thought I knew that song, but apparently not!!  My words are something like… blah blah blah, listen to the music, duh duh duh, listen to the music….

I sing my version of "Listen to the Music"

I sing my version of “Listen to the Music”

Later, after another beer and a little more soju, I sing Maggie May and Hoobastank’s The Reason.  I don’t think these are half bad…. lol…. who knows what the Koreans think.  I even get a serenade by Coffee-J: Top of the World.  All the while, everyone who isn’t singing dances and plays tambourines around the periphery of the room.

the Chojeon teachers at the DVD bang

the Chojeon teachers at the DVD bang

Mr. Yun dances with his jacket

Mr. Yun dances with his jacket

the principal of Chojeon Elementary, a very dapper man

the principal of Chojeon Elementary, a very dapper man

Coffee-J holds up the song book

Coffee-J holds up the song book

the 6th grade teacher at Chojeon sings a song

the 6th grade teacher at Chojeon sings a song

Mimi, the cafeteria manager at Chojeon

Mimi, the cafeteria manager at Chojeon

Wednesday, March 17: ON PC BANGS: Finally, my most frequent bang experience has been the PC bang.  I go to the PC Palace, on the 5th floor of a dirty building around the corner from DaVinci Coffee and about 2 blocks from my apartment.  It is a dark and noisy and smoky room filled with brand spankin’ new computers, purple pumpkin-shaped lanterns, white brick walls, gleaming glass cubicles and shiny red grottoes filled with vases of pussy willows.  It’s filled mostly with college kids from Keimyung University right across the street, and with teenage boys playing loud video games.  Because I haven’t had internet in my apartment for over two weeks, this is the place I frequent for my internet fix.  I am by far the oldest one in here… but alas, this seems to be the story of my life!!  I actually feel quite young and hip here:-)

my son Alex standing outside of a PC bang

my son Alex standing outside of a PC bang

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