By Spc. Jason C. Adolphson (USAG-Yongsan)June 16, 2009
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - For a lot of people, singing in public is among their greatest fears. A well-kept secret for many of them is that they do in fact love to sing. And why not' Songs on the radio are catchy and chiming in seems only natural.
However, as many attempt singing Beyonce's "Single Ladies" or John Lennon's "Imagine" in a cappella - each one seeming far greater than the original - those lone, confident moments in the car or shower later take a dramatic turn with one cringing word: Karaoke.
"I have never been a fan of karaoke, Jess Suchan, a Seoul English teacher said. "I'm a people watcher and if I pick up on embarrassing things people do discreetly, then I'd hate to put myself out there like that."
Fortunately for Suchan, it is rare to find many establishments in Korea hosting open karaoke nights. Instead, they have noraebang; private lounges where people can either go alone or with those who make them feel most comfortable to set the stage.
"I refused to go several times, but after finally giving in, I saw the atmosphere was way more comfortable and relaxed than I ever expected," Suchan said during her visit to an Itaewon noreabong.
This activity is by no means limited to the coy. Barracks walls are thin, so noraebang is a place to hone vocal skills without disturbing others.
"I used to be in a band and this is a good way for me to keep my vocals strong until I get into it again," Senior Airman Harold Sorto-Diaz said. "I'm not shy about singing at all but there aren't a lot of other opportunities to really let loose now days."
Noraebang can also be a place to release tension and emotions. Anyone who's seen "Forgetting Sarah Marshal" knows "breaking up is hard to do," and sometimes a person just needs to scream.
Perhaps Seoul English teacher Thor Edens knows this best.
"I had a bad break up recently and when it gets to met I just like to come here and let it all out through music," Edens said. "I know a lot of people come to these places to sing 80s and 90s hits, but I dig straight into the heavy metal."
The carefree musical hot spots are home to one of the Korea's most popular pastimes and can be found just about everywhere.
"There are about 500 noraebangs in the surrounding Yongsan area alone, and 20,000 all over Korea," said USAG-Yongsan Community Relations Specialist Yun Ho-song. "You can usually spot them out by flashing lights on the sign or entryway and sometimes you can even hear the music from outside."
Not only is it possible to exit the shower, which often seems to lack the proper acoustics, but one may actually discover a better sound behind the microphone at a noraebang. Best of all, it is inexpensive, wholesome fun the entire family can enjoy.
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