CONTRIBUTED BY SIBO LUNGU
One of the first things I noticed when walking around Korean streets was the number of neon signs for PC and DVD shops. My first thought was, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of Internet cafes!’ They are helpful. But who really needs that many DVD shops? Blockbuster and other DVD rental places have struggled to keep afloat in America, so what gives!?
Not long afterwards, I learned about this Korean cultural norm called bangs or rooms. My eyes were opened and I understood how Seoul and other cities easily offer 24-hour entertainment.
Bang (방) simply means room. So a DVD bang is a DVD room, a norebang is a singing room, and a PC bang is a computer room. Let’s not forgetting the jimjilbangs, which are the infamous sauna/bathing/sleeping rooms.
PC Bangs or Multi-Rooms
Initially, I thought they were just internet cafes, but that is such an understatement. With their mindblowing internet speeds, fast computers, dark Matrix-like ambiance, large workspaces and comfy chairs, this is definitely not your average college computer lab. These places are a haven for serious gamers. Just so you get an idea of how serious this is for some people, Korea even has a TV station that streams people playing PC games (kind of like gamer Olympics)!
I am not a gamer, but have taken a peak into a couple of these rooms out of curiosity. When you see a PC room open at 2 am, you have to wonder. I did.
It’s mostly high school or college-aged students who fill these places and literally spend hours playing online internet games. No more sibling fights to share the TV, or significant others asking when they will be done. Set ups, standards and costs vary, but many PC bangs are open 24/7.
Norebang or Karaoke Rooms
I looooove karaoke and knew about these rooms before I got to Korea. Once here, all I had to do was learn their name in Korean so that on every street I could spot it a block away and “mistakenly” lead whoever I am with in that direction. “Oh, look what we stumbled upon. Well since we are here we may as well go in, riiiight?”
Grab a couple of friends and just go. It’s super fun. I am convinced everyone has “their song”. You know the one you belt out in the shower? Singing rooms give you the chance to belt it out with friends and not worry that the neighbors will call the cops on you. You get a small lounge, buy some snacks and drinks and sing away. There are even instruments in the rooms, so if singing really isn’t your thing, you can just shake that tambourine to the beat!
The rooms vary from more expensive luxurious rooms with fancy couches, great sound speakers and food options, to basic rooms. There are of course many more songs in Korean, but the ones I’ve been to also had a good selection of top western hits. If you are daring you can always try to sing a K-pop hit. I have butchered a song or two much to the amusement of my co-workers.
This is basically a DVD movie rental shop with private lounge rooms in the back. Unfortunately, many are rather notorious for being hook-up spots for teens and college kids who have no private space at home. But if you find the right ones, they are actually clean, relaxing and generally a pretty clever idea.
One would wonder how, with movie theatres and online movie services, these places can be in business. But they actually make sense. Firstly, there are many great old movies that one sometimes just wants to see. Secondly, one may have roommates or parents and cannot hog the living room TV. Thirdly, it’s just another place to hang out with friends. Just like the karaoke room, you can grab some friends, get a lounge, order drinks and snacks and enjoy all the episodes of Back to the Future before sunrise. It’s also a good place to keep warm in winter when you are tired of walking around in the cold.
The quality of all the rooms varies A LOT! Some outright look dingy and you can sometimes tell this from the outside, while others are fancy. Those usually have photos on the street advertising their rooms. Bangs are very popular in college areas like Hongdae and Sinchon; however, just about every town has them, Songtan included. City Hall/Seojeong-dong area has a bunch of these rooms so next time you are strolling around, look up to the second floor of most buildings as you walk and you will spot the signs glowing in all their blinding neon glory.
Pro Tip – Learn these characters to know what to look for:
PC Bang – PC방 or 멀티 방
DVD bang – DVD 방
Jimjilbang – 찜질방