You've got your standard video bang, a cheaper alternative to a movie, and often with free snacks... plus, you can talk or take a nap and no one will judge!
Then you've got the PC bang, popular with young kids and gamers who want to kill a couple of hours surfing online or playing starcraft (super popular in Korea!)
Then you've got the norebang, by far the most popular Korean tradition of karaoke rooms. Okay, you can find karaoke rooms in plenty of other countries, but Koreans take them to the next level. And after a long night out, it's a great way to unwind.
|norebang, literally- "singing room"|
|yep, that's me! Okay, I'm not participating in this particular song, but I sang, I swear!|
Finally, we have the jimjibang... a traditional Korean bathhouse.
|start with a nice relaxing soak in one of the salt baths...|
|followed by a little shower...|
|and relax away!|
I'll admit, I was a little skeptical before trying. What's the point really? I can watch a movie or take a shower at home, why pay to do it somewhere else? But, as I got to trying the different kinds of bangs, I'm starting to get why they're so popular. For one, real estate in Seoul is expensive, and well... cramped. Therefore, spending a couple extra dollars for some leg room doesn't seem like such a bad trade-off. Also, for younger couples, it offers a little privacy. Since most college students live at home, and bringing your significant other home to mom and dad is something akin to a marriage proposal, bangs offer a little privacy for the lovebirds without having to resort to a cheesy love motel. In general, Americans shy away from this concept of bangs because, frankly, we like our privacy. Why would I take a nap in a room with strangers when I can do it in the privacy of my own home? I had a hard time figuring this one out, so I asked my Korean friends:
me: so why do you go to the jimjibang?
korean: to relax
me: yes but why don't you go home and relax?
korean: well, at the jimjibang we can just come and do nothing for a little bit
me: okay, but why can't you do that at home?
korean: well, we can, but jijibang is for relaxing
me: yes but why?
after about five minutes I gave up and satisfied myself with the obvious answer...it's a Korean thing. Koreans work hard, study hard, party hard...turns out, they even turn relaxing into an extreme activity! Later on, my friend pointed out to me that an inherent advantage of the jimjibang are the heated floors, a long held Korean tradition, seen even in the ancient palaces around Seoul. Older people especially crave the feeling of a warm wooden floor to sleep on, not often included in more modern apartment buildings. So there you have it, privacy, relaxation, warm floors...what more could one wish for?