Let’s be honest. Not a lot of people come to Korea to start a career.
I’m sure there are some who see it as a springboard into a life of teaching abroad so perhaps that’s a sweeping statement, however, for the vast majority it’s a career break from whatever job they were doing at home – teaching or otherwise. Either that or it’s the first pit-stop between college years and “real life” for the early twenty-somethings. The bottom line is that it’s not all about the job here and when the school bell goes and the weekend comes, Korea can be a fun place to live.
Korea has a vast array of entertainment options to choose from with a bewildering treasure trove of options in the city guaranteed to keep all minds in high spirits until the early morning light returns. Choices for restaurants and bars are endless in the bigger cities with a smorgasbord of international fare to be found among the ubiquitous bars and clubs.
But what about the smaller cities and towns? Out in the sticks, do the locals party ‘til the break of dawn?
Little Bonghwa has a few chimaek (치맥 – chicken-and-beer) establishments but as the clock pushes past midnight, entertainment is scare in small towns such as this with the most reliable source of a beer often being the convenience stores. The 7-11 and CU stores never shut and more than a few nights have ended with a bedtime beer or pot of microwaved noodles as the early morning sun peeks through night’s curtain.
Twenty minutes away is the small city of Yeongju, home to approximately 100,000 including myself.
I believe I was the one that brought the total to 100,000. They assure me that my medal is in the mail.
The choice of restaurants and bars is marginally better here, certainly for the food as traditional dining options such as Korean BBQ, gamjatang (감자탕), pajeon (파전) and bulgogi (불고기) rival the many chicken outlets.
Nightlife is far from thumping though and as much as the foreigner factions can enjoy a night around the downtown areas, Yeongju certainly does not have the party atmosphere of areas such as Banwoldang or Hongdae.
With a teaching population of somewhere around thirty, many of Yeongju’s foreigner inhabitants socialize in their own small circles, with options on the entertainment front quite limited in the city. Beyond food and drink, Yeongju’s main choices are screen sports, PC game-centers or Noraebang.
My computer game days are all but behind me and so I’ve yet to venture into the world of gaming here in Korea. I fear my old passions may be reignited and I would get sucked into cyberspace, sending all hopes of productivity tumbling down a rabbit-hole. It’s quite the obsession in Korea and one kid actually died after playing for 12 hours straight.
The indoor sports are fun evenings for a group of at least three. Yeongju has screen golf and screen baseball. Alternating turns on the stand, you’ll take your club or bat of choice and swing for all your worth. The computers and screen that you (hopefully) pelt your ball towards will take care of the rest in a visual simulation game.
This is a fun way to pass a few hours although there is a certain amount of frustration in watching the one average player storm into an unassailable lead as the mediocre ‘swing-full-o-hopers’ gradually get worse. My personal experience almost always ends with me flailing wildly and nonchalantly under the influence of the cheap beer as the leader runs away with the spoils.
Noraebang (노래방) needs little introduction but for the uninitiated, it is best described as karaoke.
It’s Korean karaoke in a small room – 노래방 literally translates as ‘song room’.
Groups will pile into a dark private room with sofas and tables set before a TV churning out nonsensical random videos. They’ll trawl their drunken gaze through thick songbooks then grab the mics and blast out the words as they appear on the TV screen. Beer and snacks appear and tambourines are at hand as the atmosphere walks a tightrope between chaos and cringe.
In a city starved of options, many drunken nights will finish in the dark caves of a noraebang.
The reverberating music and drunken wails carry around the corridors as Koreans and foreigners alike sing themselves hoarse until they can drink and screech no more.
This can take a considerable amount of time and I’ve passed out in quite a few such places, succumbing to clutches of darkness as comfortable sofas, mesmerising lights and musical echos hypnotize my inebriated mind into unconsciousness.
Yes indeed, small cities and even smaller towns have a dearth of options on the old entertainment front.
However, there is just about enough in Yeongju and the surrounding areas to entertain visitors for a weekend and keep the residents happy in between the occasional jaunts to bigger cities.
The traditional old city of Andong has a cinema, while nearby Pungi is home to hot springs and saunas plus the national park of Sobaeksan just a short bus away.
While many people come to Korea fresh out of college or in need of a fun break from their real job, they’re sure to have a fun time in bigger cities. A lot of EPIK teachers may be placed somewhere rural where options are few and far between but that’s by no means a disaster. Just start practicing your baseball swing now and you’ll be king of the village. If that’s not your gig, well, I hope you can sing.