Christmas for one

December 24, 2013

Singles events gaining popularity in Korea

One Korean cinema is even offering 'Singles only' screening this Christmas Eve.   (Megabox Facebook capture/Newsis)

One Korean cinema is even offering ‘Singles only’ screening this Christmas Eve.
(Megabox Facebook capture/Newsis)


By Yoon Sung-won, Kwon Ji-youn, Park Jin-hai

During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, restaurants, cafes and bars are usually packed with people who want to spend time with their lovers, families, friends or colleagues. Booking seats for Friday nights or weekends gets extremely difficult this time of year.

However, not everyone shares the last two weeks of the year with others. Some are too busy to make appointments and others are cautious about binge eating and drinking, which can happen at year-end gatherings. Some people just prefer to stay by themselves, many looking back at the year that has passed and contemplating what is to come in the year ahead.

A recent survey showed that a considerable number of singles intend to finish out the year as just that — single. The One Noble, a Korean matchmaking company, surveyed 648 singles about how they plan to spend their year-end holidays. According to the results, 38.7 percent said they plan to be alone, away from the hustle, bustle and drama sometimes associated with being part of a couple.

With that in mind, businesses such as restaurants, cafes, theatres, and even karaoke rooms that tailor some of their services to singles are gaining popularity this time of year.

A visitor has a meal alone at a Japanese restaurant, Ichimen, in Sinchon, Seoul. The restaurant provides rooms separated with wooden panels for those who want to eat alone. (Korea Times file)

A visitor has a meal alone at a Japanese restaurant, Ichimen, in Sinchon, Seoul. The restaurant provides rooms separated with wooden panels for those who want to eat alone. (Korea Times file)

Table for One

A curtain separates the singles room from the doubles room. Wooden panels divide the tables into cubicles just big enough for one person. All over the wall are post-its and scribbles that one can read while enjoying their ramen.

According to Lee Myung-jae, owner of a Japanese restaurant called Ichimen in Sinchon, Seoul, most of the restaurant’s visitors are single women in their 20s and 30s.

“Those who live alone drop by for meals,” he said. “I first got the idea when we saw a restaurant of a similar concept in Japan.” The owner said that people were not all that responsive at first, but after about a year or two began to seek out the store through word of mouth. “Now the restaurant has become somewhat more popular among bloggers and has, in recent days, been filled with visitors even outside lunch hours,” he said.

“I come here when I want to eat out alone,” said Kim Joo-ik, 26, a visitor who came alone to dine at Ichimen. “I really don’t want to have to walk on eggshells while eating.” He recalled his college days, when he would hide in a library cubicle to eat lunch alone. “In college, my friends and I had class schedules that just wouldn’t match up,” he said. “We could never eat lunch together, so I often had to eat alone.”

Kim said he doesn’t think it’s pathetic to eat alone at a restaurant in a college town bustling with students. “I like to watch videos on YouTube or search the net while I eat. Some might say that it is embarrassing to eat alone, but it’s good to be undisturbed,” he said.

There are other singles who enjoy the time alone, which they believe is well-deserved.  “Sometimes I feel like I owe it to myself to eat out alone,” said Lee Se-young, 24, on a visit to the restaurant. “It’s like I deserve a night out, but I don’t want to spend my time making meaningless small talk with friends.”

Likewise, more facilities have been renovated to provide for such needs. In Myeong-dong, a cafe boasts seating arrangements that accommodate singles. Singles can also find several book cafes where they can come alone and read.

Near Hongik University, there is a karaoke with rooms for solo visitors. The neon sign out front of the karaoke specifies that it is a singles-only karaoke venue.  “I came here because I want to practice singing alone,” said Kwak Chan-hee, a regular visitor. “I will be singing at a friend’s wedding so I really need to focus on practicing. If I came with others, I couldn’t fully concentrate on practicing and if I had no other option but to use a karaoke room for a group of people, it could be somewhat embarrassing.”

Inside each room, there is a chair, a desk and a standing microphone. “You can even record your own voice,” she added.

Concerts for singles

Even though an increasing number of singles are planning to stay alone during the year-end holidays, there are still many who urgently seek a partner for the season.  In the same survey by The One Noble, 25.6 percent of the respondents said they will go on blind dates and 18.4 percent said that they are going to seek a partner. Another 12 percent said they will register for a professional matchmaking enterprise for the occasion.

Singles fear December, as the population seems to couple off. Christmas lights are draped over trees, creating a romantic mood, and snow can add to the desire for someone with whom to cuddle up.

“I would feel weird going to a concert all by myself,” said Kim. “I think I would suffocate among all those couples.”

And so to cater to this relatively new audience who are unashamed about being single at this time of year, some entertainment providers were quick to suggest opportunities to mingle with other singles who might possibly become their partners.

Singers 4Men and Sung Si-kyung explicitly invited singles to join them on Christmas Eve. In the case of 4Men’s concert, only one login ID can be used to apply for one ticket on the concert’s website. Gifts for singles are to be distributed at the event, including “backpacks for one,” “bottles of wine for one” and “skincare sets for one.”

Ballad singer Sung Si-kyung, who has constantly held romantic concerts more suited to couples, has reserved a section of seats for singles — 32 single women and 32 single men — at his New Year’s Eve concert. Only singles can apply for those tickets.

“In May, Sung invited couples to a concert where he mostly sang wedding songs,” said a Jellyfish Entertainment representative. Jellyfish currently represents Sung. “But after Sung appeared on a TV program that focused on the ups and downs of romance, he accumulated a lot of male fans as well. We wanted to highlight the fact that this concert is meant for anyone who wants to have fun, not just couples.”