South Korea’s darkest day for singles descended on Singapore this week, but with mood that is more fun than sombre.
Black Day, which falls on April 14 every year, is a day for those who are unattached to gather, all dressed in black, to drown the sorrow of their loneliness over a bowl of jajangmyeon - Chinese-style noodles topped with thick black bean sauce, diced pork and vegetables - and hope for better luck in love in the coming year.
While its origins are vague, Black Day was apparently started by marketers and has been around for at least 10 years. Restaurants and instant noodle manufacturers are out in force to cash in on singles on this day.
Although it has drawn criticism for being a gimmick that exploits the feelings of singles, this trend has now spilled over to Singapore.
One Korean restaurant offered a Black Day menu on April 14 and non-Korean singles turned up in black outfits to slurp black noodles - just for the fun of it.
And they told The Straits Times that they feel it is special to have a day celebrating singlehood.
“It’s a good thing for singles to come together to signify this day,” said student Samuel Ang, 23, of his first Black Day experience, eating jajangmyeon at Hansang Korean Restaurant in Square 2 with three single friends on April 14 . “It would be good for Singapore to have this too.”
His friend Ken Toh, 24, an assistant producer, felt it was meaningful to have a day that singles can look forward to.
“There’s Valentine’s Day and White Day, but we can’t do anything on those days,” he added, referring to the East Asian practice of girls giving chocolates to guys on Valentine’s Day on Feb 14 and guys returning the favour on White Day on March 14.
This marks the first time that Hansang, which serves more than 100 types of Korean dishes, introduced a Black Day menu and a Groupon deal for it, since it opened here in 2007. The offer is valid until April 20.
The restaurant’s owner Son Mi Jin, 52, said that jajangmyeon has been gaining popularity since it is a frequent feature in Korean dramas. In 2011, a group of 70 Singaporean K-pop lovers in their 20s turned up at its Novena outlet to celebrate Black Day.
This year, she decided to have a Black Day special “to let more people know about quirky culture in Korea”. She added that they sold 110 bowls of jajangmyeon across its three outlets on Monday - more than five times their daily average - and mostly to local customers, not Koreans.
Other Korean restaurants here also saw an increase in sales of jajangmyeon on Black Day. Pink Cafe, a Korean eatery in Upper Bukit Timah that serves jajangmyeon nicknamed “K-pop noodles”, registered twice its usual number of sales of the dish on Monday.
Encouraged by the good response, Hansang’s Ms Son is thinking of planning a more elaborate Black Day special next year, and perhaps a singles event as well.
“More than sales, I’m greatly pleased that not only Koreans but also Singaporeans are interested in Black Day and trying jajangmyeon,” she said. “That’s more meaningful to us, and we’re proud to be spreading Korean culture in Singapore.”
Back in Korea, the usual Black Day deals prevail, with restaurants reporting spikes in sales.
China Factory, a popular franchise restaurant that is offering a bowl of jajangmyeon free for any order of sweet and sour pork or black pepper prawns until April 20, has been seeing a 140 per cent jump in sales over the Black Day period ever since it launched the promotion in 2011, reported Korea Bizwire.
GS25, a major chain of convenience storeS, also revealed that its revenue for instant jajangmyeon has been soaring on Black Day - up 32.6 per cent in 2011, 39.2 per cent in 2012, and 47.1 per cent last year.
Also trying to create a buzz on Black Day are dating agencies.
Matchmaking agency Soohyun threw a party for singles on April 12, while social dating operator i-um gathered 32 singles on Black Day itself for a cooking and games session. The latter is also sponsoring a 5km “Single Run” to be held at Seoul Grand Park come Apr 26, reported Korea Bizwire.
Then, there are some totally non-related businesses that seem to be trying to cash in on Black Day.
Arcade-style racing game Asphalt Airborne 8, for one, organised a “Jajang Cup” and offered jajangmyeon cup noodles to racers.
Korean health and beauty chain Olive Young also launched a three-day Black Day sale with some items up to 50% off.
While it is debatable whether businesses or consumers benefit more from Black Day specials, one thing is clear - singlehood in South Korea is no longer frowned upon .
For reasons ranging from late marriage to divorce and widowhood, the number of single-person households has been growing by about 6.4 per cent since the 2000s, according to a report by Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade.
In 2010, there were 4.1 million solo households, almost one quarter of total households, and singles in their 20s and 30s accounted for 38 per cent of the group.
Singles are actually emerging as a new breed of consumers, and companies are studying their spending habits and customising products and services to meet their needs.
The country’s largest travel agency HanaTour, for one, has developed tour packages tailored for single women in their 20s and 30s, reported Korea Herald.
Mr Yoon Jaewoong, counsellor of press and culture at the Korean embassy in Singapore, told The Straits Times that the social perception of singles in South Korea has changed a lot from decades ago when marriage was a must.
Given an increase in marriage at a later age and rising divorce rates, “being single is no longer viewed in society as a major concern and it is a choice that is increasingly being respected in Korean society”, he said.
Ms Joanna Choi, 25, a marketing consultant who moved to Singapore from Seoul in 2012, said that single women above the age of 30 used to draw disapproving looks, but now, they can pursue careers without fear of being labelled an old maid.
“Compared to before, I feel that singles now enjoy the freedom of being single.”
And what better way to embrace singlehood by celebrating Black Day with joy and not the gloom that was originally associated with the day?
Receptionist Cristy Zafra, 30, who moved from Cebu in the Philippines to Singapore to work in 2008, was hoping to meet someone special when she agreed to join friends for jajangmyeon on Black Day at Hansang restaurant.
“But I won’t make the first move... so paiseh (Hokkien for embarrassing)! I’d just wait and keep smiling.”
Her friend, Mr Toh, also harboured hopes of not eating jajangmyeon with single pals again this time next year.
“I want to have someone for Valentine’s Day, so I’d have to push to find love.”