I’ve barely been here a week and my new Chinese friend asked me if I wanted to go out and sing karaoke. Hell yes. When the opportunity to make a fool of myself via microphone arises, I can’t say no. I accepted the offer not knowing I was about to experience KTV in China, which is totally different from karaoke in the western hemisphere.
Asians love to sing karaoke. It’s the thing to do when you go out. On a Friday night, Americans and Europeans hit bars and pubs. Asians frequent karaoke joints. But karaoke is a little different in this part of the world.
KTV in China is karaoke sung in a small private room and it’s considerably more personal than its western counterpart. I still can’t decide whether it’s more embarrassing or less embarrassing to sing in a small room with your immediate friends versus a large bar mostly filled with strangers.
Lights flashing, bass dropping, and I’m sitting in the corner like a nervous kitten. My new friends were belting out Chinese pop songs before an ounce of beer had been consumed. They’d definitely done this before. I had to admire their sobriety. I don’t think I’ve ever sung karaoke without first having a sizable dose of liquid courage.
My turn came. I browsed the song list and to my surprise, western music was aplenty. To win over the Chinese audience (of 3), I sung the most painfully mainstream songs I could muster. Hotel California by the Eagles, Bye Bye Bye by NSYNC. Once I had established Asian mainstream coolness in the KTV realm, I chose edgier songs by Sublime and Gorillaz; songs their Chinese ears had never feasted upon.
To sing karaoke in America, you sign your name on a long list, anxiously inhale beer for an hour while you wait for your turn, then finally get your chance at glory in front of a bar full of strangers. It’s the complete opposite in China. Here you can sing as often as you like without having to tip the DJ, and you know the entire audience.
We each sung about 10 songs over the span of three hours. By the end of this exhausting series of performances my vocal cords begged for mercy. After hearing and watching about 30 different Chinese pop songs and their music videos, I’ve concluded that I somehow know LESS Chinese than I did before.
Before leaving, I noticed a hand-in-hand couple walking in to reserve a KTV room for themselves. The sappiness that ensued in that dim karaoke room must have been epic. Imagine singing to only one person a bunch of times on your first date. Love song after cheesy love song, probably.
Overall, KTV was a fun experience. I got to go out and drink a few Chinese brews with friends and sing English songs I hadn’t heard in a long time. Oh and the best part about singing KTV in China: when you make mistakes, nobody notices.