I knew this day would come. I tried to avoid it as long as possible, but like going to the bathroom on a squat toilet it could not be avoided while living in China: I went to a KTV.

KTV? I hear you ask. What is KTV? I’ll give you one hint. The K stands for karaoke.

In 1998, when I lived in Los Angeles, I went to a karaoke bar once and swore I’d never do it again. Since it was LA, and everyone wanted to be “discovered” only the tanned, skinny and serious sang. I was with a bunch of (drinking) friends, and after enough liquor we convinced my friend Narducci to get up and sing. He sang Tom Jones 1971 classic She’s a Lady. He sang it as a cross between a drunk college kid and, well, a howling dog.

We thought it was hilarious, but the karaoke regulars were incensed. Not even a minute into the song and they came over to our table. “Get him off the stage,” they hissed. “He’s embarrassing.” None of the rest of us sang after that.

I know that Karaoke is big in Asia, and I know they are just as serious here in China. That’s why I didn’t want to go. But it was fellow teacher Lynn’s birthday and last week in China so I agreed to go do whatever she wanted to do. And she wanted to KTV.

We had spent the early part of the evening having a party at our place, then drinking at a bar. (Well, they drank, I had green tea.) It was probably 10 in the evening when we arrived at KTV. Luckily they don’t sing in a bar here in front of a large crowd. Instead, your group gets its own room and you are free to be as loud, and as off-key, as you want.

When we entered the building it looked like a lobby of a nice hotel. We checked in and were led down a hallway with many dark doors. We opened one of the doors and went in. The room itself was a perfect size with a long leather couch across one of the walls. The room was dark, with a little laser light show shooting down from the ceiling and a giant screen TV in front. There were 2 microphones with long cords so you could sing standing up in front of everyone, or sitting down on the couch. Next to the TV was a touch screen which you could pick all the songs from.

They brought us drinks and snacks and left us alone for the next 3 hours as we wailed away. From all my protesting you would have expected that I didn’t sing at all. Yet I surprised even myself when I found myself grabbing the microphone on the second song of the evening. (It was Yellow Submarine. I mean, how could I not, right?)

The funniest thing was the videos. Sometimes the actual video of the song would play like with Britney Spears songs.

But more often then not it would be a video of a random collection of scenery clips as the song played, or movie clips. While I (and others I never sang alone) sang a Phil Collins song they showed clips from the Keanu Reeves movie Walk in the Clouds. Another song had clips from an old black and white war movie. It was very funny.

But my personal favorite was the Beatles videos. They didn’t have the real videos, or even scenic clips. Instead, they had 4 guys that sort-kinda looked like the Beatles singing along as well. It was good enough for us not to notice during the first 2 minutes of a song, but bad enough for us to be cracking every song after.

Many of the Chinese people with us tried to be serious. I got to hear a lot of popular Chinese music, which was nice, and Lynn and Morten even tried singing along with a Chinese song they kinda knew.

Fun Fact: While simplified characters are the official written characters of mainland China, all Chinese karaoke songs are written in traditional characters. (Making it that much more difficult for foreigners to read.)

We ended up staying for 3 hours until the workers practically kicked us out. (They were standing by the door with brooms and garbage cans. It was a Tuesday night after all.) I was pretty worn out by that time, and very, very sleepy, but all in all I think KTV is not as bad as I feared. I won’t be doing it again anytime soon, but I have learned to not be so afraid after all.

Cultural note: While the KTV we went to was very “on the level” the word KTV girl is synonymous with prostitute. I mean, you get a warm dark room with a nice couch so I can see where the connection is made. I know a few foreigners who walked into less reputable KTV’s and very quickly realized there wasn’t much KTV’ing going on.


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