Stories from China: Karaoke

Catching up with an old friend last week got me thinking about the culture here in China, specifically the role of karaoke, known here as KTV.

Now everyone who’s ever met me knows that singing isn’t my strong suit, and as much as I wanted to be a good singer when I was little, I now fully accept that being the next greatest pop sensation just isn’t in my future. However, when my friends and I are in the KTV room, there is absolutely nothing stopping me from going for it! Although alcohol is playing a factor in that, KTV here is different from any karaoke I’ve ever experienced before. My karaoke past isn’t a great one, yelling down the microphone at discos and birthday parties when I was in primary school, becoming the new Spice Girls at a bar in Melbourne, and doing my best not to kill those who bring karaoke to the club at home. In China though, karaoke is a private affair. You rent a room with microphones, maracas and other percussion instruments, beer, fruit, and light settings you can adjust. The staff then leave, they’re close by in case something goes wrong, but they don’t witness the abomination of us singing. Then we’re let loose, and from Robbie Williams to Akon, every English language song they have is probably sung!

I’ve spent hours in a KTV room with my friends, stumbling home when the free beer became too much for me, going to the next door Mcdonalds at 2AM on the way in for fuel, and at 6AM for breakfast when we got kicked out. I’ve played games with Chinese people including probable prostitutes, sung more songs than I can count, and thankfully taken very few pictures! But KTV in China is more than the singing. I can think of very few children back home who would happily come with their father to karaoke and watch him butcher a classic song. That happens here though. In January we took our boss, Mayor Gao and their daughters for dinner and wanted to go to KTV afterwards. The children couldn’t stay late so John only stayed for one song which he sang. He sang it terribly, but the passion was undeniable, and his young daughter was happy as anything playing the maracas. It seems that if you try, even if you don’t succeed as long as you’ve tried hard that’s fine. KTV is a fun thing to do in China, and one of very few entertainment opportunities in Shijiazhuang, but its place in Chinese culture has no British comparison.

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