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Archive for the ‘Chinese popular culture’ Category

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, and my host decided that the best way to escape the downpour was round up some Chinese friends and head out for KTV. KTV is Karaoke, that entertainment form which in the West generally sees a group of drunken friends, crowding a microphone and doing their best Steppenwolf/Springsteen/Bon Jovi/Green Day impression, depending upon generation and musical tastes. (They say that one’s taste in popular music is set at around the formative age of 19 – that would explain the wide range of musical options available at Karaoke bars, and why some songs you wish could be expunged from the planet still linger on like the smell of yesterday’s Chinese takeout. Mandy anyone?)
The difference with KTV, is that instead of swaying in front of a drunken crowd in a bar, you rent a private room, complete with your own large TV monitor, 2 or more microphones, and comfortable seating. Indeed, depending on the size of the party, you could have a private bar, stage, musical instruments, hostess, multiple seating areas: whatever your budget can accommodate, there is a KTV option for you. These venues are incredibly popular – in fact, I saw so much money being put through an automatic currency counter yesterday, I was reminded of the casino cages in Vegas. On weekend nights, the reception counters at these giant complexes (often 3 or 4 stories) are pressed with representatives for large groups of friends, waving their cash, seeking entry. You rent the room by the hour, and admission includes snacks, buffet lunch or dinner, or even breakfast for the 24 hour spots.
The song selection is in both Chinese and English, featuring the pop stars of the day for Taiwan, HongKong, China as well as the West. You can learn a fair bit about a culture by observing it’s popular forms – most Chinese girl singers are achingly beautiful in that fragile way, with porcelain skin (white skin is much prized here) full pouts and large soulful eyes. They wear less revealing or overtly sexual outfits than their American counterparts, tending to more feminine skirts or dresses which flow and flutter in the wind. They are all excruciatingly tiny: their legs are about the size of my arms, and I am not large. Most of the lyrics and stories relate to common, and apparently universal themes of boyfriends lost and found. The songs are primarily romantic (sappy comes in mind) in nature, and if they are not, they are more about female strength and power, than in your face sexuality. Mostly. There was a Chinese version of what looked like the Pussy Cat Dolls – Pussy Cat Kittens anyone?
In the extensive song selection (searchable by song title or artist) there are memories of raging hormones to be evoked back to about 1960. Some of the accompanying videos define cheesy – as in bad 80’s frizzy hair, harem pants, big shoulder pads, sparkly hair ornaments, and are just hilarious. Others are the original footage from the 60’s – I sang (badly) California Dreaming along with Mama Cass and the gang. You will find all of the classic Beatles song and of course Celine Dion – the theme song from the Titanic, My Heart will Go On, is reported to be the only English language song that all Chinese can sing along to without a tele-prompter. Now that is a pretty sweeping statement but it is said with confidence. Oh, and they also do the hand gestures complete with dramatic chest pounding at the right moments – now that, I need to see!
We spent 5 hours singing – well, they sang- I squawked through about 5 numbers. The hours flew by, partially because I was listening to 3 good singers practice their favourites and learn new tunes, but also because, frankly, I got into it. The technology smooths out most of your rough spots and if you forget how it goes, or can’t hit the high notes, your potentially embarrassing moment is filled in for you automatically. One benefit of singing with those who take it seriously, and many do, is that you get encouragement and tips along the way. Like most people who have found something they love, they want to share it with you, and have you enjoy it as much as they do. Next time, I am going to bring my ipod so I can find the songs I love faster. I also want to learn to control my breathing and intonation – should tone down the squawking. Oh, and did I mention that all of this entertainment was had without the benefit of alcohol – although that might have improved my performance. However, it’s time to let those Western inhibitions about performing outside my comfort zone go – if not now, when?
There is a seamier side to KTV which you might expect when the words “private” and “room” are put together and offered for sale by the hour. I did see that Youtube has some KTV videos that are restricted: you can assume the rest. I did not see any companionship for hire yesterday, but given that prostitution is pervasive here, and throughout Asia, I am not surprised. There is much that can be said, and has been said already on that unfortunate and some would say inevitable business. But not by me. At least, not today.

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