27 Sep

Ultimate East Asian entertainment experience.

KTV is the Chinese name for what the Japanese call karaoke. KTV p(a)laces are generally huge affairs on multiple flors, offering dozens – even hundreds – of individual rooms, of all sizes, lined up along shiny corridors.

The decoration is somewhere between a glitzy hotel and a casino, with random arbitrary features.

KTVs are private affairs. A groom leads your party to its own cosy room. You will strictly not have to interact with anyone you don’t know – except for staff, who will bring you food, drinks, or come in to fix the system for you.

The system is simple. People choose a song on a touch screen. There are all sorts of options you can search by artist, or title, or language. It is overbearing, and the first five or ten minutes are often spent in confusion, while people ask ‘what should we sing, what should we sing’, while one person hogs the screen, trying to figure out how to search. But eventually, songs are selected, and a rhythm develops.

The ritual goes like this. When a new songs comes up on the screen, everyone asks: ‘whose song is that, whose song is that?’ A suitale singer is identified (not always the one who chose the song) and, standing or sitting, sings it in one of two microphones provided. Other people can sing along, or just accompany the performance on percussions (provided).

KTV may be the most popular form of entertainment among young Chinese people. For some reason, it does not appeal to Western tastes as much. On my first trip to Tianjin in December 2010, I was travelling with 25 other Australians on an HSK scholarship. One evening, we gathered in our hotel lobby, discussing what we would do that night. Two options emerged: bar or KTV. I followed the KTV crowd, and realized after a few minutes that I was the only white person there. Everyone else was Asian There must be some specific KTV pleasure that particularly satisfies an East Asian education. Familiar faces only? Technology taking over? The reassuring presence of a script to follow?

Somehow, the experience is not unlike vocal calligraphy: following a given model as the ultimate form of personal expression. Imitation as a way to the self. I recommend. It’s actually fun. And if you can sing a Mandarin song, you get a chance to seriously impress your Chinese friends. Kudos, kudos!


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