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!

Baby fashion

My parent friends often complain about the price of nappies. Chinese parents have found a wise way to tackle the problem: dispense with them. Children have special pants with a slit in the middle, so that anything coming out of the baby will fall directly down on the floor.

It’s local fashion, on a Chinese street, you’ll see quite a bit of (baby) ass.
Stranger still, I have – twice – seen the spectacle of a little girl peeing in the most acrobatic fashion: the mother holds her up by the arms and legs, while she pees in an arc, her skirt lifted up.
This happens in public. I saw it on BinJiang jie, the biggest shopping street in Tianjin. A policeman intervened, telling the parents off – ‘it’s just a child’ they answered. The policeman didn’t want much. He pointed to the street corner, just 50 meters down: do lift your little girl’s skirt, and have her pee on the street; just don’t do that on a big shopping street.

Wise, or gross?

Brides and grooms

I’ve been exploring the idea of Tianjin as a gigantic film set – or photographer’s studio. Married couples, or their photographers, are obviously sharing the idea: on week-ends, and even week days, you can always find some in iconic locations, such as the front of the Concert Hall.

Or the Italian concession.

These iconic spots are like Medieval cathedrals, as described by Hegel – there is room for a whole people there. The bride poses, while tourists and children pass by, indifferent. Another example of sharing public space – it is like a busy film set, where different shows are shot simultaneously. There is something slightly comic about it – that immortal moment of bliss, captured on the wedding photograph, that image of supreme beauty and accomplishment – has to be captured quickly, before the little girl comes into frame. Using public space in this fashion is not exclusively Chinese, of course – but the lack of privacy – and complete indifference to it – could be.

These brides and groom come in packs, accompanied by photographic teams (I saw a woman carry a reflector one day, but wasn’t in time to snap her). There can be something coming about these packs – this one, spotted in the Italian concession, reminded me of Zola’s wedding party, wandering aimlessly through the Louvre.

Is there a reason why people would rather have their photos taken in front of European style monument than in, say, the ancient culture street or the drum tower? The style of clothes is western itself, and it seems that ‘Western’ brings an air of  romanticism to life. Or is it just to give themselves the illusion of a trip overseas, that couples immortalise that moment in their life in front of Greek columns?


Public space

One of the things I find remarkable about China is how the people take over public space, or semi-private space, for their own needs, shamelessly. Although it can be seen as a form of undue appropriation, it is also a form of wisdom, in an over-crowded country.

This can take many forms. Hanging clothes on a street sign, because it’s there anyway, and it won’t detract from its function.

Using the side of the road for a little breakfast place – the cars won’t run right into you, and the pedestrians can use the other side of the road.

Or, stranger still, using the river as a swimming pool (it’s probably cleaner than the public pools, say Aaron, although there are dead fish around).

More surprising is using the bridge as an open air changing room (the photo’s a bit too blurry to perv, but yes, the man on the left is naked). This is probably the weirdest, for our privacy obsessed culture like ours. But when you think that taxi driver often pee on street corners – facing the road – changing under a bridge will seem pretty mild.

This is cultural, but has legal implications. How does it work. Who owns public space, and how is it regulated, in countries where this does not happen? Is it a law enforcement question – does the police simply not care? Or are the regulations different. And if they are – is there anything we could learn from China?