Wednesday, March 2, 2011

KTV, Then and Now

I have not told you about my first KTV experience. Even though I mentioned KTV before, I have not even told you what KTV is. Seeing as this entry is about KTV, I had better get busy and fill you in, hadn’t I?

KTV is Chinese karaoke. I do not know why it is called that, other than perhaps the K stands for ‘karaoke’ and TV is added because they use a flat-screen TV to show the accompanying video to the song currently playing.

Karaoke is originally a Japanese pastime. To sing karaoke in Japan, one covers one’s head but exposes one’s belly, and it is presumed that the belly is doing the singing. A mock face is drawn on the belly and the mouth is supposed to move as the singer sings. Or some other inane behavior marks the revelers. It is a time-honored activity in business circles: after a formal dinner, the meeting adjourns to a nearby karaoke club and everyone loosens up by drinking alcohol and singing with their belly exposed. That is just one way that people let down their guard. Dancing, mocking a song by singing in falsetto and liberal doses of sake keep the party going.

When karaoke migrated to America, the practice of covering one’s head while exposing one’s belly went by the wayside. In America, the singers sing in front of a bar room full (or half full) of people, and nobody cares how well or how badly the song is sung because it is all in fun. Of course, the more beer you drink, the less you care about who is screeching into the microphone and forever ruining your favorite song. If they are really bad, their rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel” or “Hound Dog” would make Elvis REALLY want to leave the building, along with the rest of the clientele.

I have no room to talk. I have done a terrible job in the past, singing karaoke. But I don’t do half-bad singing acapella, apparently. Remember, when I ‘auditioned’ for a part in the Year-End show for the school and Sha-Sha, the show coordinator commented that I could really sing? And, (I don’t think I divulged this little nugget either…) because I was running out of things to do in the classroom, I taught the kids to sing pop songs that they really like, such as ‘Yesterday Once More’ by the Carpenters, or ‘Because of You’ by Kelley Clarkson. I had to sing those acapella too, because I did not have a way to play the accompanying music. The kids were impressed that I could sing the songs they liked, and sing them well.

It seems I have turned into quite the songbird since I’ve moved to China.

Singing karaoke in China is different from both Japan and America. In China, when you go to a KTV – a karaoke club, you do not get up in front of everyone, and sing – either with your belly exposed or covered. The club consists of little rooms that you book by the hour, each furnished with their own karaoke set-up, a couch that offers seating for up to eight people and little hassocks to accommodate more, if your party is really large. You can purchase food, snacks and alcohol, and even play a game of dice, if you wish. It is a group activity.

I had longed to experience karaoke in China, having seen it in various Chinese movies that I had watched. But, as I seldom travel within a group, my prospects of experiencing KTV type entertainment were limited. Until Summer, Sasuke and Mahalia invited me to go, that is. These three young ladies, students of mine, wanted me to join them for a day out and, although I had never expressed a desire for it openly, they made KTV a part of the outing. What joy! I was finally going to experience KTV!

This particular KTV was more upscale, with fancy wallpaper and a premium sound system. They also had a bank of switches on the wall, which I soon learned were volume control, or to either mute or blare the original singer of the song. Sometimes at KTV, the people in the group like a particular song but do not want to sing along with it, so they have the option of just listening to it being sung by its original artist and watching the video. The last two switches were for lighting control; apparently the mood strikes people differently and they want either diffused lighting or a spotlight. Very fancy.

Sasuke, Summer, Mahalia and I ‘played’ KTV for about 2 hours. We each took turns picking tunes from the sizeable bank of songs available. Of course, I sang mostly songs in English, but I do know a Chinese song or two and we giggled at my attempts to sing those. Of the four of us, Mahalia was the best vocalist, but she is very shy and didn’t sing very many songs.

I had meant to write about this before now, seeing as it happened before Winter break, but maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t, because today I experienced KTV for the second time.

This experience was a bit different than the first time I went to KTV. This club was close to campus, right there on The Street. It had just opened a few weeks before Winter break, but now it was doing a hopping business. It seems KTV is the thing for bored people to go out and do.

The rooms are much smaller in this club, and not soundproofed at all. We could hear the wails and screeches from other patrons enjoying their rented hours of fame with their friends. Presumably, everyone could hear us, too, if they were quiet for a minute or two. The song bank was not nearly as well populated or organized as the first KTV club I went to; we had to really hunt for songs to sing. The kids – Martin, Stephanie and Winnie, wanted me to sing “Yesterday Once More” like I did in class. We finally did find it in the songbank, along with some other songs I know the words and melody to. One song I sang, “How am I Supposed To Live Without You” earned me a 96 on the talent meter! Even I was impressed with that.

Winnie can sing! This girl is so good, I thought that she was letting the original singer sing, but this room had no such controls, like the first room I sang in did. I realized it was her doing the singing when Martin insisted on joining her, and she laughed at him. Only then, when I heard a lapse in the lyrics, did it sink in that Winnie was singing to rival a professional vocalist. I would have gladly let her sing the whole time we were there, but that would not have been fair to everyone else. Especially Martin, the only boy in the group, who felt compelled to rap, of all things. This poor child should study hard in school because he will never make it as a rap artist.

Where did the time go? I thought we had only booked the room for one hour, but it seems Stephanie and Martin had rented it for three hours. Before I knew it, it was going on 8PM and the club manager knocked on the door to tell us he had a reservation for the room. We had to clear out, and fast. We cleared the queue, gathered our things and hustled down the stairs, into the night.

I have to admit: KTV is a lot of fun. Is it the singing, the camaraderie, the hanging out with a group of people and being given license to be a performer for a time? I don’t know. I just hope someone invites me to karaoke again, soon! Or else, I’ll do the inviting.

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