By James Smith
Prior to moving from my home in the UK to teaching English in China, my idea of karaoke nights was a group of middle-aged drunks crammed into a tiny pub killing some of the best songs ever written. It was hardly my idea of fun. Then I moved to China where karaoke is something of a national sport and now it is top of my list as best things to do for fun here!
It’s known locally as “KTV”, and you’ll get to know it very well during your time teaching English in China! There are numerous KTV’s in almost every town or city you could visit, some of them big illustrious establishments and others quite on the quaint side, but they all have exactly the same set up. As you enter it almost feels like going into a bar, but the building is separated into private rooms which can be hired out by groups of friends, family or colleagues who want to enjoy a night of drinking, laughing and most importantly: singing!
Each room can fit up to about 20 people (though I’ve seen many more than that before!) and the main feature of the room is the large plasma screen on the wall displaying music videos with, of course, the lyrics at the bottom. You can choose which songs you want to play from the large database and luckily many English songs are there for those of us who can’t read Chinese characters!
The reason an evening at KTV is so fun is largely down to the Chinese’s apparent passion and love for singing their favourite tunes at the top of their voices in front of their nearest and dearest! But unlike the karaoke I know from back home, most of the Chinese can sing rather well! In tune at least.
Waitresses will come in and serve beers, snacks, baijiu (Chinese spirits) and fruit and it kind of feels like your own personal nightclub. I had this particular feeling on one occasion when the students I was with (after a long night of singing) decided to turn off the normal lighting, introduce some strobes and put on trance music! The whole place suddenly went from having a relaxed sing-a-long atmosphere into a full-out hardcore rave! To this day it remains one of my favourite moments of my time here teaching English in China. Spontaneous moments often are the best ones, right?
The really beautiful thing about KTV (and teaching English in China in general) is how students and teachers can enjoy moments like this together. It certainly makes the next days lessons a lot more interesting!