Saturday, July 15, 2006


Karaoke is probably the most popular form of entertainment in Shanghai, maybe alongside bootleg DVDs. Still, I've been here almost a year, and had avoided going all this time. Don't get me wrong, I like Karaoke fine, I did it sometimes in the US and always enjoyed myself. But as the number one form of entertainment, I just don't understand.

Oh, and I won't lie: the pictures are awful on this one. My cameraphone takes OK pictures in bright light, but at night it's just horrid.

I went after work, my first reaction when I entered was almost to laugh! I think of karaoke places as sightly seedy, but this karaoke place was like a huge office tower. Cancel that, all the clean dark surfaces and weird lighting and glass elevators made it a huge office tower - of the future!

It's the private karaoke booths, not the larger karaoke halls and bars that are more common in the US. I asked some people about it and they told me ten years ago karaoke bars were very common, but now it's pretty rare. I also asked the people how often they went. Defying stereotypes, they told me they hadn't been in a long time, or just once or twice in the past year...definitely there's people who go every week, though. It's also worth mentioning that some Karaoke joints are often basically hostess bars or straightforward fronts for prostitution.

We brought our own food and drinks, mostly chips and soda, although we weren't allowed to bring in our own alcohol- you had to buy that from the hall, at big mark-ups of course. Only one of our group smoked, but there were ashtrays everywhere and a crazy-strong air ventilation system, so obviously they're prepared for the possibility of more. Near our room was some gourmet-looking food on fancy metal platters.

Inside the room, it was dark with evil red lighting. I admit I didn't really enjoy myself, although it was fun to see that a couple of the people I know actually have really amazing voices - I wouldn't have suspected it. My problem was, I don't know most of the popular songs here. OK a lot of them I've heard around and could even hum the melodies, but I don't really have any attachment. They're pretty mindless and often just the Chinese equivalent to the Backstreet Boys or other overly manufactured pop.

The selection of English songs was really small, too, and took some guesswork - for instance, "kabingda" (or something like that, I forget) was a transliteration of "Carpenters." The only Carpenters song they has was "Yesterday Once More," probably the all-time most popular song in China - you hear it everywhere, including blasting out over speakers at the construction site near my apartment.

They also had "I Want You Back," although it wasn't the familiar Jackson 5 version. You could choose through the book, but mostly we used a computer system to pick the songs.

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