31 Jul Different Strokes For Different Folks
The world’s a funny old place. Patches of land inhabited by sophisticated apes, proclaiming sovereignty from other neighbouring patches of land and that, over the course of time, have developed habits and ways of living that make one patch of land distinct from…other patches of land. This gives rise to what we may refer to as ‘culture’, which Google defines as “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.”
As a consequence of being born and raised on one patch of land as to opposed to another, certain practices that are commonplace on other patches of land will, depending on one’s threshold for the unusual, yield responses ranging from “Wow, the differences in cultural practices from one set of people to the next are fascinating” to… “OMG no way!!! How do people actually do that?!”.
The Chinese penchant for Karaoke (KTV as it’s known in China) is a ‘cultural practice’ that is likely to yield the latter response rather than the former. What, you thought Karaoke was only something that your drunk uncle does at Christmas? A practice confined to that trashy bar you always avoid where the dreary drones that escape it are surpassed in their flatness only by the atmosphere inside it?
But who said that Karaoke has to be a race to the bottom? An activity where people attempt to reach a state of musical equilibrium by singing with the least melody but the most decibels. Sure, it’s amusing for a period of time but honestly, mate, you’re actually causing irreparable damage to my eardrums. I used to like to music! Indeed, music is something that transcends culture. While people have different tastes and musical preferences, music is something that human beings – regardless of which patch of land they happen to have been born on to -across the world enjoy. So wouldn’t the whole practice be far more enjoyable if we actually took some pride in it?
Enter China, where you’ll find KTVs in industrial numbers, be served with the same alacrity and friendliness that you could expect to find in any respectable western establishment, and where you are sure – if you enter with an open mind and are prepared to leave a good chunk of your cultural prejudices at the entrance – to have a bloody good time. It’s worth saying at this point that KTV in China is perhaps a little different to how we see Karaoke in the west. KTV complexes are enormous, with 100s of small rooms and booths lining corridors spanning multiple floors.
Rather than standing on a stage in a seedy bar with a room full of strangers, you can conceive of KTVs almost as hotel-like structures, where groups of people can rent a small room fitted with seating, tables, sound proof walls and, of course, a fully integrated Karaoke system complete with Jukebox, multiple TVs, microphones, and even a mini-stage. What’s more, you’ll receive in-room service by a team of alarmingly professional staff that will bring food and drink (lots and lots of drink) on request.
It’s perhaps precisely because KTVs have been normalised in China that the average Chinese person sings much, much better than the average westerner. KTV’s are frequented by everybody from university students to office-workers to executives and beyond. They are used for girls’ nights out, boys’ nights out, first dates, to re-unite old friendships, cement business relationships and everything in between.
But what if you actually can’t sing? Don’t worry! The Chinese love anyone who’s willing to give it a go. Besides, after a few ganbei’s (Chinese equivalent to ‘cheers’ where people down their drinks), any lingering sense of embarrassment is sure to disappear. Oh, and any attempt, regardless of its success, to bluff your way through through a Chinese song (it’s possible – we’ve done it) will be met with a rapturous response from your local audience.
As the Chinese proverb goes, rùxiāngsuísú (入乡随俗) -‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ . Living in a different country is all about opening your mind to a different way of life, a different set of practices, and while this (pretty big) patch of land they call China boasts some pretty weird and wonderful cultural idiosyncracies, there’s nothing that gives you the Chinese experience quite like KTV. So whether you’re here to study Chinese, teach, intern, or just to travel, we’ll see you on the stage!