KTV and Chinese New Year

Last week on Tuesday it was Kitty, one of the Chinese teaching assistant’s, birthday. As with every Chinese female I’ve met so far, Kitty really likes KTV – Karaoke TeleVision – and so she booked a room at the local Real Love KTV. KTV isn’t like any karaoke I’ve been to in the UK or US. It’s much more serious. Instead of a karaoke man turning up at a bar with his karaoke machine and a few drunk people having a go at singing shouting Wonderwall, KTV is an actual destination. At KTV a group of friends have a private room. In the room there’s a touch screen computer to select songs, a couple of microphones hooked up to a proper soundsystem and a big screen TV for the music video and lyrics. At the push of a button a waiter comes to take orders for drinks and food.
To give an idea of the scale of the KTV industry, our room could have held around 25 people, and we were in one of around 25 rooms on one of four floors of Real Love. Between my school and Real Love, just a few streets apart, we could have chosen from around five other KTVs.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about KTV, and while those opinions cover an entire spectrum from ‘love’ to ‘hate’, the majority of people end up at either end. To massively generalise, at the ‘love’ end of the scale are most women. At the ‘hate’ end are most men. The response to the prospect of going to KTV from most of the western men I work with was horror. “It’s awful” they said, “unless you’re absolutely wasted, when it can be a bit fun.”

But regardless, me, Dave and Nick went along anyway and found Kitty and her friends completely sober and singing love ballad after love ballad. More love ballads than I knew there were possible combinations of words and musical notes available. So Carrie and Brittany changed the tempo a bit with some Black Eyed Peas and Jay-Zed, then someone put Coldplay on the playlist for Nick, which he really didn’t appreciate.

I thought it was actually quite fun despite the protestations of the guys. And just in case anyone’s interested: no, I didn’t sing. I’m too nice to subject people to torture.

I did sing, however, in Park Qin on Sunday for Chinese New Year. It seems to be a tradition in Park Qin to play Wonderwall every night, and part of that tradition is that all the Brits sing along with everyone else looking on in amazement. Apparently we’re the only nationality that knows the words.

Chinese New Year seems to be much like the western new year. Everyone either stays at home and watches TV, or goes out to get drunk, pops outside at midnight to see the fireworks, then carries on drinking afterwards. We started the night by getting a taxi into central Xi’an. I know what you’re thinking – not another boring taxi story – but I think this one has enough merit as an amusing anecdote. There were five of us, and taxis here only take four people. But the driver was nice and we agreed a slightly inflated ¥30 fare with her before all squeezing in. It was at this point that Colin decided he really needed to go to the toilet and me sitting on him wasn’t helping. “Not long” we reassured him, but there was a protest blocking the road so we had to go a longer way around. Eventually we said to the driver to stop to let him out and we all had a good laugh shouting ‘granny bladder’ as he ran to a discreet place. As we all teach kids, apparently the Chinese we used was equivalent to saying something like “I need to go pee pee”, but it’s the meaning that counts.

We started the night on Bar Street, which was deserted. The bar we went in didn’t have music but instead everyone was watching TV. The TV programme seemed to be a cross between the Eurovision Song Contest and the Royal Variety Performance. I guess it’s China’s version of Jools Holland’s Annual Hootenanny. It was boring so we went to the hostel bar, which was also quite quiet. So, surprise surprise, we ended up in Park Qin again.

Sometime during the night I decided to put my camera in video mode and film as much as possible to later turn into a movie. The results are on Vimeo here. Considering it’s the first time I’ve filmed and edited together a movie I don’t think it’s too bad at all.

At midnight we all went outside to see the fireworks, but unlike back at home there was no central organised display, just random people letting of random fireworks. The result was much more dangerous with explosions going off all over the place, which made it much more exciting not knowing where the next explosions would come from.

Back in Park Qin and Albert, one of the TAs at school, joined us and the drinking got even heavier. I left around 3am when everyone at the table ordered a second bottle of rum.

Once again I’m writing this in Starbucks, taking advantage of the fast internet and free heating. This time the only seat available is next to the window. This is fine, except that all the people walking past outside see a waiguoren sitting in the window working on a laptop and slow down for a look. I feel like I’m in a weird zoo. A few have even stopped and peered through to my laptop screen trying to work out what I’m writing. This is another thing that, although it feels like it, is not worse about China but just different. I’ll put this ‘curious to the point of rudeness’ in the same category as the spitting in the street and the constant staring – something annoying to get used to.

Tonight my mate Neil, who lives in Shanghai, is coming for a holiday. In fact he should be here any moment so it’s time to click ‘publish’.

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