I burst out laughing at the plaintive tone in his voice. I didn’t mean to but I just couldn’t keep it in.
‘Dinner sounds great,’ he said, ‘but please, no KTV.’
Although the conversation between the Chinese businessman and his western colleague didn’t directly involve me, we shared a lift so I couldn’t help but overhear as we rode upwards floor by floor.
The foreign businessman, who had a British accent but looked like he was of Indian or Pakistani descent, was basically pleading to be kept as far away as possible from an evening of (likely) excessive drinking whilst singing along to pre-recorded backing tracks in a small, intimate room, fitted with plush furnishings and speakers loud enough to grace any stadium.
KTV rooms are popular across South Asia and are generally used as a way to spend time with friends, to entertain business colleagues or clients and even just to relax alone. Some enterprising people use them to train their voices for possible future stardom, others gather there to meet the opposite sex. (yes some KTV parlours do have a seedier side, but that’s not for this blog).
Rooms are usually booked online in advance, but can be obtained on the spur of the moment just by turning up. Frequent singers are offered various memberships and discounts.
The establishments are palaces of glass and mirrors, with thick, wall to wall carpeting. Uniformed attendants provide alcohol, soft drinks and plates of fruit and nuts for an all inclusive price.
Outside of the sound-proofed singing rooms which seat anything from 4 to 20 people, maybe more, you can order dinner, play pool, or just hang around.
Exterior of Queen Box KTV, Shenzhen, China
Typical corridor in a KTV. All idential with no clocks and no windows.
In China’s hot summers, KTV’s air-conditioned environment offers a welcome respite from a burning sun. Conversly, during winter people go to forget about the cold, grey environment of the outside world.
Most sessions last about four hours although you can leave early if you wish. However, if you don’t want to appear rude you’ll keep smiling through yet another sad Chinese love song telling about how a young man’s world has ended because he lost the girl of his dreams to his best friend.
If you want to impress your Chinese friends, learn the words to a popular Chinese song beforehand and blast it out at KTV, the first chance you get. They’ll never look at you the same way again!
Over the last couple of summers I seemed to spend an awful lot of time at one KTV or another. I sang my way through almost every Adele song (could someone please ask her to sing something cheerful, already?), a few Rihanna’s and of course, the obligatory Beyonce bounce. I also tried out a few Chinese numbers, which I think went pretty well, even if I do say so myself.
After all that time spent in a building which can be a little disorienting due to the lack of clocks and windows and the fact that the many corridors all look exactly the same, not to mention slightly ringing ears due to the powerful speakers, I reckon I know exactly how that foreign businessman was feeling.
Would I go again? To be honest, I think KTV and China go hand in hand so it’ll probably happen, afterall who doesn’t enjoy letting their hair down with a good singsong?