Not your everyday KTV experience

10 Sep

I wrote the following story a few months ago.  For those of you unfamiliar, a KTV is a karaoke bar; it’s a very popular pastime in China.

It’s late on an unusual Friday night – unusual because I participated in a sort-of social experiment tonight.  On a spontaneous whim, I decided to accept an invitation to KTV given by one of my students, Mr. Y – an invitation I’d spent all day making up excuses to get out of.  At the end of the night, I remember him jovially shouting: “No English name!” to his cousin, a young woman who was also present at KTV, just before he put me in a taxi to send me home.  He’s an interesting man: a joker who’s very aware of his disquieting nature (he’s also a small-time celebrity in this city).  Hanging out with rich Chinese people is bewildering and downright crazy sometimes, and tonight was no exception.

I was the only foreigner present among a room full of professional football (and by that I mean soccer, my fellow Americans) players (Mr. Y is a retired player), their girlfriends and girl friends, and a very odd-looking, wacky as all-get-out middle-aged Chinese woman with a blondish curly fro and unusually curvy hips.  She was also drunk from the second I laid eyes on her.  Most of the people there couldn’t speak English.  A few of the women could, and one or two of the players on the team could speak a little.  They all took turns playing dice games with and toasting me.  They made a bit of a game out of seeing who could persuade me to kampei (when someone toasts you and says “kampei,” it’s rude not to down the contents of your glass).  They were all (loudly) vocally impressed when one of them could have a broken conversation with me; a successful attempt usually ended in the room breaking out in cheers and applause, and failed attempts garnered hilarious drunken heckling.  I was a downright novelty.

I spent most of the evening playing dice games and talking to K (another one of my students who is in Mr. Y’s class) and observing the fact that Mr. Y sang almost every one of the Chinese songs that played throughout the evening (which was all but 4 songs: 3 English and 1 German).  I finally believed him; in class, he had told his skeptical teacher several times that his favorite hobby was singing, and now I’m not really sure why I didn’t believe him save for a general impression that it didn’t match his personality much.

After Kelly left, the crazy lady sat next to me – or on me basically – and talked to me with terrible English…and slightly bad breath.  After a half-hour of this, Mr. Y finally rescued me from a hilariously awkward situation:  kooky fro-lady was talking to me constantly in one ear and a teammate of Mr. Y’s with crooked teeth and an uber-stylish haircut was talking into the other ear.  I don’t know his name, but I feel like I should because he kept telling me that “he loved me” (I’m pretty sure they were the only English words he knew) and then grinning like a silly fool when he realized that he’d spoken some English and been understood.  Although, no amount of my replying “thank you so much!” would get him to shut up.

I sang a total of 3 songs.  Two were English songs that Mr. Y put on the screen, demanding that I sing them with him as duets by the way, he was so proud to have his English teacher there, especially because most of his friends didn’t believe he was taking classes until I confirmed that he was); however, I didn’t know them at all because they were directly translated from Chinese songs.  Chinese people sure know those songs, though; each time that room was roaring as everyone who couldn’t hold a conversation in English showcased their ability to at least sing it!

Finally, I gave up on Mr. Y’s songs and suggested he sing one I pick out.  Foolishly, I chose Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” that – I’ll admit it world – I’ve memorized thoroughly.  I say foolish because it’s too fast for someone who’s never heard it to sing correctly the first time, especially a low-intermediate English student.  My little performance – more appropriately, solo – was actually the highlight of my evening.  The people there made me stand in the front of the room.  For about a minute in the middle of the song, the words on the prompt screen went out, and I sang every word without being a bit off-tempo (though I was unfortunately terribly out of tune).  The surprised and pleased room of then-mostly men (by then more than half of the people had gone, including most of the women) were jumping up and down, clapping, cheering, and stomping to the beat – sometimes all four at once.  I sat down, beet-red and teetering towards embarrassment until I realized how happy everyone in the room seemed to be from witnessing the performance.  In the end, I decided to just be flattered and be done with it.

It’s time’s like these when I shake my head and think: “Only in China.”  For people here, though, it was just another crazy night at the KTV.

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