Karaoke. I don’t think I’m alone in my first instinct being to groan at the mere mention. In the West, it’s seen as a special level of hell.
Where it feels like this
But is actually like this
because people sing in front of the whole bar
which requires copious amounts of alcohol
which inevitably results in very poor choices. That’s how we westerners end up singing Elvis and Carpenter’s songs so plastered we can hardly keep the microphone in our hand.
Don’t get me wrong, its good fun and I’ve always enjoyed it when I’ve done it. But it’s a kitschy pastime and treated as such.
So when the students wanted to have a KTV party after recruitment was done, I rolled my eyes at the mention. “Come on, you can’t leave China and not do KTV. You have to,” Andrea- a visiting mentor for the WAFW said. She was right. Like the “Oh God, I’m so sick” experience, karaoke is required when travelling to Asia. I was looking forward to it about as much.
So last night was the night. We’d been in workshops all day. When we were done, everyone headed over there. They would be ordering pizza. I needed to eat my prepared-by-me food to be safe, so I told them I’d join them later. I ended up meeting an amazing woman at dinner that’s here to do public health workshops as part of her graduate studies and talked well until the kitchen staff had cleared the steam table. My phone began to ring. “Where are you?” Karina, then Gloria, then Carol called to ask (literally within 2 minutes of each other). Carol was in my room and would walk me over. Mariam came with me. We walked to the European Gate and over the pedestrian bridge. The street vendors were all set up with yummy looking gluten bombs all down the potholed street. The sidewalk is under construction, so we wove onto and off of it as needed, weaving through mopeds, taxis and other pedestrians.
Karaoke is not a mere pastime in Asia. It is an institution.
My first full awareness of this came as a result of this building.
I thought it was some kind of temple. I found out the next day that it is a karaoke bar. Well, I suppose it still is some kind of temple- just not what I’d originally thought.
Turning off of the torn-up side street that has all the smells and sights of side streets here, I certainly didn’t expect what I found at the end of it.
The lobby was opulent and sleek. There was an equestrian theme with white porcelain horse head sconces on the walls. The floor was black and white marble and there were chandeliers and gold accents. We were ushered into an elevator by a server in a tux, and whisked upstairs. There is a long hallway, and our room was at the end of it.
I walked into a room absolutely brimming with students and facilitators having a grand old time.
This isn’t our room, but you get the idea. This is the exact opposite of the sticky-floored cheap chair wobbly table places that I usually associate with karaoke.
It was gorgeous. It was comfortable. It was incredibly fun. Someone you don’t know singing horribly is torture. Someone you know singing horribly is fantastic fun. I loved seeing these students that I had experienced as being so polite and reserved belting it out to the crowd. It was glorious. Many of them were really good as well- I don’t know which I enjoyed more- the ones that were terrible and loving it, or the ones that were really good. Most of the bottles on the table were lemonade and water bottles. Every time an English song would come up, they would hand me the microphone. Usually I didn’t know the English song, so I’d hand it back. Finally, I got up and went to look at what songs they had. Mariam and I picked Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”. There is little as pleasing as knocking out students with unexpected talent. I’m sure someone got video. I heard they were talking about it the next day. I hope it looks closer to how it felt than my second picture, but oh well. I had a great time doing it.
We had the room until 2am, when the place closes, but since the dorms lock up at 10:30, the last few remaining students and I left a little after 10. Many of the students took off around 8:30. I thought I wasn’t reading my clock properly, but one of the students told me there were classes in the morning.
Still. I can’t imagine American students clocking out of a free night out so early because they had class at 8 the next day. I’m continually amazed at these students’ dedication and commitment. 22 to a dorm room with no indoor plumbing to get through high school. 8 to a room in college. Classrooms with no heat or air. The dorms lock up at 10:30 (earlier on holidays). Yet they seldom complain. They just do what they need to do and roll with the punches. I’ve learned so much from them, and admire them so deeply.
So much of their approach and way of doing things is exactly the opposite of what we do in America. Week before last, there were performances every night in the amphitheater across from Peter Hall. When the students were asked about it, they replied “We want the freshman to feel welcome in our SIAS family. They have left behind their families and homes and villages to come be here, so we want them to feel they are welcome here like their home.” Exactly the opposite of the hazing rituals and general scorn and disregard for freshmen in the states. It just melts your heart to hear it. They talk of how scared and lonely they were coming to college the first time, so they want the freshmen to be happy.
They look out for each other. They tell each other announcements. They make sure they know about assignments and changes to assignments. Though many westerners complain about it not being organized because there are so many changes and last minute changes to the changes, there is a flexibility that comes with the way they do things here that is precisely the reason they’re leading the world in manufacturing and poised to continue to dominate the world business scene.