Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Karaoke... on a BUS?

During our trip to Xitou this weekend, we learned something interesting about Taiwanese culture: It is customary for people on chartered bus trips (not public transportation) to sing karaoke... for the entire trip!

Over the last couple of months, Nick and I have noticed how much more tolerant the Taiwanese people are of noise pollution than Americans are. This was just another shining example of the culture not only tolerating noise, but embracing it whole-heartily.

The karaoke system was actually pretty advanced - exactly what you'd find in any karaoke bar in the US - a big book of songs and 5 microphones - two of which were cordless - which were shared by all of the passengers. When someone picked a song, the sound system played the music and the words were shown on small TV's throughout the bus.

There was even one little microphone up in the very front of the bus so the bus driver could get into the action!

For anyone who knows me personally, you don't even have to ask... yes I did sing one song: Country Roads by John Denver (it was a duet with my classmate Christine).

The Taiwanese version of Karaoke (or KTV) is really quite interesting to me. For most Americans, karaoke is something that we do only after a couple of beers in a poorly lit room full of strangers who aren't really listening to you, to offer maximum anonymity. Additionally, American karaoke is an only occasional indulgence and usually occurs at a dive bar that has karaoke one night a week, typically on a week-night.

The Taiwanese experience, on the other hand, is quite the opposite of this. On this little island, just about every neighborhood has it's own karaoke establishment. These places are called KTVs (short for Karaoke TV) and they're basically open all day and all night every day.

An import from Japan, Taiwanese KTV buildings are divided into a bunch of living-room style rooms, each with a projector screen (for the words to the songs and 1980's music videos), some couches, a coffee table, maybe some random art on the walls.... basically just like any living room. So, Taiwanese karaoke is done in a much more intimate setting than in the US - usually just friends and family in these small rooms (or on a BUS!), where people have little choice but to listen to you.

One of the most shocking things to me about Taiwanese KTV is that alcohol is absolutely not a necessity! I can hardly imagine an American listening to or singing karaoke without a cold beer in their hand, can you?

From my experience, Americans typically partake in Karaoke as an excuse to drink some beers and revel in the embarrassment of ourselves and others. The Taiwanese, on the other hand, seem to simply do it for the pure enjoyment of singing. No matter what your singing ability, you are expected to sing proudly and everyone else is expected to listen and enjoy you shamelessly butchering the song.

At this point, you may be thinking to yourselves, maybe the Taiwanese people are simply great singers.... but let me tell you, this is definitely not the case!

The first couple of times I was invited to partake in Taiwanese karaoke, I found myself declining the invitation for fear of feeling very uncomfortable at being so exposed - singing to such a small group of intent listeners without any liquid courage. However, my insecurity is waning and with each invitation I am feeling more free to join in on the fun.

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