Like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it. But either way, KTV is a huge part of life in China. Unlike in the West where a Friday or Saturday night in the pub might see you greeted by middle-aged drunks bashing out their favorite songs, in China, karaoke is a much more complicated affair. Our guide to KTV in China will teach you everything you need to know about the Middle Kingdom’s favorite pastime.
The Two Types of KTV
An urban shopping mall or square in a Chinese city is incomplete without a few neon-glaring KTV signs to light up the local scene. KTVs (which simply stands for Karaoke TV) are the go-to place for groups of young friends in China. However, you’ll also often see middle-aged businessmen flocking in and out in the later hours. Needless to say, these two groups frequent very different kinds of KTV outlets, and the businessmen aren’t just there to sing.
KTVs can be broadly split into two categories: family-friendly KTVs, which offer only singalongs, drinks and snacks, and special KTVs, which also offer scantily clad girls for one’s evening entertainment. It’s not easy to differentiate between these two types from the outside as they tend to look extremely similar. However, family-friendly KTVs are typically located around shopping malls and in built-up areas, while slightly less-central KTVs that seem to be making an effort to look “classy” are probably the other kind. If you see large groups of older, inebriated men entering the venue, it’s a safe bet that it’s not family-friendly.
Family Friendly KTVs
At family-friendly KTVs, room sizes can vary from mini (1-3 people), to medium sized (4-7 people), to large (8-13 people). They can be paid on either an hourly basis or by pre-booking a block of hours, which tends to work out considerably cheaper. There are usually fantastic discounts for daytime slots. If you’re rolling with children or have a craving for Captain America or even Hello Kitty then you’re in luck, as some KTVs provide themed booths that are elaborately decorated with popular characters.
Special KTVs allow rich businessmen to flaunt their wealth by renting girls to sing and dance with for the evening. These sleazy KTVs tend to come with plush furnishings, lots of winding corridors and numbered glossy doors that look similar to upscale hotels. Upon entering these “VIP” KTV booths, customers are greeted with a line-up of fine looking girls and are invited to select one to accompany them throughout the evening.
The hostesses are responsible for creating a happy atmosphere. Their duties can range from lighting cigarettes, topping-up glasses to encourage their customers to drink more, playing dice games, singing and chatting, to more sleazy activities that border on allowing themselves to be groped.
The room will be charged by the hour, with the hourly rate of each girl (usually between RMB 400 - 700) added on top. As you might imagine, a big night in a special KTV joint will likely run your bill into the thousands.
KTV is most fun when you’re with a group of people you’re familiar with. At times, you may find yourself invited with a group of friends-of-friends, which inevitably leads to the uncomfortable situation where no-one wants to sing and everyone hits the alcohol early.
People typically go to KTV after a meal, and therefore only graze the various light snacks (ranging from duck neck and chicken feet to endless amounts of watermelon) that are served by the waiting staff who can be summoned by the press of a buzzer. You will be expected to order a bucket of beers or a bottle of hard alcohol, the latter of which usually comes with free mixers and ice.
If invited to KTV, you’re pretty much expected to sing, regardless of your ability (or lack of). If someone in the room has the voice of an angel – or is borderline blackout drunk – you can expect them to take the standing mic at the front of the room and throw a few shapes while they’re immersed in the moment. The audience typically claps and cheers no matter how good or painful the entertainment, and this tends to magnify as the evening wears on and alcohol consumption peaks.
As the average KTV room is ridiculously loud, chatting is practically impossible. Therefore, expect personal distance to go out of the window as mouth-to-ear conversation becomes the norm. If you get cornered by a bore though, don’t worry. Positions tend to switch like a game of musical chairs whenever anyone gets up to sing or use the bathroom.
How to KTV
1) Drink some booze and grow a pair
2) Think of a song/ an artist
3) Select the English interface unless your zhōngwén is hěn lìhài
4) If it’s a song name you’re after, type the first letter of each word from the song title (e.g. ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ would be ‘d-l-b-i-a’). If it’s an artist or band, start typing their name and it should pop up
5) Select and queue the song
6) Choose to sing with either the original song playing, half-solo (faint lyrics) or solo
7) Put on a good show for your audience
Chinese songs are usually about love or a painful break-up. They are generally slow-paced, emotional and drag on for some time. If you’re with a group of Chinese friends then it’s a safe bet that a fair few love songs will be sung. You can also expect Canto-pop to be bravely tackled by Mainlanders who probably can’t speak any Cantonese.
I’ve always found Chinese love songs to be a good way of dampening the mood, so I try to pick out something more pacy. The availability of English songs is reflected by the price and reputation of the KTV facility. Practically all KTVs stock some classic English hits, while upscale KTVs (such as 纯K) have plenty of modern tracks to choose from. Expect to see a plethora of English and American pop and rock songs from the likes of The Wanted, Linkin Park, Fall Out Boy, Coldplay, Jason Mraz, Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga.
KTV Drinking Games
As if KTV wasn’t boozy enough on its own, drinking games are common. Two of the most popular KTV drinking games are Liar’s Dice (吹牛) and Fan Pai (翻牌).
Liar’s Dice is, as the name implies, is a game that encourages bluffing. Each player shakes a cup containing five dice. Without revealing their roll, each player in turn must call out their prediction for the total number of a certain face-value (such as 5 x 6s) for all the dice on the table, including their own. The next player must either up the bid or call the previous player a liar. The aim of the game is to avoid being called out on your bluff and losing, which inevitably leads to the downing whatever is in your glass. If you’ve never player before, don’t worry. It sounds way more complicated than it actually is.
Fan Pai is a board game for 2-4 players using nine tiles that are numbered from 1-9. Each player rolls two dice and must flick any number of tiles either up or down to equal the dices’ total. For example, if you roll a nine, you could then flick up 6+2+1). The loser is the player who fails to overturn all of their tiles in time. Obviously, the loser drinks.
That's pretty much all I can tell you. After that, all my KTV experiences are very blurry.
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