The Secret Teacher: Chinese Nights Out
Do the Chinese have nights out? That is a brilliant question. It’s something I’m often asked about by my fellow Irish. It’s a question with a response so long and detailed that an article is the only medium by which to give it a proper answer. The short version would be: Yes, the Chinese do have nights out. But why say so little when we could have so much fun learning about what the crazy chaps over here get up to when they’re not working? Or indeed what can foreigners do in China that they can’t do in the West?
When I was last in Ireland, I ventured to the local pub with my father. A few of his friends had joined us and inquired about what the Chinese equivalent to going for a pint would be. I told them all that if they were Chinese men, what they would probably be doing is sitting in a private room at a karaoke club downing beer like they were shots from whiskey glasses, along with smoking 20 cigarettes through the course of the night, topped off with some incredibly bad singing. Then they’d finish off the evening either by going to a late night restaurant or a massage parlour.
Bars and pubs are not so common in China as they are in other countries. Big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong do have plenty, but the norm is karaoke clubs or ‘KTV’ as the locals call them, where private rooms are the standard. It unfortunately limits the chance of interaction with strangers, which is one of the more glorious things about Irish pubs. There’s no buying of rounds either – you buy beers by the dozen or so for a set price, and all beers are bottled. Generally, the staff will throw in some complimentary fruit. Well, I say some; they actually give you a bloody lot of fruit. Smoking is perfectly legal in all these establishments, and Chinese men do love smoking. Even when you see no-smoking signs in restaurants or the KTVs, the locals just spark up anyway and the staff don’t bat an eyelid. As a side note, an economics professor recently told me 20% of China’s GDP comes from the sale of cigarettes. It’s difficult to corroborate that figure, but it would not surprise me if it was true!
These private rooms include very comfy couches, a big TV, a few microphones, a disco ball and soundproof walls (they’re needed). Whilst this sounds a bit odd and not as much fun as, say, a few drinks and a chat in somewhere like The International or a night of dirty, sweaty dancing in Copper Face Jacks, it is actually very enjoyable, if only for the gimmick. It’s the change from the usual practices and places on Irish or British nights out. I am not much of a singer, an even worse rapper and I would never get up in front of complete strangers and put them through my array of ear-piercing tones but in the KTV clubs with a few friends, I love it. And most foreigners that come here do too.
Part of the fun, or maybe most of it, is found in the English songs available for selection. Usually the cheesiest of power ballads are there, along with some indie songs from the early 2000′s, and the odd rap tune, though all KTVs have different selections. There’s always one unexpected gem in each one. For example, a teacher and I were taken to a KTV by a local girl. We did an English song, she did a Chinese one. It was a fun night. Then, while searching through the English songs, the other teacher shouted: “YES! This is the tune!” It was The Foo Fighters’ ‘ The Pretender’. We were well tipsy by time we sang it, so we both gave it our all. Especially at the ‘WHO! ARE YOU!?’ bit. The Chinese girl looked shocked. She said something along the lines of foreigners have such loud and fast music. You tend to find a golden oldie that you forgot you loved as well. My personal example being Shaggy’s ‘Angel’.
The TV displays more than just lyrics; the cheesy power ballads come with an even cheesier music video acted out about 20 years ago. Bon Jovi’s songs always feature a topless couple in a desert hugging and rubbing off each other the way a cat would rub its face against your leg, as if to illustrate the meaning of the song to the Chinese: this is a love song, they love each other.
Some of the other tunes available:
- Bonnie Tyler – ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ (my clique always finishes the night with this one)
- Robbie Williams – ‘Let Me Entertain You’
- The Eagles – ‘Hotel California’
- The Beatles – ‘Yellow Submarine’
- Queen – ‘Another One Bites The Dust’
- The Spice Girls – ‘Stop’
- Blue – ‘One Love’
- Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’ (I know! That’s in every KTV too)
- Avril Lavigne – All of her f**king songs
- Lady Gaga – All of her beautifully written music (she’s massive in China)
- Savage Garden – ‘To The Moon And Back’
- Oasis – ‘Wonderwall’ (of course)
- The Pussy Cat Dolls – ‘Loosen Up My Buttons’
- Eminem – ‘The Real Slim Shady’
- Take That – ‘Patience’ (oh yeah)
- Usher – ‘Yeah’
- Brittney Spears – ‘Oops I Did It Again’
- Blink 182 – ‘What’s My Age Again?’ (for the ladies)
- Europe – ‘The Final Countdown’
- Bon Jovi – ‘Living On A Prayer’
- Whitesnake – ‘Here I Go Again’
- Abba – ‘Does Your Mamma Know?’
- Westlife – ‘My Love’ (Westlife are also really big in China)
As you can see, some absolutely beautiful music in there.
There are more seedy KTVs out there which provide you with female company. These girls are not escorts, but are known as party girls. Their job is to drink with you (beer that you pay for, by the way), sing with you, dance with you and chat with you. Anything else they do is at their own discretion. Their company is not free either, which leads to some confusion among foreigners. Most feel that because they’ve paid, the girls are obviously prostitutes, and that they can close the deal in the KTV itself. This misconception led to one group of guys I know being banned from a certain KTV for making this kind of inexperienced misunderstanding. One gentleman of that group has since learned the etiquette. He tells me once you have paid your party girl and she’s doing her job of sitting in the KTV room with you, you must simply do your best to chat her up. At the end of the night, you’re supposed to invite her to dinner in a restaurant, if she accepts then you have an escort. If she declines, she stays a party girl. Of course when she becomes an escort, you have to pay again to further avail of her services.
I never saw the point to this; it sounds to me like a very expensive way to get rejected by a woman, and I can do that easily for free if I wish! As a matter of fact, the gentleman who told me these instructions has never gotten the whole way, so it would seem there is a slim chance of success, regardless of kuai spent.
As well, the way you request a party girl is shockingly sexist. When the usher who has just shown you to your KTV room takes your drinks orders, it’s at this point you say (in Chinese) ‘We want beautiful girls’. (it’s Wo men yao piao liang mei mei, if anyone cares) The usher says OK and comes back in 2 minutes, opening the door to show in between 7 and 10 party girls. Rules are usually one girl per guy. You pick one as they stand there, as if they’re bottles of wine, and she comes right over smiling and sits down next to you. It’s annoying, and yet very peculiar, that the ladies are always brought to you quicker than the drinks are. Make of that what you will!
My own stories in these sort of KTVs are largely boring. Although a drinking partner and I have experience in attending one of the seedier KTVS, I will plead my innocence (even if it does sound redundant). He had recently gone through a break-up, and after a few drinks the yellow KTVs (as they’re called) sounded like a hilarious idea. The only funny situation of note that I recall was us being ripped off at one KTV, which is what put me off the idea.
However, this buddy had a great story about a KTV in the previous city he had worked in. At that stage, he was new in China, and was no more than a day off the plane. The interpreter called him in the evening and said the boss of the school was taking them all out to dinner and Karaoke and my buddy partook, despite his jet lag. When they arrived at the KTV, they were shown to their singing lounge as normal, then in walked the girls. All beautiful, my buddy told us. The boss and interpreter each took two girls and went off into private rooms. My buddy, ever the polite and innocent gentlemen, said that he didn’t want a girl. The interpreter told him that the boss would take it as a huge insult if he didn’t choose a girl. Surprised at how someone can get offended by another not wishing to avail of solicitation, he gave in and picked one. The boss and interpreter had left with their company, so he just sang a few songs with her and smiled awkwardly the whole night until it was time to go.
For the record, as I’m writing this, I’m more than aware readers will be skeptical of my innocence. You should be. Just my own ‘last days of Rome’ didn’t happen to take place in a KTV. But perhaps I’ll save that story for another time…