One of the defining memories of Hong Kong was one of the first experiences I ever had in that city, a trip to Neway Karaoke.
Karaoke originated in Japan and has become a Korean pastime – and now has found a niche in Hong Kong as well.
I don’t sing. I’ve never taken singing classes, and with the exception of shower anthems, I tend to not sing, as I’m self-conscious about my voice. So when I jokingly suggested that this large group of people I just met, representing nine nations, go to a Karaoke place, and they said “Yes!”, I felt my heart sink.
I was jet-lagged and had no desire to get to a drunken-enough-to-sing point, which was the plan for the Europeans in the group, so I went sober like most of the Asians.
I don’t regret it. What started out with people all awkwardly finding excuses not to sing
(I have a sore throat, I don’t know the words, etc) turned into me and another American starting the night off by singing a duet of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”. After that, perhaps after seeing me doing this willingly, the whole group became lively, and the entire evening was spent belting out songs, dancing, and eventually people enjoying themselves, but having no idea what they were singing, and then finally just making noises into the microphones. I impressed everyone, myself included, with my rapping skills.
While most bars in the US have a karaoke night, the atmosphere is different. In the US, or the UK where I’ve also lived, people go to karaoke with two things planned.
First, they’re going to get hammered.
Second, they’re going to laugh at everyone else but not sing themselves.
In Hong Kong, and I think the rest of East Asia, the focus is on going out with friends late at night and singing, there is none of the not-always-friendly mocking of the singers. Nor is there a focus on getting so drunk that the people you came with, the ones who are considerably more sober, want to leave you on the floor of a bathroom and never talk to you again. The atmosphere in Hong Kong was supportive and welcoming, and once the initial shyness passed, everyone bonded, perhaps deciding that if they could sing in front of a group of random people, they can definitely be friends with them.