So, as I mentioned before, my colleagues and I ventured out to Kowloon on Friday for a group dinner, and afterwards ended up in the area of town known for the street karaoke setup. It’s not karaoke in the bar sense where there’s a machine that plays the popular song of your choice as its recorded while lyrics scroll across the television screen. And there’s no liquid courage (read: alcohol filled drinks!) before taking to the mic in a dark private room either…. No! This is a public street promenade of keyboard players and PA systems with a quirky old crooner or two with and trusty song book full of Chinese hits. All of the stalls are separated by tarp and distinguishing abilities to sing the loudest or most dramatic in order to draw passersby over to have a seat and either listen or participate at $20 HK a head (about $2.58 USD).
It’s still unclear if it’s $20 HK to sit down, or to sing a song, but either way, if you stop long enough, the Karaoke’ists will collect some cash from you… Funnily enough, earlier in the evening I stopped inside of a more official karaoke establishment with a colleague while the rest were having dinner. In this particular lounge, however, they REALLY try to hustle you. They start off being overly welcoming and take your $20 HK as soon as you sit down. I figured it was admission, no biggie, right? They bring you water and the book of songs and pressure you to sing. So I thought, “Sure, why not??” and got up to sing Edelweiss from The Sound Of Music! It was — a mess — of a good time with the keyboard player dragging the song along and me belting it out in good ol’ gospel choir fashion… only until I took my bow and sat down. The door attendant came over and tried to stiff me for $100 HK (USD $12.90) for having gotten up to sing when it was HER idea! You should’ve seen the comedy that ensued as she demanded the money in Cantonese and I was like, “NO, Ma’am! Thank you very little!” in English. I never flat out said, NO I’m not paying. But she never clearly said, You need to pay, either (to my knowledge), nor was it ever clear to begin with that I needed to pay more than the initial $20 to sing. (Sidebar: we had earlier been notified to keep alert in certain bar situations because it’s been known that a tourist will order one thing, then come back with a bill that is hundreds of dollars more than they actually ordered. So, I was not about to get caught up messing with this woman!) She kept grabbing my hand, leaning over to my ear and saying a bunch of things in Cantonese and finally pulled out her own $100 to illustrate that she wanted me to pay. Her English was so poor that my colleague and I thought, in a very murky language barrier, that she was saying “HAND JOB” but it became more clear when she pulled out the note that she was saying “HUNDRED!” This is when the slapstick ensued, because we went back and forth, English to Cantonese tit-for-tat playing the “I don’t know what you’re talking about” game, knowing good and well we both knew what the other was saying. (At one point my colleague offered to go and get our Cantonese speaking liaison, but I said, “Absolutely not!” If she came in to translate, I may have ended up having to pay. As long as neither one of us could communicate in clear verbal language, I was good!) She stuck her hand out, I grabbed it and shook it. She smacked my hand away, I smacked hers back and grinned. She flashed the $100 and stuck her hand out again. I put my purse strap on my shoulder and asked to speak with her English speaking coworker. She said some more in Cantonese and stuck her hand out; I grabbed it and kissed the back of it and said, “Ummgoy!” which is “Thank you” in Cantonese. She pulled away in disbelief and flashed her $100 bill; I again said I didn’t know what she was talking about. She stuck her hand out one last time, and I stood up and tried to grab her to dance (there was, after all, another singer up going to town!). It was the most absurd thing I’m sure she’s ever encountered in the way of trying to hustle a tourist, and she was completely flabbergasted (I, myself, have never quite pulled off such a comical routine either)! She eventually pulled away from my dancing move to say something in Cantonese to the effect of GET [expletive] OUT! Though, one can never be too sure. So I sat back down. It was then that my colleague leaned over and said, “You think we should leave?” This is when I smiled and waved goodbye as the rest of the lounge folks looked on only slightly amused. I’ve got to say, though, that was a highlight of the night for me!
Anyway, back to the sidewalk karaoke later that evening…
The songs in the karaoke book cover tons of unrecognizable tunes, but also include popular hits by The Beatles, some Elvis and Sinatra, Elton John, a handful of Christmas carols like Jingle Bells and Joy To The World. But, mostly Chinese classics; in the grand scheme of American karaoke song books, the English repertoire is very limited. Anyhow! While I chose to sing two songs by myself, “Yesterday” by The Beatles and “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5, I had the most fun trying to keep up with my colleague who totally owned “I Want To Hold Your Hand” also by The Beatles. He went before my solo turn, so this video shows both of us not knowing what to expect while jumping into the deep end that is SIDEWALK KARAOKE!!!! Hope you enjoy as much as we did!