Changing China

Giant on the move

Karaoke Blues

February 12, 2009

Has the fat lady sung in China?

Karaoke is much maligned in most of the West and much loved in most of China.

After years in Beijing, I’ve become perhaps too fond of all-night singing sessions in the city’s karaoke palaces, where you can rent a room for two or 20 friends to croon along to tens of thousands of Chinese numbers and an eclectic English selection that ranges from old hymns to Amy Winehouse.

For as long as I’ve lived here, singing on a Saturday night meant reserving a room, arriving on time (more than 10 minutes late and you lose your room) and then waiting around for at least half an hour for the previous group to tear themselves away from the mics and for the cleaners to do a quick mop-up.

But on a recent weekend, we decided to stop by my favourite karaoke lounge after dinner just in case they could squeeze us in.

We almost lost our voices when the manager ushered us straight to a room — no queue, no fuss, no waiting for clean up. Several rooms nearby also looked empty.

Beijing’s middle class has seemed fairly immune to the financial crisis that has put a greater strain on manufacturers, new graduates and poor, migrant labourers.

Of course, karoke isn’t an official bellwether of economic health, but if Chinese people are pinched or worried enough to give up their beloved Saturday night sing-a-longs, I can’t help wondering what might be next.

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