Singapore presents a spectacular fireworks show over Marina Bay on New Year’s Eve. But due to the medical condition that I discuss here, I wasn’t up for jostling among the throngs of people that typically amass at such pyrotechnics displays, or for then facing a potentially lengthy and arduous journey back to my hotel (like the time the time on New Year’s Eve in Lisbon when I waited over three hours in the taxi queue for transportation back to my hotel after watching that city’s ring-in-the-new-year fireworks over the Tagus River). Nor did I wish to attend an expensive party from which I could view the fireworks (or which required attire that I hadn’t brought with me from New York). So I decided that I would commemorate the arrival of 2015 in Singapore with a night of karaoke! But my plans were, as they say, overtaken by events.
But before we get to that: during the afternoon on New Year’s Eve, I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of my fellow world travellers, Kerwin McKenzie. Known for his “#WhereisKerwin” hashtag due to his perpetual wanderings, he just happened to briefly be in Singapore at the same time as I. Here’s a photo of Kerwin and me at Marina Bay in front of the Merlion, the half-lion, half-fish creature that’s sort of the unofficial symbol of Singapore:
Credit for taking this photo goes to Kerwin’s friend Fred Wang, whom I am now pleased to call a friend of mine as well. Anyway, on with my New Year’s Eve debacle:
New Year’s Eve: silent night
The front desk guy at my hotel came up with two choices, and personnel at both establishments assured him over the phone that they offered public karaoke on the final evening of 2014. One of the prospects, Mono, was located in an area called Sentosa that was about a half-hour’s taxi ride away. (My hotel was near the Clarke Quay, a riverside area abounding with pubs and restaurants and pleasant promenades along the water.) The other possible destination, Jab 1, was on the cusp of the Chinatown neighbourhood, actually close enough to my hotel to be within about a 13-minute’s walk; but the front desk man tried to talk me out of Jab 1, explaining that the clientele would be singing mostly Chinese songs, and that — more importantly — the proprietor had insisted over the phone that Jab 1 imposed a $200 per table minimum charge that included the purchase of a bottle of brandy. As to the latter objection, while I had no intention of paying $200 for the privilege of singing (even on New Year’s Eve), I felt confident that I had the persuasive skills to talk my way down to a much lower cover charge if I offered to sit at the bar. After all, I wasn’t bringing a table full of people with me. But time was running short (it was already early evening on December 31 when this conversation was going on), and taxi arrangements needed to be finalized if I was to make Mono my destination; so I made an executive decision that I would go to Mono. In retrospect, I’d made a huge mistake in choosing Mono, a place that sounds like a disease.
Not a single paying patron showed up at Mono the entire evening. I arrived shortly after 9:00 pm; by 10:00, due to the lack of any other customers in the establishment, I began to worry, and to make inquiries to the bar staff as to the emptiness of Mono’s relatively large bar space. Repeatedly I was assured that the singers would begin pouring in at about 11:00 or 11:15 pm. But the promised influx of singers never arrived.
Eventually, I discovered why: all the customers were already on the premises, dancing the night away in a giant nightclub downstairs — at a New Year’s Eve party that didn’t involve karaoke. (And by the time I realized this, it was probably too late to hightail it over to Jab 1 and have a chance of singing without a long waiting time — and as you know, my physical condition and the medication I was on precluded for me the kind of ultra-late-night that people often indulge in on New Year’s Eve.) Management graciously allowed me entry into the downstairs club for about 10 minutes to watch the countdown to 2015, but otherwise my New Year’s Eve was spent alone in a karaoke bar devoid of singers. I didn’t bother to sing any songs myself; I had no desire to entertain just for the employees who periodically passed through. I also couldn’t console myself by drowning my sorrows; due to being on various medications, I limited myself to one beer.
I do feel that I was misled when Mono represented that there would be a karaoke show on New Year’s Eve. While technically the activity of karaoke was offered, the management had to have anticipated that all or most of its usual karaoke crowd would be siphoned off into the New Year’s Eve festivities going on in the basement.
(Those of you with long memories may recall how, in Machupicchu, Peru in November 2013, I did sing in a karaoke bar in which the proprietor was the only other human occupant. But that was different; that prior experience occurred on a random autumn night, not New Year’s Eve — a night for which people tend to form high expectations for a memorable time. On that occasion, I was also excited about the novelty of singing in a town where I’d never expected to find karaoke; and I merely stumbled into the karaoke venue after already dining and then lingered for a couple of songs. I wasn’t trying to make my interlude at Kusi Kusi Karaoke Pub (the establishment in Machupicchu) the centerpiece of my entire evening. Plus, I’d already made my Peruvian karaoke debut in Lima earlier that week, so the night of singing to an empty bar in Machupicchu didn’t need to carry the burden of being my Peruvian karaoke debut.)
New Year’s night: making up for lost time
To start off the new year on the right note, I decided to make up for the disappointment of the final night of the old one. On New Year’s Night, January 1, I went to karaoke at Jab 1! On this evening there was no mention of $200 table charges (although there also wasn’t much of a crowd — but at at least there was an audience present). Due to the dearth of singers, it didn’t take me long to get my turn at the mic.
For my first song, I went with Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” which was my original signature song when karaoke first became a passion of mine around 1992, but which I rarely perform anymore. It did feel a bit odd to be singing such an up-tempo dance song in the subdued lounge environment that characterized Jab 1 that evening. “Copa” is a work-the-room anthem, and it’s hard to work the room when the number of people watching you sing can be counted on one hand. (I’m sure the turnout would have been much higher on New Year’s Eve.) Anyway, you can watch me making my Singaporean karaoke debut — with the aforesaid “Copacabana” — right here!
You’ll note that the chit-chat that I was making during the intro to the song caused me to be late in jumping into the lyrics, forcing me to rush through the first few lines in order to catch up.
Following “Copa,” I did a song that’s one of my current favorites to perform: “La Bamba,” the Mexican folk classic made famous by the 1958 Ritchie Valens recording. Ordinarily I sing the cover by the band Los Lobos that was featured in the La Bamba feature film of 1987; but that wasn’t available at Jab 1, so by default I opted for the Ritchie Valens version. Here’s my rendition of it:
I’m not sure how familiar this Latin American standard is to Asian audiences; obviously as you can see from the video I didn’t get much of a reaction to it from the smattering of attendees at Jab 1, but I would have liked to see the response it might have received from a capacity crowd. Normally the people watching a karaoke show are into “La Bamba” throughout the song, and that wasn’t the case here; so we may just have been dealing with an audience that wasn’t very engaged (or wasn’t used to hearing this tune). For me, though, singing “La Bamba” was fun as always.
And that is how, on January 1, 2015, Singapore became the 37th country on my World Karaoke Tour.
Next up on the tour would be South Korea, when I stopped in Seoul about a week later for a couple of nights en route back to New York. Well, the next country in which I sang was supposed to be Cambodia, when I stayed in Siem Reap while visiting nearby arachaeological attractions such as the Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm temple complexes. But the singing-in-Cambodia thing didn’t quite work out, for reasons covered in my blog post post about that country.