Finding a place where you can sing karaoke in public, in front of a live audience, is surprisingly difficult in much of Asia. On that continent, it’s far more common to come across establishments with private rooms that people rent by the hour with their friends or business associates — and where they sing only to their companions. During my recent visits to China and Taiwan, such “private room” facilities — known as “KTV” clubs — proved ubiquitous in those destinations. In contrast, in both of those countries, I couldn’t find a single venue that provides the opportunity to perform karaoke in public. This proved to be the case even in extremely populous cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
In an upcoming post, I’ll address how I got around that difficulty in mainland China. In Taiwan, however, the solution proved particularly exciting: I sang in a karaoke-equipped taxi! Doing that had special meaning for me because I have a history of karaokeing in taxicabs — and that history even includes a connection to Taiwan. So let me back up a little bit and share the backstory.
Prologue: singing on the road in my nation’s capital
Flash back to November 2011. During that month, I spent an afternoon as a passenger in a taxicab operated by Filipino expat Joel Laguidao in Washington, DC. That taxi was outfitted with karaoke equipment, which I made full use of as Joel drove my friend and me around the city of Washington. The full story of how that ride came about is recounted in this blog post, which also includes links to videos from that ride. Suffice it to say that I didn’t stumble by accident upon Mr. Laguidao’s karaoke cab; I tracked him down after having sought for years to experience the thrill of karaokeing in a moving vehicle. Here’s a photo of me singing in Joel’s magical vehicle in 2011:
Some two months later, in January 2012, Joel invited me to return to Washington. The occasion: that city’s news bureau of a Taiwanese television station, TVBS, was planning to film a segment about his karaoke taxi. The idea behind Joel’s generous invitation was that by joining him on the evening when that filming took place, I would have the chance to be interviewed. How could I say no to such free publicity, even if the interview would only be watched by people on the other side of the planet whom I would never meet? It was therefore an easy decision for me to hop on a train back down to D.C.. Thus, it came to pass that the Taiwanese news crew recorded me singing in Joel’s cab, and also interviewed me about my background as a globetrotting karaoke-er. I briefly discussed that evening here.
I understand that the interview with me was, in fact, broadcast in Taiwan. While no video of it was made available to me, the station sent me a screen capture from the telecast, which you can see on the right.
Following my January 2012 ride with Joel, over three years would elapse until my next visit to Washington, DC. But when next I found myself in that city, in March 2015, I made sure to look up Joel. By now he was no longer operating a taxi; instead, he’d become a driver for the private car service Uber. One thing had remained constant: just like the Ford Crown Victoria that Joel had formerly driven for a taxi company, the Lexus that he now piloted for Uber contained high-quality karaoke equipment. It seemed like old times as Joel drove me around in that Lexus and I belted out some of my favourite tunes during the course of the ride. You can read more about my 2015 reunion with Joel here.
Spring 2016: Mr. Tu takes me for a ride in his mobile karaoke bar
Let’s now return to 2016 — to Monday afternoon, May 30th. I’d just arrived in Taipei, and I was jonesing to sing karaoke that night. But, after a session of googling in my hotel room, I’d failed to generate any leads on public karaoke venues. So I descended to the lobby level and headed to the concierge’s desk for assistance. My greatest fear was quickly confirmed: the reason that I hadn’t managed to locate any establishments with public karaoke was because there were none to be found. The concierge staff was certain of that conclusion. I was told that, in contrast, KTV clubs were abundant in Taipei; but singing by myself in a private room wasn’t my idea of a good time.
But I refused to give up!
Thinking outside the box, I recalled that when I was researching my posts for this blog about my karaoke rides with Joel Laguidao in Washington, DC, I’d learned that Washington isn’t the only locale in which one can find vehicles for hire with on-board karaoke. Karaoke taxis also serve numerous other cities around the world — including Taipei. In my previous posts I’d even identified Taipei as one of the towns lucky enough to be served by karaoke cabs!
Inspired by this recollection, I asked the concierge if he could find me a karaoke cab. Still, when I brought up that idea, it was kind of an act of desperation; I had no idea how many such vehicles there might be in Taipei — or whether contact information for any of their drivers was even publicly available.
So here’s where I have to give major props to the concierge desk at my Taipei hotel. The concierge with whom I was speaking went onto the internet; and almost instantaneously, he told me that he’d obtained the mobile number of a karaoke taxi driver named “Mr. Tu.” He called Mr. Tu and arranged for him to pick me up in less than two hours!
Truly I’d come full circle. As mentioned above, in January 2012 — not quite four and one-half years earlier — I’d been interviewed by a Taiwanese news reporter while riding in a karaoke taxi in the U.S. Now, I was about to make my Taiwanese karaoke debut by performing once more in a karaoke cab! So there was a certain symmetry to the occasion. A secondary source of the excitement I was feeling: the name of the driver whom I would soon be meeting, Mr. Tu, sounded quite similar to Mr. T (the actor best-known for his starring role in the 1980s dramedy The A-Team that aired on the U.S.’s NBC television network.) I thought it would be cool if Mr. Tu turned out to be a badass guy with a Mohawk. (I later learned that Mr. Tu’s full name is Tu Ching-liang, rendered in Mandarin as 涂清涼. In addition, as best as I can tell based on my subsequent research, he doesn’t go by “Mr. Tu” as a nickname; it appears that the concierge was simply using that moniker as a way of referring to him in a relatively formal manner — i.e., preceding his name with “Mr.” Nevertheless, throughout the remainder of this blog post I’ll continue to call the guy “Mr. Tu,” because it’s more fun. 🙂 )
Ride no. 1: adding another notch to my karaoke belt
Admittedly, the subheading above is a spoiler that reveals that I ultimately took more than one ride in Mr. Tu’s vehicle. 🙂 As for the initial ride: when I showed up in my hotel’s lobby at the scheduled time of 8:00 p.m., Mr. Tu was already waiting for me outside. Away we went! To get things started, I had Mr. Tu fire up a song from my karaoke A-list: “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison:
My rolling rendition of Roy Orbison made Taiwan the 41st country on my World Karaoke Tour — and the first since The Bahamas this past February! One downside of travelling solo: unlike during my rides with Joel in Washington, I didn’t have any friends or television crews joining me who could film me during my ride with Mr. Tu. So I needed to serve as my own videographer, by using my selfie stick to record myself singing on my smartphone.
There was one exception to this: Mr. Tu actually filmed a video of part of one of my songs while he was driving. But it’s all good because he didn’t crash. 🙂 Here’s that video; the song is Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”
I like how Mr. Tu’s video provides a better, more natural angle than the selfie videos that I produced. And I didn’t need to ask him to make it; Mr. Tu regularly creates videos of his passengers singing, which he then posts on his Facebook page.
At the end of the evening, I was excited that I’d successfully karaoked in Taipei, and that my tally of countries in which I’ve made karaoke appearances had thereby climbed to 41. At the same time, I felt a lingering sense of disappointment. Because I was holding my selfie stick for the entirety of each of my songs, I needed to remain as motionless as possible while singing, in order to prevent the camera from shaking. Obviously, I didn’t want the karaoke videos that I was self-filming to induce vertigo in viewers. 🙂 As a consequence, my performances in the backseat of Mr. Tu’s car were virtually devoid of any physical component — and in my opinion, that makes the videos of those performances relatively uninteresting. For that reason, while I have additional video footage from my evening ride with Mr. Tu, I’m not going to share it with you. 🙂 Fortunately, though, things would go differently during my encore outing with Mr. Tu.
Ride no. 2: cooling off with song on a scorching afternoon
Wednesday, June 1 was an extraordinarily hot day in Taipei. That afternoon the mercury would peak at 38.7 degrees Celsius (101.7 degrees Fahrehnheit). It was the third hottest day in the history of the city. Well, to be more accurate, it was Taipei’s third hottest day since the advent of meteorological recordkeeping. 🙂 Semantics aside, it was muy caliente. That presented a challenge as to how I was going to spend the day. Normally when I’m on holiday and touring a destination, the heart of any given day will be devoted to strolling around and seeing as many sites as I can fit in. But the triple-digit temperatures called for a different approach. Concerns over the possibilities of dehydration, heat stroke, and exposure to what must have been a sky-high UV rating all motivated me to reduce my amount of time spent outdoors before sundown.
While I did engage in some sightseeing on June 1, I paced myself and took fewer walking excursions than I normally would have. And in mid-afternoon, I decided to go for a ride in a certain air-conditioned automobile driven by Mr. Tu. 🙂 While aboard, I once again took full advantage of his karaoke equipment. And there was a surprise in store: this time he brought along his girlfriend, Shani Song. Yes, Shani has the perfect surname for the significant other of a karaoke cabbie. 🙂 From her perch in the shotgun seat, Shani was able to serve as my videographer — thus freeing me up for a full range of movement during my songs! Well, as much movement as was possible in light of my seated position. 🙂 I’ll also admit that I was a rebel and rode sans seatbelt — further facilitating my ability to supplement my vocals with dance moves.
I began with John Lennon’s “Imagine”:
My next song was “Let’s Dance,” by the late David Bowie:
Then I went to another John Lennon song, but one that’s much lesser-known than “Imagine” although I’ve long enjoyed singing it: “Nobody Told Me.” Check it out:
I was then treated to a performance of a Taiwanese song by Mr. Tu!
Note that as he sings, Mr. Tu is reading the lyrics from a monitor on his dashboard. For some reason, as you can see at the 2:18 mark, the words to the English-language song “Bohemian Rhapsody” are appearing on the main karaoke screen in the back of the taxi even while Mr. Tu is performing his local tune. I’m guessing that whatever song Mr. Tu is belting out has very little to do with the protagonist complaining to his mama that he just killed a man by putting a gun against his head and pulling the trigger so that now he’s dead. 🙂
Before Mr. Tu dropped me off at my hotel, we stopped for a photo session. Here’s a selfie of me, Mr. Tu, and Shani! Okay, since I’m not the only person in the photo, the technically correct term for it is not a selfie, but an “ussie.” 🙂 Regardless of how you want to label it, here it is:
And here’s a photo that Shani took while I was snapping
a selfie an ussie of Mr. Tu and me!
By the way, given my oft-stated enjoyment of performing in front of audiences and seeking to win over potentially hostile crowds, you might wonder how I could have gained fulfillment from singing in the presence only of Mr. Tu and Shani (and, on the evening when he first drove me around, in the presence only of Mr. Tu). You should be aware that Mr. Tu blasts the music from his taxi at a sufficient volume that my singing was quite audible to people outside the car. Thus, many Taipeinese people heard me karaokeing as Mr. Tu guided his cab around the city. Admittedly, most of that incidental audience would only have heard brief snippets of any of my songs; but still, random occupants of other cars, as well as pedestrians, were exposed — however briefly — to H-Bomb karaoke. 🙂 Plus, Mr. Tu was entertaining, generous, and an all-around great guy; and it should be obvious from the videos that I had a really amazing time singing in his taxi.
It also bears mentioning that without singing in a karaoke taxi, I would have had to forego adding Taiwan to my World Karaoke Tour. Instead, the 41st country was in the books, and I looked forward to making North Korea number 42 later in the week!
As for Mr. Tu’s physical appearance, you’ll probably have noticed that he doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to Mr. T. But I pity the fool who doesn’t get the chance to karaoke in Mr. Tu’s taxi!