police blotter

Big trouble in little China

It’s time for a new installment in our recurring series on the seamy underside of the karaoke world. You know, karaoke is often thought of as an activity that brings families together. In that way, it’s a wholesome pursuit, not unlike fishing or visiting a national park. But in late August in the Chinese city of Xi’an, karaoke literally ripped a family asunder by subtracting two members from that family. I cannot possibly improve on the introductory sentence from this article that ran in Thursday’s edition of the British newspaper, The Independent: “A Chinese toddler’s refusal to give up the microphone during a family karaoke evening started a quarrel that left two men hacked to death with a meat cleaver.”

Friends, this story is a cautionary tale of why it’s so important to restrict entry in karaoke joints to folks who are of drinking age. Had a toddler (who, according to the article, was all of four years old) not been crooning his heart out in a Xi’anese karaoke bar, his two relatives who were hacked to death with a meat cleaver would still be alive today!

But let’s take a step back and figure out exactly what happened here. The Independent informs us that the carnage went down on Qixi, a holiday that we’re told is the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day (which would make last month’s events China’s answer to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre). The Independent does seem to have oversimplified in its description of Qixi. Translated as “Night of the Sevens,” Qixi is also sometimes known as the “Magpie Festival”; on the other hand, the sobriquet of the “Chinese Valentine’s Day” reflects an inaccurate understanding of the festival’s folktale origins. So apparently, Qixi is more about Heckle and Jeckle than heart-shaped candies. 🙂

To celebrate this year’s festival, a noodle shop owner, Mr. Yun, invited some kinfolk to a night at a karaoke parlour. Continue reading

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Kiwi karaoke chaos

According to this article in the New Zealand Herald — the newspaper of record in its country’s largest city, Auckland — karaoke bars in Auckland aren’t really about the singing; they’re places where people go to engage in far more sinister activities. The Herald compares the typical karaoke pub in that fair city to “an opium den of the 19th century,” and states that in such a venue, “privacy, alcohol and more than a touch of criminality combine to shape one of the city’s new dens of iniquity. Police aren’t concerned about the terrible singing of businessmen – they are worried about drug-dealing, money-laundering, gross intoxication and prostitution.” Well, at least it’s a relief that the local constables aren’t policing the vocal quality of karaoke singers.

I have to say, I’ve been to Auckland, and I’ve sung karaoke there (This occurred in January 2010, when New Zealand became country no. 17 on my World Karaoke Tour; my report on that particular H-Bomb appearance will be the subject of an upcoming blog post). But I didn’t witness any of the depraved pursuits that the Herald depicts as commonplace in its jurisdiction’s karaoke bars. I didn’t feel that I’d wandered into a modern-day opium den. Continue reading

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Rogue taxi drivers and “La Bamba”: my weekend in Mexico City, 2011

The Pyramid of the Sun is located along Calle de los Muertos (the Avenue of the Dead), at Teotihuacan outside Mexico City.Several nights before I flew to Mexico City, I was shaken up by a disturbing nightmare. In the dream, there was a cloud on the ground and I stepped onto it; the cloud was then magically transformed into a glacier. Walking on the glacier, I fell into a hidden crevasse and started plummeting for what would certainly be hundreds of feet. Even if I survived the fall, I knew I would end up too far below the surface to ever climb out or be found by rescuers. And I thought to myself, “This is what it feels like to know I’m about to die.” Then I woke up.

One year ago this weekend — Memorial Day weekend in the United States — I flew to Mexico City because I’d never been to Mexico, and that city was geographically close enough (roughly a four hour flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Benito Juarez International Airport near Mexico City) that it would be easy to jet down there for a long weekend and check off another country on my World Karaoke Tour. The concept here was similar to the reasoning I’d employed when I added Canada to the tour via a weekend jaunt to Montreal in August 2010. I’m constantly looking to increase the tally of countries in which I’ve sung; and while I understandably get enthused over exotic locales like Easter Island, there’s no reason for me to overlook the “easy” destinations (especially those that are immediately adjacent to my home country). Still, as I headed to the airport, my excitement was tempered by a sense of disquiet. Mexico City's newest museum, El Museo Soumaya, opened to the public in March 2011. I wondered whether my nightmare portended a tragic outcome for this journey. My initial reaction was to associate the dream with my fear of flying, and to interpret it as a premonition of a plane crash (This speculation was heightened as a result of bad weather in New York on the day of my departure; I become especially nervous when there’s a predicted risk of thunderstorms around the time of takeoff). But did the dream serve as a more generalized warning regarding my impending travel? In the dream, stepping onto the cloud seemed innocuous enough at the time; but it became the type of fateful and irreversible decision that would inexorably lead to my demise.

Saturday morning and afternoon: sightseeing

Things started out innocently enough. I arrived in Mexico’s capital city on a Friday night. On Saturday morning, I headed out to Mexico City’s newest museum: El Museo Soumaya (see photo, above right), which had just opened about two months prior to my visit. The interior of El Museo Soumaya is more than a little reminiscent of the Guggenheim.

This museum displays the art collection of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, who according to Forbes is the wealthiest man in the world. The emphasis of the Soumaya’s holdings is on European and Mexican art. Among the highlights is a large trove of Rodin sculptures, including a copy of “Le Penseur” (“The Thinker”). Also included are works by such artists as Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh, Dali, Miró, El Greco, Tintoretto, and (as you would expect in a Mexican museum) Diego Rivera. Moreover, the Soumaya is one of those museums whose architecture is as notable as the treasures it houses. As shown here, the interior of the Soumaya is evocative of New York City’s Guggenheim, with the focal point a gently sloping ramp that curves upward and gradually ascends to the top level. The concept may not be original, but it’s well-executed.

After getting some culture in the museum, I explored Mexican history at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace). One of the signature attractions of the palace is its murals by Diego Rivera that vividly dramatize his country’s past.

Then I had a stop to make outside the city. I made an excursion to the suburb of Naucalpan, to experience a very distinctive-looking house. That home is known unofficially as the “Nautilus house,” due to its resemblance to the sea creature of that name. I’d come across a photo of the Nautilus house on the internet, while perusing a website that showed examples of unusual architecture from around the world. The Nautilus house in the suburb of Naucalpan.When I realized that this unique home was located in the vicinity of Mexico City, and that I would be visiting that very metropolis, I knew I had to see such an architectural gem in person. Only one problem: despite my formidable googling skills, I couldn’t find an address for the Nautilus house. What to do?

I took a chance and emailed the architect who had designed the Nautilus house. I didn’t even expect to hear back. But his firm responded and contacted the house’s owners (yes, there’s a family that enjoys the enviable distinction of living in this remarkable abode!). The result: I was invited to visit the Nautilus house as a special guest of the owners.

So on the Saturday afternoon of my weekend in Mexico, I ventured out to Naucalpan (my mode of transportation was a private car service arranged by my hotel, and that was a good choice because even with detailed directions, the house was hard to find. My driver, however, was able to telephone the house and converse with the residents in Spanish to obtain the necessary navigational assistance).Inside the Nautilus house. The Nautilus house is situated in a gated enclave that abounds with elegant homes, but those other residences are attractive in a much more conventional way. I could only imagine what the neighbors think of this bizarre habitation in their midst.

Upon my arrival at the Nautilus house, I was treated to outstanding hospitality by the occupants. They welcomed me inside and gave me a full tour. As you can see in the photo on the left, the interior was just as spectacular as the exterior. (More photos taken inside the Nautilus house can be seen in the full album of photos from my Mexico City weekend, which you can view here.) The patriarch of the household and his son then took me for a walk around the neighborhood. By the way, it turned out that conversing with the family was not a problem, as its members spoke English fluently.

Saturday night: karaoke

I’d already had a full day and seen some cool stuff; but after I circled back to Mexico City, it was time for the activity that supplied the principal purpose of my trip. I was off to sing karaoke! Continue reading

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Please don’t attack the audience

I know the feeling of frustration when a karaoke performance hasn’t gone as well as I’d hoped. We’ve all been there. But fortunately, I’ve never lost self-control to the point where I took my disappointment out on the audience.

On Tuesday night, patrons at Cabana Jacks in Sandusky, Ohio were not so lucky. During the karaoke show, a performer was booed while on stage. I have to say, in all my karaoke travels I have rarely seen singers dissed in that manner, no matter how atrocious the performance. So this guy must have really sucked. And it was bad enough that the audience had to endure his vocal struggles. But The Smoking Gun reports that the failed singer did not take criticism well. He angrily tossed down the mic, and proceeded to get himself ejected from the premises — only to return and go on a rampage. During his encore appearance, he allegedly punched no fewer than three bargoers in the face.

The Smoking Gun article has a link to the official police report for this incident. Disappointingly, the police report makes no mention of what song this dude was booed for singing. What kind of detective work is that? 🙂 (Editor’s note: Cabana Jacks has not responded to a request to identify the song in question). Anyway, the guy is lucky his sorry performance didn’t occur in the Philippines. If it had, he might have ended the night at the morgue rather than the county jail . . .

Sing karaoke responsibly, folks!

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