The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is really, really big. The second-largest country in the world by land area, the PRC covers some 3.7 million square miles. It’s also the most populous nation, housing an estimated 1.38 billion people as of 2016. The largest cities in China are also ginormous; for example, Shanghai boasts a population of approximately 22 million, while the capital city of Beijing is not far behind at roughly 19 million. Overall, no fewer than 14 Chinese cities count populations north of 5 million. (Note: various websites provide widely divergent population totals for these municipalities, depending on how such terms as “city” and “urban area” are defined.) But although you’d expect those sprawling metropolises to offer a plethora of entertainment options, one diversion that’s common around much of the globe is missing from China’s megacities. Specifically, just try to find a karaoke bar in the PRC where you can sing in public. In my experience, it can’t be done.
Believe me, I tried. But in the PRC, karaoke seems to consist exclusively of the “private room” establishments so popular in eastern Asia where patrons rent individual rooms in which to sing with their friends or business associates. In China, such venues are known as “KTV” joints. Now, in China this past spring, as is the case with most of my international journeys, I was travelling solo. For that and other reasons, KTV-type establishments are normally a non-starter for me. I mean, singing by (and to) myself in a closed room is not my idea of fun times. Yet during my travels in China, every single karaoke venue that I, or my hotel concierges, was able to find was a KTV club — even in the vast megalopolises of Shanghai and Beijing. (I also failed to find a bar or restaurant with public karaoke in the other Chinese city that I visited, Xi’an, whose inhabitants number just under 9 million. It’s possible that a Western-style bar with public karaoke might exist in one of the many other large cities that dot the PRC, but the absence of such a place in either of the PRC’s two biggest cities is glaring, and isn’t a good sign.) So what was I to do? Continue reading