29 January, 2010

Don't worry that it's not good enough

Friday of last week I was invited to a karaoke session by my forestry colleague Sverre Tvinnereim. The event was specially organized for his younger brother Erlend visiting Thailand from Europe. Erlend happens to be a professional classical tenor so we were all expecting a great evening of good raucous singing.

We went to my favourite karaoke joint in town: R&B karaoke. It has a selection of private rooms decorated in the most outrageous styles, a great sound system in all rooms, a relatively easy-to-use programme for selecting songs, a good selection of songs featuring original clips and recordings with the lead dubbed out so one gets to sing with the original band in the background, respectable cocktails and very good food.

The only room left for us on that Friday evening was called "The bed". It's a small room for two to five people but it has no seats; just a very large bed taking most of the space in the room. Nonetheless, Tina, Juejan, Sverre, Erlend and I had a great time romping and singing on the bed until past midnight.


The karaoke is usually reviled in the West. I must admit that having been trained as a classical musician, I also could not understand why people would want to plagiarize artists by singing their popular songs in public while making a fool of oneself in front of other people. But then I tried it myself.

Karaoke is big in Asia. It is a social entertainment that brings people together, whether friends, family or even work colleagues. It comes from Japan but has since spread around most of East Asia, taking different forms. In the Philippines, it's a community thing: the karaoke machine is in a big room and everybody gets to see and listen to the singer; the crowd joins in singing and dancing. In most other countries, one rents out a private room of a size that's appropriate to the group of singers. One drinks a lot while at karaoke. However, in most private-room karaoke places, one usually only gets snacks or fruits to eat. Only in Thailand have I encountered karaoke outlets where proper food is also on the menu.

At work, I am also a committee member of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific Staff Association, or RAPSA. RAPSA organizes fun events for all the staff in the office who have paid their subscription fee. Last autumn, the committee decided we would go for a karaoke evening. So a group of us went first to try out several karaoke outlets in order to judge the venue, selection of songs, food, drink, and price. We unanimously decided R&B karaoke was the best we knew of in Bangkok. On the night of the event, 25 staff members turned up: Thai, Indian, Sri Lankan, Spanish, Norwegian, Samoan, French, Filipino, etc. We had a great time sharing the food, selecting songs for each other to sing, socializing with new staff we had not yet met, and discovering the hidden talents of some of our colleagues.

Thus in a work environment, karaoke can be a very fun tool to wind down with colleagues while also enjoying some food, drink and music. Whether one sings right is not the issue, it is primarily meant as an opportunity to get together and share good times.

Photo: © Thanomkwan R.

The Carpenters, Gold greatest hits, A&M

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