Sunday, December 13, 2009

What's a KTV?

Over the last few weeks we've been running English lessons in Xi'an. This consisted of a series of lessons on English expressions and quizzes on the results, plus points for use of expressions in spoken English. The objective is to avoid the all-too-common scenario where someone North American says something using a common expression ("jumped the gun", "cold day in hell", "pretty much", "fork in the road", etc) and the China employees response is a blank look. Over email or telephone, which constitutes most North America/China communications the North American typically doesn't know the China member has no idea what they mean and the China team member typically doesn't say anything.

To encourage participation the English lessons include a contest. On first arriving in Xi'an and planning the English contest we heard the prizes given in Chengdu were an iPod (best individual score) and KTV (team score of at least X). Neither of us knew what KTV was so we asked. For some reason despite the English of the person we asked generally being quite good the idea we didn't know what KTV was got lost in the English/Mandarin gap somewhere:

"Hey, what's KTV"
"You want to go to KTV?"
"I'm not sure; I don't know what it is"
"OK, there is a KTV near your appartment"
"I know, but what is it? What do you do at a KTV?"
"Maybe that is not so good a KTV; you should go to this one instead" (pulls up map on Google)
"No no; I just want to know what a KTV IS, I don't want to go to one"
"Have you been to KTV before?"
"At KTV what happens? Is it a club? A bar? A restaurant?"
"You can order food there but it is not so good; perhaps you should eat before you go"

Eventually this conversation died and we asked someone else who clarified that KTV is karaoke. A KTV has a bunch of rooms of various sizes; you rent a room for your group and sing the night away.

The team successfully passed the score to get KTV rather easily. There was a minor miss-estimate regarding the points total required. A rushed glance at the quiz before announcing the contest suggested one might score five points plus a few more for making sentences. As such 500 points total over three or four quizes seemed hard. As it turned out the sentences section actually allows for a very large number of points so the team passed 500 points on the very first quiz!

On December 11th, as reward for successful accumulation of points in English quizzes, we took the Xi'an team team out for KTV. We rented a big room with a large projection screen and a computer with a ton of songs to sing along to for the night, bought a ton of drinks, and everyone took turns singing. Some of the Xi'an staff are very good!

We overestimated the popularity of beer and underestimated the popularity of water and bottled tea so we had to make several runs for drinks. A western crowd would have consumed many times more beer; we thought we would have to make numerous beer runs, not extra runs for water. We also expected drink purchases to happen by having a KTV staff member take our order. It is actually done by walking out of your private room and down to the store (in the KTV) where you buy drinks from a selection of beer, non-alcoholic beverages, and a very limited (and expensive) set of hard alcohols. After picking out your drinks you then go over to the cashiers and argue with them for twenty minutes before they get their manager to approve the issuance of both fa piao (official receipts, which just specify amount not what they are for) and a normal receipt.

It's hard to picture this being very successful as a North American team event but everyone on the Xi'an team knew at least a few songs and performed them! A few people even sang in English!! One or two people on the team were particularly good. Becky, one of the QA staff, was outstanding. Her singing voice in both Mandarin and English was very good across a decent range of music.

Although karaoke is not something either of us is really into it was quite enjoyable; we're glad we got to experience it.

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