This past Saturday night, we celebrated Alex’s last birthday in Beijing. It was carried out in the traditional fashion – eating meat on sticks, followed by fancy cocktails, followed by a marathon karaoke session, followed by dim sum at 6am. I only made it to the dawn because I switched over to Red Bull and bottled water around 1am, but the rest of the party was hitting the Bacardi Breezers like rebel teenagers. I know, man. S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!
If you’ve never spent any time in Asia, you probably have a very different mental picture when I say “karaoke” (or KTV as they call it here). The American image is that of a seedy bar where you have to get up on stage and perform for a room full of strangers. Either that or an adorable city hideaway full of adorable Zooey and JGL clones. Or maybe that’s just my own fantasy.
Here, karaoke is performed in a private room with your friends and a bunch of booze and snacks. Generally sweet popcorn and a fruit plate. Because we live life to the fullest. That’s not to say that karaoke clubs here aren’t still a bit seedy, but as long as you’re not there to entertain some out-of-town businessmen it’s totally legit. Just follow the rules and you’ll be fine.
We tend to stick to the classics – Queen, Spice Girls, Sinatra, Bon Jovi, Backstreet Boys. Okay, “classics” is perhaps a broad term. But we do know how to get down, as evidenced by Sarah’s very passionate rendition of “I Want it That Way.” This was the only photo I managed to take before someone found the mood lighting switch and we were bathed in the undulating glow of neon.
I think my personal favorite moment of the evening was when Lisa somehow found her second wind and decided to serenade us with “Wuthering Heights.” It was almost 4am, so I’d say it sounded more like Lisa doing an impression of Kristen Wiig doing a Kate Bush impression than an actual Kate Bush song. Which I think is what I liked most about it. Also, Lisa did some pretty great Kate Bush drama faces.
But more than anything else, the reason to stay up all night at karaoke is to get a first look at Beijing as the sun comes up in the morning. It’s a side of the city that I rarely see – tranquil, soft, still. It doesn’t have any of the bite, any of the pressure pushing back at you. Beijing is just there, waiting patiently for you to emerge from the KTV basement into the crisp, clean air. You can feel the city stretching, arching its back and reaching up to full height with the first light of day. It’s absolutely breathtaking, and somehow only best appreciated when you’ve been awake all night.