Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Unleashing Your Inner Pop Star

Let's establish a few things:

1)  Every Chinese person is a pop star at heart
2)  Chinese people love to let the inner pop star shine

Yes, the Chinese are not like Americans, who generally reserve their tuneless wailings for either the car or the shower.  Chinese people will sing in public at the drop of a hat.  Some examples:

  • It is not uncommon for a student to be cajoled into singing an a cappella solo at one of my free talks.  
  • I have often walked through campus on a Saturday morning to the backdrop of some truly mediocre performances at campus song competitions.
  • Perhaps the single most popular social activity for young people is going to KTV (karaoke) with their friends.
  • "Parties" in China are not parties at all, in our sense of the word; they are talent shows, and the main talent (or sometimes lack thereof) is singing.

As a non-Chinese, I am sadly lacking the inner pop star.  My singing is a little pitchy and the only songs I know from beginning to end are Christmas songs, kids' songs, and worship songs.  However, this doesn't stop me from being constantly requested to sing -- in class, at free talks, and at performances.  No one ever bothers to check if I can actually sing or if I like to, because they don't care if I can sing and why wouldn't I like it?

When backed into a corner, I usually try to mollify the students with a short rendition of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," which is probably disappointing because they are surely expecting one of their English KTV favorites:  "Country Roads," "My Heart Will Go On," "I'm a Big Big Girl in a Big Big World," or anything by the Backstreet Boys or Westlife.

A few days ago, Sara and I went to KTV with a few of our students.  In Asian-style karaoke, you get your own room, usually equipped with crazy flashing lights, a couple mics, and some tambourines.  It's fun because you're with your friends, and no one cares if you sing badly.  KTV is still not my favorite thing ever, but after 2.5 years in China it might be growing on me.

Recently our department threw a huge gala to welcome the freshmen.  They hired a professional company to do the staging, sounds, lights, and fireworks (of course), and invited various talented students and teachers to give performances.  The foreign teachers were also requested to sing (of course).  We figured we better do something, so three of my teammates and I worked up a very cheesy performance of "Lean on Me."  I agreed on the condition that I would be allowed to hold my mic as far away as possible. 

So we performed to a crowd of hundreds.  About 30 seconds into our song, four students came running up to give us flowers while we sang -- another quirky and extremely common feature of public singing performances.  I knew I wasn't contributing much in the singing department, so I just tried to smile a lot.  The end result is that we looked better than we sounded.... considerably better.

Lean on Me

Our big finale

Fortunately, this is my blog, so I can just leave you the pictures and keep the video to myself.  Here are a few other photos from the event:

Students were watching from the classrooms above.

Our vice-dean, quite the crooner

Our vice-dean, after the delivery of flowers and a lei

The crowd

Some of the Korean department leaders

Students giving department leaders flowers while they sing

Lisa, my student, was one of the hosts.  (The department also hired professional make-up artists for the performers -- they always go for the glam at these kinds of events.)

Some teachers and performers after the event.  The four hosts are in the middle.  (There are always four.)  Sara and I get a kick out of our student, Lee, the host near the middle whose hair is dominating the entire picture.

And now when you hear about...
  • KTV-crazed kiddos...
  • the undying popularity of boy bands in Asia...
  • a normally staid department dean belting out a pitchy pop song on stage...
  • performers being given mountains of flowers, balloons, and glow sticks on stage...
...and ask yourself, "Is this normal?", you'll know the answer: YES.  Now go unleash your inner pop star.  (Can I suggest a little Celine Dion?)

1 comment:

  1. I've never even heard of Westlife and you look great on stage!!! :-) haha.