From karaoke to grindcore, I experienced the extremes of Chinese music yesterday.
I started out by visiting a KTV (Karaoke Television) club with a Chinese student I know and seven of her friends. KTVs are popular hangouts where you rent a room with karaoke equipment and sing along with music videos that play on a large TV screen. But it’s really just an excuse for friends to get together and have a good time.
Our room had a purple wraparound sofa, two large black tables, a flat-screen TV with overhead speakers, two microphones and a touch-screen karaoke machine, where you select the music videos you want to play. There were also flashing lights and neon walls that gave the room a ‘70s disco feel. We ate sunflower seeds and drank chrysanthemum tea as we chatted and listened to the songs.
When I first visited China 25 years ago, people stared at me as if I were a Martian. Foreigners are no longer considered so exotic but, especially in non-tourist cities like Zhengzhou, we’re still unusual enough to get special treatment.
At my university, students are fascinated with foreign teachers and shower them with adulation. Students have applauded me in class and many want to have their picture taken with me. They also ask for my phone number and email address so they can stay in touch.
On Friday night, I attended the annual variety show that upperclassmen at Henan University of Technology perform for the freshmen. It included singing, dancing, comedy and dramatic skits, classical music and a fashion show, all introduced by formally attired male and female hosts. It was like a combination of a Broadway musical, “The Ed Sullivan Show,’’ a rock concert, a Carnegie Hall recital and “Dancing with the Stars.’’
The students performed on a huge stage outfitted with klieg lights and booming speakers. The two-hour show drew a standing-room only crowd of several thousand cheering students on a cool night in Zhengzhou. I was lucky enough to get a seat in the VIP section at the front, where I sat next to the show’s director, who is the head of student affairs at the university. He told me that it took a month to put the whole thing together, which didn’t seem like much time given the scale of the undertaking.
Here are some videos I’ve shot in Zhengzhou. Note the obvious influence of Fellini, Bergman, Hitchcock and Scorsese, not to mention “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Among my subjects: a man doing tai chi with a sword, college freshmen doing military exercises, kids singing and dancing in Erqi Square, street food vendors skewering octopus and lamb, future Chinese hoop stars, a little girl blowing me a kiss, and my students laughing when I tell them they’re on camera.