A tale of two karaoke halls

This last week, I was fortunate enough to have two karaoke experiences.  Karaoke, or KTV as it is often called, is pretty popular here, a regular social activity to do with colleagues (which I did last Friday) and friends (yesterday).  It is also something you might do with a client or business contact … but this type of karaoke may involve very private rooms, low lighting and “hostesses” who will cater to your every whim.  Fortunately, I’ve never found myself in this kind of karaoke situation.

People tell me that “karaoke” and “KTV” are used to distinguish the two types, but as yet, I have not been able to determine which is which.  I actually think it’s more about whether you attend a “bar” as opposed to a “hall” or “rooms”, that latter being of the more savoury variety.


My two visits were to distinctly different parts of the city and to distinctly different karaoke venues.  Friday night, we were in Hongkou, north of the city, a place mostly frequented by locals.  We went to karaoke following a farewell dinner and beer in a Japanese BBQ restaurant.  And yesterday, we met some local friends at Nanjing Road, arguably the most tourist-infested part of the city.  We met at 1pm (yes, not 1am, as I needed to clarify when making the plan).  There were no beers involved.


Both times, we went to well known karaoke chain … in Hongkou, it was Partyworld (a more fancy outfit) and in the city, the more down-to-earth Haoledi (which may or may not be a literal translation of “holiday”).  Both extended over two levels of large buildings, with dozens of rooms, ranging in size from intimate couples-only rooms to larger group rooms.  Just a reminder at this point: these venues cater to the “friends having good clean fun” market, not the grubby stuff.


Partyworld comes across as a stylish hotel, with a generous lobby and soaring ceilings and soothing lighting.  Haoledi is a bit more blingy.  The rooms at Partyworld have vases of flowers.  The rooms at Haoledi have crayzy disco lights.

I think we were the only group at Partyworld.  At least, the only group making any noise, as I discovered on my walk through its silent halls.

On the other hand, Haoledi – despite the apparently odd timing – was pumping.  There was wailing and harmonising emanating from nearly every room and dozens of people lining up by the time we left.


At Partyworld, we were given free beer, jugs of tea and snacks, delivered to our room.  At Haoledi, they have a small supermarket where you can buy soft drink and Johnny Walker and chips and chicken’s feet.

Mini-kegs of Budweiser come standard at Partyworld if you book for 3 hours or more.

So, things can get a little raucous.  For me, beer and karaoke is a brilliant pairing.  At the end of a typically exhausting week, and with the trauma of having to farewell a well-liked colleague, drinking and yelling into a microphone is a great way to unwind.  And it’s how I’ve always conceptualised the role of karaoke.


So, the Haoledi experience was a little odd.  Sober in the mid-afternoon, I became painfully aware of how terrible my singing voice is.  And how quiet the room is when everybody is not jumping up and down and yelling out the words while you are singing.  And how slowly awkward moments can pass when you haven’t been drinking.  And this is how most people do it here.  Funnily enough, our friend who organised the afternoon said that she also likes karaoke as a way to “unwind” …


Both places had a huge selection of English songs, from ABBA to Robbie Williams to the Beatles.  Supposedly, the Carpenters song “Goodbye to Love” is taught in primary schools across the country, so it often features in karaoke nights.  In possibly ironic fashion, we sang the more melodic Hey Jude at Partyworld (although things amped up at the “na na na na” bits) and Revolution at  Haoledi (we kinda skimmed over the lyrics about Chairman Mao).

By the end of the night, Partyworld looked like partyworld …

… while the afternoon session ended on a more serene note.

Last year CNN published an article about life expectancy in Shanghai, linking the recent sharp increase in longevity to two things more regularly consumed by the Shanghainese: karaoke and cocaine (I think you can get both at those “karaoke bars” I referred to earlier).  I suppose the suggestion is that life is better when we interact with other people and have a little down-time every now and then … when the high wears off, obviously.

Karaoke as the gateway to a longer and happier life …?  I can get into that.


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