Know Better, Sing Better: Dongguan KTV Review
Karaoke certainly plays a crucial part in the leisure and social life of the Chinese, although it might not be the first choice in entertainment for many foreigners, especially singing in front of unfamiliar audiences of business acquaintances. With dim background light and the effect of alcohol, foreigners can enjoy karaoke like a local. And many of them have adapted to the Chinese way of relaxing after work, roaring around town with passion. Today, dozens of KTV bars rise vertically around the central city, some are small, some are chains, some feature songs options, some give better price.
HERE! has embarked on a major expedition and reviewed a few that are worth a try. Psychologist Gesang Zeren of Sichuan University, in an interview with China Radio International, revealed the reasons for KTV popularity. “Our culture values the cultivation of self-restraint. People are not encouraged to be aggressive and show individuality. But, in KTV clubs, they can unleash themselves and perform anything they want. It’s a way to relax. Chinese people also tend to shoulder pressure internally instead of turning to others for help. It’s a good way to vent their emotions, whether it is depression, pressure, happiness or aspirations. Singing can help express various emotions.”
These so-called “liang fan shi” (from Japanese, meaning buy in bulk) KTV bars have cut off the unnecessary costs in servants and fancy decorations, providing better and wider song collections, and snacks and drinks at a reasonable price.
Originated from Japan in the 1970s, it came to China’s hotels and nightclubs in the late 1980s with a new name, KTV, short from karaoke TV. It was first introduced to the manufactory town Houjie by Taiwanese entrepreneurs in 1992, when very few evening entertainment choices were available to the city’s Taiwanese and Hong Kong residents. The familiar Taiwanese tunes brought a surge of hometown sentiment to many Taiwanese. It soon became popular among businessmen, adding another way to talk business as well. It was considered a high-end entertainment for businessmen with tens of thousands of RMB spent in a night, buying expensive liquor and service from devoted servants, who are dubbed “princesses” and sit by your side and do your bidding.
For nearly two decades, KTV was dominated by hotels and night clubs, the vast grassroots could only enjoy it at home. Almost every family could afford the karaoke function defaulted video cassette players and had a little fun with families. Entering to the 21st century, a new style of KTV bars sprouted throughout the country, offering self-service karaoke experiences at affordable prices. These so-called “liang fan shi” (from Japanese, meaning buy in bulk) KTV bars have cut off the unnecessary costs in servants and fancy decorations, providing better and wider song collections, and snacks and drinks at a reasonable price.
Dongguan’s first batch of buy-in-bulk KTVs were opened around 2005 in Guancheng. It has been growing rapidly thanks to the support from the young generations who value the music and the singing experience over environment and service. Now it fits all kinds of customers from all walks of life, amateur or professional, young or old, Cantonese or Taiwanese or Westerners with song tracks available in over ten languages and dialects.
Although the price is affordable, singing at golden time such as Friday and Saturday night can cost a few hundred. Every KTV has a small self-service store where package snacks and party supplies can be purchased, regular domestic brand beer ranges from RMB 120 to 200 per dozen. During non-busy periods, KTVs will normally have better package deals such as spendings on drinks and snacks and the rooms arew free. Being a member is also another way to save money if you fancy one specific KTV.
K Wang Party
A humble looking KTV located at the intersection between Hongfu Road and Guantai Road without much advertising, but surprisingly, has a pretty good English song collection.
Songs: 975 pages of English songs. Other than regular pop stars such as Pink, Katy Perry or Taylor Swift, who have 3-5 pages of songs archived back to 2012, it has also collected 1-2 pages from singers little known by most Chinese patrons, such as Frank Sinatra, Gnarls Barkley and Patsy Cline, and U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name rarely included in other KTVs.
Environment: Relatively old and slightly scratched sofas. Boring decoration.
Price: Mon-Thu: RMB 40-80 all afternoon, 78-128/hour at night; Fri-Sun: RMB 50-90 all afternoon, 88-138/hour at night
Food & Drinks: Regular snacks like peanuts, fruit plates, chips and popcorn. Simple Chinese fast food with noodles and fried rice are available at RMB 18-25.
Address: No. 50, Guantai Rd., Nancheng (next to Haiya Department Store)
Chun K Party
Branded as Taiwanese style, it’s a national chain with branches in five major cities in China. With brand-new and friendly environments, better service and most importantly, the widest English song collection of its kind, it became quite popular and the No. 1 choice for many Chinese and foreigners.
Songs: An unbeatable wide collection of old and new songs such as Metallica’s Battery, and Bad Moon Rising from CCR, Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979 and Tonight, Tonight and hundreds of exclusive songs that other buy-in-bulk KTVs don’t have.
Environment: Smooth surface and cozy sofas. The shinning vintage microphone stands add an imaginative spotlight at the rooms’ centerpiece, able to switch people into a singing mode reaching a climax after one or two songs.
Price: Mon – Thu: RMB 48-108 all afternoon, 78-118/hour at night; Fri-Sun: RMB 78-138 all afternoon, 98-208/hour at night.
Food & Drink: Decent beer and food collection features Taiwanese style snacks and dishes. Fried rice and noodles from RMB 28-45. Imported Budweiser RMB 540/dozen, Heineken RMB 216/dozen.
Address: 4/F, Landmark Commercial Center, Hongfu Rd., Nancheng
Red Party Nancheng
One of the most prestigious brands of KTV in the city with four branches in downtown and one in Shilong Town, Red Party is one of the first buy-in-bulk style KTVs in Dongguan. The Red Party Nancheng, opened in 2011, feature on an ocean theme with blue and white majority interior colors.
Songs: With about 648 pages of English songs, it basically includes every international pop singer although the songs are quite outdated. You can sing most hits from the pop singers, but don’t expect to find a new release from the last six months, or even two years.
Environment: Calm and soothing lobby, with little white fish swimming beneath the ceiling at the entrance, large fish tank, round windows in the corridor and uneven pillar surfaces, creating a feeling of ocean waves and submarine life.
Price: Mon-Thu: RMB 48-173 all afternoon, 55-135/hour at night; Fri-Sun: RMB 105-190 all afternoon, 78-148/hour at night.
Food & Drink: Regular domestic beers, juice and tea with double to four times the their retail price. It provides simple Chinese fast food meals at RMB 18-35.
Address: Central Fortune Plaza, Hongfu Rd., Nancheng
With relatively low prices compared to others, Rubik’s Cube is another fine choice for budgeting young people. It has over 10 branches throughout the city.
Songs: Very popular billboard hit singers from America such as Rihanna and Beyonce, at least two years old. It’s foreign playlist is a little deeper than My Heart will Go on and Seasons in the Sun.
Environment: Simple and smooth interior with black sofas, tables and laser walls.
Price: Mon-Thu: RMB 56-98/hour daytime, 68-104/hour at night; Fri-Sun: RMB 68-124/hour daytime, 80-150/hour at night.
Food & Drink: For snacks, it has something special to offer—salmon sushi rolls at RMB 28 for six pieces. Since the quality can’t compare with sushi restaurants, it’s safer to only try the egg roll and cucumber roll for a little refreshment.
Address: 3/F, 7 district, First International, No. 200, Hongfu Rd., Nancheng
Red Party-Bar Street
This store offers something special that other Red Party locations and KTVs in Dongguan don’t have—themed rooms. They feature half a dozen kinds of rooms in different themes such as birthday party, mahjong dens, classic, graffiti, sneakers, Michael Jackson and VIPs.
Songs: Without a very impressive song collection, but sometimes, with luck, a greatest hit might pop up on the screen, such as Katy Perry’s newest top single Roar from her fourth studio album. The songs are not necessarily the same as the other Red Party KTVs.
Environment: Following a circular narrow iron staircase, an out-of-service merry-go-round is placed in the second floor lobby with a retro telephone booth and cozy chairs. The birthday room is bright red with round tables and couches, decorated with blinking light bulbs on the wall.
Price: Mon-Thu: RMB 85-178 all afternoon, 75-135/hour at night; Fri-Sun: RMB 102-195 all afternoon, 88-148/hour at night.
Food & Drinks: Chinese beers and drinks, snacks and simple Chinese fast food. The buffet area can be served upon required.
Address: B district, New World Garden Plaza, Dongcheng
Athena Karaoke Club
KTVs in international hotels might be considered a luxury to many people, but really their price is not that daunting. In general, hotel KTVs have better service, environment and extensive song collections. The Athena Karaoke Club in Pullman has been a well-known gathering venue for foreigners due to its convenient location and a vast collection of English songs.
Songs: A composite with 1,397 pages of English songs including those from Frank Sinatra, Tom Petty and Phil Collins who are not familiar to most Chinese. The English song data base is updated once or twice a year.
Environment: Spacious rooms with splendid interior, yellow patterned tables and crystal chandeliers.
Price: Minimum order requirements from RMB 788 to 3,888 all night, plus 15% surcharge.
Food & Drinks: Vast collection of liquor and beers. RMB 552 per dozen beers. Chinese and Western snacks and dishes.
Address: Pullman Dongguan Forum, Dongcheng
Another advantage to go to a fancy hotel’s KTV is to impress Chinese business partners, especially those middle-aged men who enjoy hotel KTVs more than anyone else. The newly opened Kande International Hotel located the opposite of the exhibition center Nancheng offers a karaoke venue decorated in Tang Dynasty style.
Songs: A wide collection of songs including singers that are not often included in other KTV bars like Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, and Gnarls Barkley.
Environment: Feature on one of the most prosperous period of China—the Tang Dynasty. The imperial decorated Tang Club offers Tang style singing and dancing in the KTV lobby and individual rooms every night.
Price: Minimum order requirements from RMB 1,388 to 5,888 all night excluding Saturday and Sunday, plus 15% surcharge.
Food & Drinks: All kinds of liquor and beers. A dozen of beer starts at RMB 660. Chinese and Western snacks and meals. Orders can be made in the song order system.
Address: Kande International Hotel Dongguan
KTV Control Panels for NEWBIES
Many people can navigate themselves through the system roughly with enough patience and mistakes, but it’s better to know some extensive functions most systems offer to better enjoy the karaoke experience like Chinese do.
Basically every system provides at least four ways to search songs in the main interface. The names of these buttons might vary in different systems, but they should include the following characters:
歌词 Gē cí – search by lyrics. Some systems may not support English lyrics search.
歌星/手 Gē xīng/ shǒu – search by artist. After entering this function, be sure to click the 欧美歌星/手 Ōuměi gēxīng/shǒu to enter the European and American singers’ page.
语种 Yǔzhǒng – search by languages. Most KTVs offer several kinds of Chinese dialects and Southeastern Asian languages.
歌名 Gē míng – search by song. The easiest way to find a song if you remember the name.
分类 Fēn lèi – search by category includes pop songs, disco, children’s song, Cantonese opera and more.
Usually on the bottom of a screen, a few buttons are always there to control the current playing song. The regular play, pause, stop, volume and next song buttons, similar with DVD players, can be spotted easily with the universal symbols; even some systems without symbols can be understood after a few trials. But there are more to explore:
喝彩/倒彩 Hè cǎi/ Dào cǎi – cheers/boos, very useful functions to encourage or make fun of friends.
原唱 /伴唱 Yuán chàng/ Bàn chàng – show original vocal/sing along with music. They are often combined in one button. You can still sing along even showing original vocals.
优先 Yōu xiān – preferential. Ever being stuck behind a bunch of Chinese songs which go on and on for an hour? Here is the function you need. Simply click the button beside the song you want in the song list, it will automatically jump to the first of the queue. Better do it without notice. Some even have the Dǎ luàn (打乱, mix up) function so everyone gets equal chance to sing.