Taiwan is obsessed with karaoke. Everyone and their dog has a karaoke set at home for those heavy typhoon days, when they can’t go out and sing. While exploring town in the first few weeks, I saw many, many signs for KTV (Karaoke TV) bars.
Now, there are 2 kinds of KTVs.
The PG 13 ones are where you can go, order beer, and sing your heart out. I have even seen families head into these ones for a night of good, clean fun.
And then there are the R-rated (and sometimes X-rated, as I found out) ones which have all of the above, plus girls.
Needless to say, I was interested in learning more about the latter.
Here is a story about how I found out.
It was a Friday night, and I was out at one of the many fishing bars that they have here. I was lonely as hell, so, while drowning my sorrows in beer, I was contemplating on how I could find out more about the KTV scene. Never having actually been in one of these joints, I was under the impression that these were places where young, single people go and mingle. Obviously I wanted to meet someone of the opposite sex, and it seemed like the KTVs were the only place where I could do so. There was no other place in town (that I knew of) where people congregated to flirt and be flirted with. Of course, there was still the language barrier, but I figured booze and music would compensate for that.
As usual, a stranger comes up to me. Of course, he looks mildly intoxicated, and his mouth is red with betel nut. He is continuously spitting into a little cup. (In a small town, they will never approach you unless they have some “liquid courage”. Cultural and language barrier thing.)
“Where are you come from?” he asks.
“Ahhh…Jiānádà. Wǒ zhīdào, wǒ zhīdào (I know, I know). Very beautiful. How long Taiwan?”.
Now, sometimes this means how long have you been here, and other times it means how long do you plan on staying here.
“I’ve been here for one month. I plan to stay for a long time.”
“Good-ah! Uhhh…very nice to meet with you. You like-ah whisky?”
He sits down, orders a bottle of whisky (1500 NT; $50 Cdn.), and we start a broken conversation about Taiwan and Canada. I thought then, that this was going to be my entertainment for the night. Turns out Jay (his English name) was going to be my guide through the seedy underbelly of town that night.
Taiwanese drink whisky with only one mix. Water. They pour about a triple shot of whisky in a small jug and fill it up with water. Then each person takes turns filling up the others glass from the jug. It tastes like crap but keeps you hydrated, I guess.
We were sipping our watered down drinks for about an hour when the bottle ran out. At this point I had a nice buzz, and was having a pretty good time chatting with my host, nevermind that we understood about 20% of what each other was saying. But as everyone knows, intoxicated guys all over the world always have a common language based mostly on women.
“You have nǚ péngyǒu?” he asked
“Ahhh…nà yīgè…girlfriend. You have?”
“You like Taiwan girl?”
“Sure, they are very beautiful.”
At this point I didn’t know what to say. Was he asking me if I wanted to buy a girl? Or go to a place to meet girls? I tried to get him to explain, but didn’t make any progress. He went over and blurted out a stream of Chinese to the owner who then came by and told me that they were friends and he wanted to take me to another bar (I knew the owner because I had come here a few times before).
“Very good-ah pub. You like.”
Fuelled by whisky and promises of a possible adventure ahead, I decided to go with Jay. I could always bail later if things started to go downhill.
We jumped into his BMW and after a short ride pulled up to what looked like a small warehouse with flashy neon lights and posters of expensive whiskys at the entrance.
I sat in the car wondering if this was a good idea when, a few moments later, he popped his head out and beckoned me inside. All right!! Here we go!
I walked into what looked like the lobby of a mid-range hotel. There was a counter with 2 people behind it. Milling about were a few security types. Jay went up to the counter and after talking with the guy put down 5000 NT (about $166 Cdn.). This is a LOT of money in Taiwan, so I tried to offer him half but, of course, he refused to take it. I was very intruiged at this point because I wanted to see what a 5000NT bar offered in Taiwan.
We were ushered toward a corridor. Down the hall, there were a number of rooms; all doors closed. One of the steroid monkeys opened up a door and motioned for me to go inside. It was pretty dim and quiet, so I was wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. The door closed behind us and as my eyes were adjusting I saw a giant TV screen attached to a sound system and a few microphones.
Ahhh damn. No people, dim lights….ummm was Jay going to try and seduce me with his wicked awesome karaoke skills? I was very let down, and was about to leave, when the lights came on. Ok…a bit better, but still not staying for any type of man-romance. Jay motioned me to sit, put on the TV (blue screen) and started fiddling with the stereo. I remained standing. I guess, at this point, he sensed my unease and tried to comfort me.
“Beautiful Taiwan girl. Wait.”
The door then opened and servers walked in with a whack of different dishes on snack sized plates, a case of beer and a bottle of whisky. Ohhh…Jay wanted to hang out, get drunk and sing karaoke. I was a little confused about why he kept mentioning girls (although I had a dawning suspicion), but I decided…what the hell…this guy paid for all of it so lets hang out and have a good time.
He throws on “Poker Face” and hands me the mike. Oh ya, Lady Ga Ga is HUGE here.
I’m a horrible singer but feeling pretty good, I gave ‘er a shot. I was getting into it when, right in the middle of a rousing “P..P..P..P..P..Poooooker face”, the door opened again, and 4 long legged beauties strolled in.
I looked over at Jay. He had a fool’s grin on his face and he gave me a salacious wink. I’d never experienced anything like this before so it was pretty Awesome!
The girls danced on in as I was singing. They opened up the beers and topped up all the glasses. Then, they did the whole whisky+water mixture thing and started drinking with us.
The night pretty much continued in that vein for a while…I’d sing an English song, then everyone else would take turns singing Chinese songs. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’m pretty sure that the lights started slowly dimming down. The beer and whisky kept flowing, and since Jay and I were well ahead, the girls were downing the booze like champs. It was like partying with rockstars minus the coke.
I don’t remember how much time had passed, but at one point, I was singing something and trying to focus on the TV screen (the words kept moving for some reason) when Jay came over and sat beside me. He grabbed my hand and put it on something soft. I turned to look, and saw that my hand was on one of the girls’ (well endowed) bosom. Instinctively, I snatched it back, embarrassed and started apologizing to the girl.
“Méi wèntí…is Ok…is OK.” she replied putting my hand back on her real estate.
Jay was grinning like an idiot again, as he fondled one of the other girls.
As much fun as that may have been, I was definitely at my limit for debaucherous behaviour that night. I regretfully pulled my hand back. This earned me confused looks from the girls. Obviously oggling and fondling were included in the transaction, but I just felt way too weird. Again, perceptively, Jay sensed my discomfort, so, with obvious anguish and heartache he tore himself away from his budding ménage à trois and came over.
“You no want?”
To his credit he quickly got rid of the girls, and we left the place. He took me back to the bar where we met, said goodbye and drove off. I wondered if I’d offended him somehow and if I’d ever see him again.
On the walk home, I was still reeling from the excitement of the night. While I was caught off guard by the whole hand-on-boob thing, I’d had a great time.
This total stranger had paid for the whole night serving up drinks, food and possibly prostitutes to show me a good time because I was a foreigner to his land. Or maybe he just wanted someone else to binge with. I don’t think the latter was the case, because 5000NT is a lot of dough to pay for someone to get drunk with. Regardless, the fact remains, he treated me.
I now knew that my initial impression of KTVs was totally off base, thanks to Jay. He’d shown me a night to remember. While offering up hookers isn’t the most socially acceptable way to say “welcome”, I’m sure that he was trying to show me what he thought was hospitality.
A small, troubling thought did linger though. Some foreigners have a reputation here for being pump-and-dump fiends with the locals. Did he do this because he thinks westerners are rabid with “yellow fever”, and all we want is to have a taste of Taiwanese girls? And if he did, then how many other locals have the same impression of us? I’d hate to think that behind the smiles and welcomes lies such a low opinion of foreigners. Or maybe I was just overthinking.
Whatever the reasons I had a ballistic time with Jay. The splitting hangover that was awaiting me in the morning was well worth the exposure to a seamier side of Taiwan.