May 9, 2010

Quest for Karaoke

I never understood the fascination with karaoke—certainly Japan's finest gift to the world. In Cambodia, however, karaoke is a way of life. Entire TV channels are devoted to broadcasting people trying their hand at Khmer stand-bys. No expense is spared to create the mega karaoke complexes complete with disco, spa and hotel. It's an obsession here.

I went to karaoke for the first time last night, and if I had more Saturday nights in Phnom Penh, I know exactly how I would spend them. Inside the grandest of Khmer karaoke bars—Rock—my crew and I found ourselves on cozy couches in a disco-balled, air-conditioned room totally worth the hefty hourly charge. David, Francine and I were chaperoned by Soriya and Ally (two CWF staff) and our tuk tuk driver. Besides being our lifelines in Cambodia, the CWF staff are a fun bunch who like to show us a good time. I was glad we got to spend some time together before we all part ways.

We spent hours alternating Khmer and English songs, trading microphones and sharing the international thrill of watching the lyrics light up on the screen. Somewhere between “Centerfold” and “My Heart Will Go On”, I decided that karaoke might be the single most important innovation of all time. If I was nervous about singing in front of people, I totally forgot to show it—in fact, I wanted them to watch and listen. A wise Japanese man once told me that this would happen. You won't be nervous, he said, you'll think you are a superstar and want to do karaoke all the time. It's true, and I hope Tokyo is ready for me!