The KTV Experience: Getting Social in Taiwan

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Master’s student and Student Services Coordinator, Kate Broderick is studying in Taiwan for a three-week intensive study of Chinese language and culture, based at Tunghai University in Taichung. The program was made possible by a scholarship from the School of Arts and Communication at Florida Tech. She will be chronicling her experience over the next three weeks on our blog.

“Yooooouuuuu’re heeeerrreee there’s NOOOOTHING I fear and I knooooow that my heart will go onnn….” I have heard this song just about every day for three weeks during my studies in Taiwan: on the way to visit a temple, eating tofu, walking through the night markets… somewhere this song will be playing. That is why I was not entirely surprised to be hearing it now, the only thing that differed was the venue—tonight, celebrating my new friend’s birthday, we are at KTV, known in the US as karaoke.

There are so many potential blog posts I could comment upon, so I feel that I first need to justify why I am writing about KTV. Unlike karaoke, which calls to mind images of seedy, smoky bars or teeny-boppers belting it out in front of their television, KTV is an experience fundamentally Asian, central to the modern social structure of young people in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. (Some of the South Koreans I spoke with go four times a week!). It’s your birthday? KTV. Pass a test? KTV. Bored? KTV.

We left to go to KTV at 4:20, which I thought was an extremely early time to be headed out—it made sense, however, as soon as we arrived, because I discovered that you go to KTV in four hour blocks. I went with my fellow Florida Tech student, Eric Savage, my faithful Tunghai companion Ivy, another Tunghai student (and the birthday boy of the evening!) Fabian, and three of the South Korean students we had met on the trip to Taipei. We communicated in a mixture of English, Chinese, and Korean, punctuated with many hand gestures.

You walk into the main KTV building and register for a room. The finely dressed hostess then escorts you out the back door into what feels like a mini-village, with small building sequestered around a central house, and ushers you into your room, which is blessedly fully air conditioned! While you are in your “studio,” you can eat as much food as you want for free. Pineapple, watermelon, rice, ice cream, and various other foods are available to your heart’s content.

During KTV, I learned that the concept of peer pressure does not translate the same way. Because they are from highly collectivist cultures, my Asian counterparts prize group harmony. I was excessively hesitant to have to sing a song in front of a room full of people that were gifted with divine, angelic voices. In fact, there are about a thousand other things I would prefer to do instead. Noticing my discomfort, they didn’t try to pressure me into singing and sang along with me so I wouldn’t have to do it by myself. It was one of the most fun evenings I’ve had in Taiwan. The fact that our main method of communication slightly resembled an elaborate game of charades only added to the laughter and joy of the evening. This is what I think the study abroad experience is all about—getting to experience moments that you couldn’t possibly have at home.

So, final verdict: no trip to Taiwan is complete without one evening spent at KTV.

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