Tuesday, April 28, 2009

laos karaoke dream

As is frequently the fate of visitors in Thailand, I had to leave the country this week to replace my expiring visa. The most economical option for me was to travel to Vientiane, Laos, a ten-hour bus ride away. While the Cambodian border is closer (as is the Burmese border, but I’m not that crazy), the usually-pricy Thai visas are currently being handed out for free in Laos to encourage tourism to Thailand, which is hurting economically since the political strife has scared away its customers. Rather than navigate the fragmented transportation and the incomprehensible and ‘expensive’ bureaucracy on my own, I signed up with one of the companies specifically formed to guide and ease the visa border run. It was well worth it, as they not only drove me and my fellow visa-needers directly the whole way, but also negotiated the seemingly-endless queues and forms such that we could usually waltz right through as a group with a mere hour’s wait in comfort rather than the day or so in line in the sun required by most. Judging by a repeated facial resemblance, I suspect this was achieved through strategic nepotism, for which I am personally grateful.

One stage of the process did require us to stay overnight in the astoundingly boring Vientiane, so while all of the Europeans and Americans went out to get drunk, I found myself on my own and in the surprising position of living out a secret life-long dream. Let me tell you: The hostel in which we stayed had a relaxed karaoke bar on the ground floor. The delightful Filipinos in our group had hijacked control of the machine, and were bravely belting out the most saccharine English-language hits of the past 20 years accompanied by strange pirated music videos seemingly compiled from New Zealand travel ads and scenes from The Bridges of Madison County. When I walked in, “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith was on (with footage of fish), and the current singer was cheerfully struggling with the lyrics. Seeing that I was American and therefore probably could deal with the words on the screen, she thrust the mike at me, and I obliged with my best Steve Tyler.

They loved me. The delighted crowd insisted that I sing all the English-language songs that they chose, about 40 all told, though I only made it through about 15 before my voice started to hurt (I blame the successful but damaging escalating modulations of “My Heart Will Go On” at around song ten, along with being generally out of practice). Despite not having the stamina they wished and being culturally-appropriately-self-depreciating at the time, I was secretly really proud of my performance, peaking with a soulful and inspired “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” which was especially well-received by the crowd. While I’m a fine singer, I know a lot of what they loved was just the ingrained American confidence and humour for which I can take no credit, as well as my almost sickening familiarity of the songs’ original melodic inflections, for which I similarly claim no responsibility. (For those of you who don’t know my musical tastes, they run more toward the complexly rhythmic and musically complex, like Radiohead and Arabic house, and usually run desperately away from anything smacking of pop or the insipid, so all my knowledge of these songs comes from the forced pop-culture soundtrack of grocery stores and malls. Ok, and maybe mix tape or two from circa 1994. Just maybe.) But for whatever reason, for one night, in the most unlikely of venues and with the last songs I’d ever have chosen, I got to be a star.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This made me laugh out loud (which I really needed). I love the image of you soulfully crooning "Have I Told You Lately..."

love, Meg