Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sailors, Prostitutes & Karaoke Culture

Cape Town dockside social life is dominated by east Asian sailors who love singing karaoke. Two dockside nightclubs installed karaoke facilities expressly for the Asian trawlermen who love belting out the ballads. Indeed, every time I go to the clubs, I'm waylaid by syrupy sweet Chinese love songs, bubble-gummy Filipino pop, Islamicized Indonesian melodies, soft Taiwanese rock, and lilting Korean classics. And they're all sung through the raspy vocals of drunken sailors.

But the performances are not bad. When Asians sing karaoke, they mean it. Unlike middle-class Westerners who perform with irony and self-mockery, the Asian sailors do their best to imitate the original version of the song. They honor it with fidelity. So too do the working-class coloured prostitutes.

(When I first sang karaoke at the clubs, I performed in a comic-ironic manner. But nobody thought I was funny. They just looked at me like I sucked, pitying me...and themselves. But when I started actually trying to sing the songs properly, everyone applauded. Now I'm a regular on the mic. Watch out Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie & Duran Duran!)

For the sailors, karaoke is just an amusement to pass the time and inspire male bonding. But for the nightclub prostitutes, it offers yet another avenue for solicitation. Classic solicitation techniques revolve around sexy dancing, pleasant conversation, and gentle caressing, but the karaoke microphone allows women to grab all the seamen's attention at the same time. Her voice is able to soar above the crowd's. So it's not a surprise when one of the women lets loose on a familiar pop song.

More impressively, some of the women sing songs in the sailors' languages! Many have mastered one or two of the seamen's tongues, so they enjoy showing off their linguistic skills through music. This certainly gets the attention of the seafarers. Once a lady has demonstrated that she can entertain the sailors in their own language, it's not long before they wonder how else she might entertain them.

It is one of the most striking cultural aspects of the dockside nightlife: listening to working-class coloured prostitutes sing Asian love songs in flawless Mandarin, Tagalog, Indonesian, Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese.

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Sugar Girls and Seamen · Suikermeisies en Seamen · Izifebe namaTilosi · 売春婦及び船員 · 매춘부와 선원
妓女和水手 · Làm đĩ và những lính thủy · πόρνες και ναυτικοί · Gamitin sa masama at Mandaragat
Pelacur dan Pelaut · Prostituiertee und Seeleute · Prostituert og Sjømenn · Prostituees en Zeelieden
Prostituées et Marins · Prostitutes e Marinai · Prostitutes y Marineros · проститутки и матросы