Throwback Thursday is when we trawl through the That's archives for a work of dazzling genius written at some point in our past. We then republish it. On a Thursday.
By Raemin Zhang
“Love love love…” A middle-aged Shanghainese man in pajamas holds a microphone, concentrating on the lyrics of Taiwanese sugar poptress Jolin Tsai. A crowd of about a hundred surround him, most dressed equally casual, carrying plastic tea bottles and handheld fans.
This is the scene every summer night between 6.30 and 10pm at the corner of Ningguo and Pingliang Lu in Yangpu District. There are a handful of karaoke stands in the neighborhood now, but 51-year-old Chen Chunyong’s was the first and still draws the biggest crowds.
During the day, Chen, a Shanghai-native, is a driver for an electronics company. He opened his karaoke stand three years ago after visiting many parks and small karaoke parlors where he noticed plenty of retired people with a lot of time on their hands and a love of singing.
“So I decided to make a stand for people to sing on the street.” Chen says he’s the kind of person who likes to make new stuff. He bought four speakers, a transformer, two 12V batteries, two monitors, a tuner and a tricycle to haul it all. Then he went down to the Qiujiang Lu electronics market and bought a compressed DVD with 10,000 songs. Altogether the whole kit came out to a little more than RMB10,000 and weighs 250kg.
“Every evening I carry it on my tricycle from my home which is six bus stops away,” he says. He chose the area because it has a good neighborhood feel. He only comes out in good weather, when people tend to go for a walk after dinner because it’s too hot to stay home.
Two songs cost RMB5, Chen has selections from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and everything from Canto-pop to red folk songs, even a few English numbers.
When he first began, people were shy. So when nobody sang, Chen sang himself. After about a month he’d built up regular customers, mostly from the neighborhood. Now, people will sometimes come from as far away as Pudong to sing at his stand.
“People love to come and sing because it’s very easy out in the open, where the singer can have good interaction with the audience, it’s a very nice atmosphere,” says Gao Guiping, who has been coming to Chen’s for two years.
“Most my customers are middle-aged man and young migrant workers,” Chen says. “Usually the really good singers and the bad singers draw the most attention. The so-so singer is always lonely.”
Chen has fielded several noise complaints over the years and is now careful to turn the speakers into the street and not toward any of the buildings where people might be trying to sleep. He always finishes right at 10pm. He’s never been asked to shut down completely, as his fans seem to far outnumber his detractors.
“People love this kind of fun,” he says. “It nourishes people’s spiritual life and fills in the blank for middle aged folks and migrant workers with time to spare.”
Photos by Nicky Almasy
This article first appeared in the August 2011 issue of That's Shanghai. To see more Throwback Thursday posts, click here.