T HE Karaoke craze has swept through Phnom Penh since spring. Many youths, whose
minds have been soaked by video games in the last few years, are now flooding
into Karaoke shops and paying a few hundred riels to sing their favorite songs.
Enterprising drinks-shop owners, after purchasing a video recorder,
Karaoke tapes, a microphone and speakers, have cashed in on the latest fad and
are running a thriving in-house business.
Everywhere you can see people
thrilled to bits by Karaoke songs and music. Phnom Penh is now able to fill in
its usually silent nights.
"Oh! oh! yeh! yeh! Si bai pteas kei, chous
arch pteas eng..." a boy shouts. His Khmer improvisation of the English song
literally translates to 'Oh! oh! yeh! yeh! Dining at his house and back to s**t
at our home... .'
In fact the singer did not mean to change the original
words but his English was too poor to read and say 'I love you more than I can
He says many Cambodians would love to sing foreign songs together
with those of their mother tongue but unfortunately they face the language
In contrast Var Sara, who speaks fluent Japanese and Thai, says
he likes to sing songs in these two languages as well as the Khmer melodies to
Sara, a 24-year-old guide at the Paradise Angkor Wat Tour
business, said: "While some people drink alcohol to forget their troubles I just
Apparently, Sara can sing more beautifully than most Karaoke
fans - not much worse than professional singers.
He said he owed his
singing ability to spending hours each day practicing songs at the top of his
voice in the privacy of his home to try to improve his voice.
"I know other people who would climb to the top of the [then] broken
Cambodian-Japanese friendship bridge to practice in privacy. They would scream
noisy rubbish to the birds in the sky and the fish in the river."
Unluckily, there are some folks who are not very successful at improving
their rough voices. These people have expressed much regret for their past
An unsuccessful singer who requested not to be identified lamented:
"It would be less shameful to walk naked than shout like a crazy man in
Enthusiastic Karaoke singer Sam Mao, 25, said: "I would sing all
the songs on all the videotapes if only I could catch-up with the scripts which
often move too fast.
He added: "Sometimes my friends complain that I
sound like I'm crying when I sing and at other times they say I sound like I'm
Mao explained that the most popular Karaoke shops are
those with beautiful lady owners or daughters.
He said: "Besides going
to sing, I often go just to see and court the daughters of the owners. Sometimes
I have no money but I go to woo.
"The standard price for singing a song
in one of the small shops is only a few hundred riels, but in the red light
district the fees are much higher because they have girls to accompany you if
the song needs both a male and female singer."
New fans of Karaoke say
they find it very uncomfortable to air their voice in public with vicious
critics sitting around and saying this and that about them.
A new Karaoke
devotee Bi Samrach said: "At the beginning I must be a bit tipsy before I can
sing." Unfortunately, given the traditionally greater shyness of the Khmer
ladies, we do not see as many girls as boys at the Karaoke shops.
of the Karaoke house near the Japanese bridge Prak Yary said: "Girls prefer to
hide in their houses and sing to themselves. Some girls even feel ashamed of the
microphones. They think it is like holding a man's family jewels."
who has been operating the Karaoke service for a month, complained that it is
not a lucrative business.
She said: "The money I earn barely makes up
for the costs of the electricity and the repayments on the entertainment
equipment I bought.
"On average I have about ten customers daily but I
often suffer from being cheated.
"Sometimes the more crowded it is and
the more singers I have the less money I make because more people cheat [not
paying after singing songs]."