Tuning into karaoke as clubs clean up act
establishments, with their dodgy managers and dubious customers who frequented the older karaoke lounges in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City,” said Thanh, who works at X-Men Club in Hanoi.
Karaoke may conjure up alcohol-tinged images of dimly-lit rooms with poor acoustics, with shady reputations as brothels and drug dens. “In some ‘hugging’ karaoke bars, customers can hug, touch, kiss or even have sex with female staff, but such activities are illegal, and these establishments are becoming fewer and fewer due to police raids,” said Pham Van Long, manager of VIP karaoke lounge in Ho Chi Minh City.
The audio equipment, including amplifiers, microphones, sound systems and LED or LCD wide screen TVs, has dramatically improved in quality and even the worst singer can hide behind some super-enhanced reverb.
Average prices vary from 100,000-200,000 Vietnamese dong ($4.50-$9) an hour, exclusive of drinks, to up to 10 times more for upmarket options. Luxurious venues have sophisticated decor, including rooms decked out like a palace, or entire dance floors and flashing lights, bearing more resemblance to a disco.
However, some establishments have developed a repu- tation for prostitution and drug use, with women, especially from rural areas, drawn by the monthly salaries of 15-30 million Vietnamese dong.
“I know that some young girls, especially those from Ho Chi Minh City’s countryside or neighboring provinces have been lured by fraudulent advertisements. They have been tricked into working for ‘hugging’ karaoke bars, or even worse, for brothels,” said Long.
The scandals have led to increased government surveillance of karaoke business practices. Now, every room must have an area of at least 20 square meters, transparent glass windows, and only one waiter or waitress aged over 18 serving the guests, with none of the rooms being locked.
In April 2017, the Vietnamese Ministry of Health proposed a ban on selling alcoholic drinks, including spirit, wine and beer, in karaoke venues.
“If the ban is placed, our business will be affected, but we always strictly obey the law. More and more people are enjoying clean karaoke, not dirty karaoke,” said Le Van Thang, owner of Chieu Tim (Violet Afternoon) karaoke bar in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District.