Open City: Blogging Urban Change
Chinatown Soundscape: Valentine’s Day Duet
By Peggy Lee


I received this text from Jimmy on Valentine’s Day:
“Come to K-TV, where only place you can find date. Valentine’s Day Duet contest, winner $1,000. Free rose if you bring friend.”

I kidnapped my roommate and we hopped onto the D to 9th Ave. K-TV 39 is attached to the King’s Hotel. It’s in a curious location. When you walk on 39th Street between 9th and 8th Avenue, you’ll notice lumber yards, chained lots with stacked tires, lonely looking stores where you can buy things like stucco, and large trucks with empty platforms, resting. A moderately sized, brick hotel, with festive trees plopped on the roof-top is the last thing you expect on this street, let alone, people. My roomie mouthed, “Weird,” as we entered the crowded karaoke bar.

Inside one K-TV39 private room with psychadelic wallpaper

I stumbled upon King’s Hotel/K-TV by pure chance. One day, while totally out of it, I zombied onto the D instead of the N at 36th Street and found myself closer to 8th Ave, Chinatown. I decided to walk it, figuring I’d pick something up for dinner on my way home. This happened in early fall of 2010, and periodically since, when I was in the area, I would stop by King’s to see if their karaoke opened yet. In January, some karaoke life finally emerged. When I came in for the first time, a young, spiky haired Jimmy greeted me enthusiastically, dressed suave in a light gray suit. He’s the kind of guy who calls everyone beautiful, beautiful, you’re beautiful.

What was supposed to be an initial, nice chat and see, turned into rounds of various liquids and songs with hotel guests and bartenders late into the night. At one point, Jimmy jokingly slammed a handle of Jameson and said, drink up, to which I politely declined, no way (he was wondering why Koreans loved whiskey). In between songs, I was chatting with a fellow karaoke enthusiast who works part-time at a karaoke bar in Manhattan, Chinatown and lived around the corner. I was surprised to learn that in Sunset Park there are around 9 karaoke bars all of which are popular gathering places for Chinese-speaking 20-something’s in the neighborhood. K-TV39, however, was striving to be a more flexible business by having a clubbing atmosphere. For example, they have ladies nights, a platform for a weekly go-go-dancer, and live DJ nights.

This V-Day evening, the place was packed. I felt like I was at a Chinese family reunion. There were old men in suits sitting stiffly next to their wives with permed, puffed hair; young couples were rattling dice, playing drinking games; and the middle aged folks were dressed real cute, in that time machine stuck between the 80’s and 90’s cute. My friend and I sat down with our long-stemmed roses and the duet competition commenced.

Duet Highlight: Really dug this Jackie Chan and Sallie Yeh duet.

After the duet winners were announced, Rihanna’s ‘Only Girl’ began thumping loudly from the speakers. Most of the older patrons streamed out except this adorable 50-something man in a tight polo shirt and pants to match who danced solo-sexy maniac-like without a care in the world. I joined him with my wanna-be voguing moves, which turned into play-spanking him. A cute bartender I befriended was being nagged and followed by a man who was suddenly unbuttoning his flannel shirt to his belly button for her, an unwanted lumber seduction. What would your mom think, I shouted over the music, and she laughed, while we all jumped to the weird Euro-techno that came on.

One Response to Chinatown Soundscape: Valentine’s Day Duet

  1. Seanomatoepia says:

    Hey, we met at Mother’s Milk. Finally hopped over to openthecity to see your karaoke blog and enjoyed your story. I’d like to see this fun Chinese family setting myself!

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
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