While we talked about Asians and Asian life, Westerns may think about the long history of China, the delicious sushi and kimchi from Japan and Korea and how smart Asians are supposedly to be with science subjects in school especially Math.
One thing that may often be neglected by the Westerns is our entertainment facilities. I mean Asians have dinners with friends at restaurants, go to bars and drink and go shopping in their free time. One thing escaped the Westerns’ eyes is the Asian karaoke.
In America, karaoke is generally considered an activity for people in bars to go up the stage, pick up a song and sing along with the live band. However, it’s an entirely different concept in Asia.
In Asia, karaoke is probably one of the most popular entertainment activities for young generation. I think it syncs up with the shyness in Asians’ personality that people gather in an individual room to sing instead of in front of the whole crowd in the bar.
People share the room with only their own companions to sing along with the music from machines, drink, playing card games or any sort of entertainment forms. As we can see from the picture, there’s a big sofa in the room that people can relax on.
This is basically a smaller version of our living room at home. Big sofa, a few tables and a center piece on the table.
Meanwhile. on the other side of the room is a flat screen to show MTVs and lyrics while customers sing along with the machines.
With this amazing business opportunity that is rarely known to the Westerns; international students from Asia at the University of Iowa are left with this idea alone.
Hanjie, Gu, one international student from China studying at the Tippie College of business at the University of Iowa saw this opportunity, acted on it and opened the first Karaoke downtown Iowa City named No. 18.
“There was another karaoke opened by a Chinese student here in Iowa, but it was so far away from downtown and it was really in convenient for the Asian students who doesn’t own a car.” Jingying, Zhai, a senior math student at the University of Iowa from Nanjing, China told me that she tried the other karaoke before No. 18. However, it was too far away and small as well.
Right after the other karaoke ran out of business and closed, Hanjie grabbed the opportunity, scaled the location and opened No. 18 on Gilbert Street.
It was not busy for a junior business student to open up a business. “We had to keep delaying the date of opening. There were just too much to deal with: decorations, recruiting, financial planning and transporting all the machines from China.” Hanjie reviewed what he was going through at the beginning stage of this business.
According to the story “Chinese Karaoke Finds Following in Iowa City” on Patch.com; No. 18 Karaoke mostly focuses on Chinese students and scholars in Iowa City. Therefore, all the machines in No. 18 were imported from China and most of the songs on the system are Chinese songs along with a few hit songs from Japan, Korea and American songs.
On top of singing, No. 18 also provides snacks and one unique drink from Asia: the bubble tea.
With time, No. 18 has been improving their snack and drink menus with more varieties of smoothies and more options of snacks.
After the graduation, Hanjie went back to China to help out at his family business and entrusted his friend Chenyin Liu to manage the karaoke.
“I want to make sure to keep the business running smoothly for Gu and serve Chinese students best.” Chenyin said.
With the large growth of Asian population in Iowa City, No. 18 seems to be on the edge of losing the privilege of being the only karaoke downtown Iowa City.
According to Chenyin, there is another Asian Karaoke and Cafe: Bubbleology Karaoke & Cafe opening at the end of this September on Washington Street in Iowa City.
With the approach of competition, Chenyin is not much nervous, “We will just do what we need to do.”