Friday, February 1, 2013


A question that comes up quite a bit in emails from people I know in the U.S.
“What do you do for entertainment in China?”
I tell them like most people I enjoy watching movies but I also enjoy singing the popular karaoke tunes. That was something I enjoyed doing in the U.S. as well. Karaoke is extremely popular in China just like in America and throughout the rest of the world which I was glad to see when I arrived here.

The Karaoke technology was first invented in Japan in the 1980s. In 1992, I discovered the Karaoke rave in Malaysia, Australia, and believe it or not India. It has been over twenty years since I traveled to those places and technology has advanced quite a bit since then.
In today’s world hundreds of thousands of songs can be stored on a single portable hard drive. The person running the Karaoke songs can easily locate the songs from a laptop computer. If the Karaoke DJ still can’t locate your favorite song they can download the karaoke version from the internet in a matter of minutes.

Singing is one of my favorite pastimes and I have discovered many locals here with extraordinary musical talents. I wish today’s technology was around when I was a teenager I would have discovered earlier that I could actually hold a tune. American music is having a huge impact on the Chinese culture it is heard everywhere and the youth can’t get enough of it. American music and films are popular throughout the world though especially among children and teenagers.

The popularity of American movies is also having a huge impact on the Chinese culture. The Chinese are willing to spend 150 RMB (approximately $23.00 USD) to watch an American film in an IMAX movie theater. I have gone to IMAX theaters here in China and I must say it's a great experience. I like telling the Children here that when I was their age I could see a movie in America for 25 American Pennies. I then explain that 1 RMB is now worth 16 American Pennies. They always reply by saying “Movies expensive in China.”

I mostly download movies off the internet and project them on to my apartment wall. It doesn't give you the same bang for the multiple dollars as an IMAX movie theater but it can still be quite enjoyable. I like watching the films with a bowl of microwave popcorn and a soda or a beer and it’s much cheaper than what you would pay at a Chinese movie theater.
In the apartment building where I live there is a lobby with a couch, chairs, a coffee table, and end tables. The lobby is a great place to project movies for the kids that live in my apartment building and they like watching the movies there too. A couple weekends a month I show an American Children’s movie there to entertain the kids.

The last time I showed a movie in my apartment lobby was a few weeks ago and the entire area was filled with children with beanbags to sit on. They always reserve a chair for me to sit on because I’m not a beanbag person. Bowls of cut watermelon will miraculously appear for everyone to munch on too.

I showed them the 1978 movie version of Superman which they never seen before and now they can’t wait to see the sequel which came out over thirty years ago. The children here are extremely cute and they all clapped their hands every time Christopher Reeves turned into Superman. I enjoy the time I spend with those kids and I find that when I entertain them I’m entertained in the process.

In the City of Suzhou where I live and teach there are various amusement parks with many fun rides. If that’s not your cup of tea - you can always take a boat ride along the local river here. The river runs throughout the city of Suzhou and into an ancient part of the city. It’s a great tourist attraction for Foreigner’s like me with all sorts of shops and ancient buildings. The ancient buildings give you a glimpse of the city’s ancient past. In one of the ancient buildings there is a large rug on the floor with a board game in the middle of the rug. The Chinese have been playing that same game for thousands of years and it is still a form of entertainment for many of the Chinese elders.

The streets in the ancient part of the city are very narrow - much too narrow for cars to drive on. Some of the buildings and gardens were built around 2000 years ago. I enjoyed taking the tour and I told a young boy in one of the buildings that the building we were in is older than America. He told me he has been to America too and that he enjoyed my country very much.

There are also plenty of restaurants and bars in Suzhou that serve a variety of Chinese and western style foods. I enjoy going out to eat with others and meeting new people in the process. You can find all sorts of ethnic foods from around the world in the city here if you just take the time to look.

The internet is also a form of entertainment for me because today’s technology enables me to stay in touch with people all over the world. With the Skype program on my computer I can see who I am talking to and I enjoy using the video phone when communicating with my cousin in Italy. I also use Skype when communicating with former students of mine who are now studying in Canada and the U.S.

My students always ask me, “Mr. Tom what makes you happy?” I always tell them true happiness is a state of being. You experience it more fully when you reveal it to others. The same can be said for those who seek joy in life. Joy is simply a state of mind the more you reveal it to others the more joyful you become in life.

Our ancestors did not have the technology we have and yet they found their entertainment through simple games and by conversing with one another. A simple conversation and the telling of great stories to children are truly richer than today’s computers and IMAX movie theaters. The imagination can be a marvelous tool to develop especially when it comes to the art of entertaining.

The telling of a great story seems to be left to Hollywood these days but none the less the art of storytelling was a great form of entertainment for our ancestors. Those who possessed such talents were sought out and held in great esteem. The storytellers were greatly entertained too by simply taking the time in telling the stories. Adults and children alike who were the recipients of those great gifts - passed down through the ages - were truly enriched by the experience and entertained in the process.

Most of my entertainment comes through the interaction with the Children here. When I hear their laughter it reminds me of how things used to be when my Grandfather told me the entertaining stories of old. He too inherited those gifts and talents from his ancestors and hopefully those same gifts are being passed on to generations to come by an old Foreigner in China.

Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
    U.S. voice mail: (800) 272-6464
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    Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:

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