SEOUL, South Korea — Feel like singing the blues away? Or serenading a lover? All with orchestral backup provided, and best of all, in the privacy of your own taxi?
Call a karaoke cab.
Karaoke is a Japanese term meaning "empty orchestra." The taxis are equipped with special sound systems--a recording that provides the musical accompaniment and a microphone for the customer to fill in the vocal part.
The systems are popular in bars in South Korea, Japan and some other places, and have been seen in a few taxis in Japan and Taiwan.
But karaoke cabs are the new fad on the streets of Seoul. And Koreans, who love to belt out songs anywhere, are expected to become addicted.
The passenger pays an extra charge to star as the singer. The system's disc player can store up to 1,000 songs, and for those who can't remember the words to a favorite tune, the driver provides a book of lyrics.
Korean taxi drivers almost always play radio music and most hum and sing to themselves. Fitting out their taxis with karaoke music for extra income from a singing passenger is an easy step.
City officials say karaoke taxis are not illegal, but could cause safety problems by disturbing drivers' concentration.
The music and singing also might drown out warning blasts from car horns, increasing the danger of traffic accidents, they say.
It is not known how many karaoke taxis there are among the 23,000 commercial taxis in Seoul. One official estimated the number so far at about 100, but said it is growing.
"The number is expected to increase considerably," said Kim Sang-ho, a manager at the Seoul Taxi Assn.
Some drivers charge 1,000 won ($1.30) per song. Others get up to 5,000 won ($6.50) from passengers and allow them to sing as many songs as they want while they're in the cab.
For years, going to karaoke bars has been popular in South Korea. Recently, a new karaoke business, called video-che, has popped up, providing both video and music.
Despite the Japanese name karaoke, the music here is always Korean or American pop songs. Japanese songs are prohibited in South Korea, a result of anti-Japanese sentiment persisting since the days of Japanese colonial rule, which ended in 1945.