Updates on the Asia Salsa Tour, Salsa Dancing in Beijing, Taiwan, Thailand, and Through Asia Salsa Dance

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So, it has begun…

Salsa Dancing through Asia. In fact, I write this as I sit in the Kempinski Hotel, in none other than, Beijing China, attending the China Salsa Congress.  Tomorrow, truth be told, we'll be dancing on the Great Wall. Whoa.  So, here's a little excerpt from my travel diary (directly transcribed, little editing), so you can all share the experience . . .

But before we get to that, let me lay it out for you.  Beijing, Taiwan, possible re-entry to Shanghai, ending in Thailand.  A little over a month I'm thinking, but reallly, no set plan.  Actually, no set plan at all. I want to go to Malaysia, but I'm a little nervous about that place (without significant Malay help).
Anyway, for those whom have friends in the places above, have them holler over. Love to get insights into food, lodgings, sights, dancing, etc . . . Here we go:

"First Class Air Canada Rocks! While I know it isn’t really the best of the “first class” cabins in the world, it still has an electric seat, footrest, single seat rows, etc . . . but no full reclining seat, or the brand new “air cockpits” I’ve been hearing about, that allow you to feel as though you have your own miniature private room onboard the airplane.


They are handing out things at a rapid pace. Drinks, food, and a big bag. Let me open it. Ok, it’s a full on toiletry bag.  Toothpaste, washcloth, socks, foot lotion, etc . . . it’s only 11 hours to Beijing, and I no longer think it will be as difficult as I first anticipated.   Shoes off, travel socks on!


The first leg, SFO to Vancouver, was very fast.  Just 1 ½ hours.  This is a long flight (the longest I’ve taken in quite some time), but I am not dreading it. Let’s see what I think in five hours though, when I’m not even halfway through. J  The first movie up is “Blades of Glory”, which should be fun (Will Ferrell movie).  I can’t say I’m tired at all, so I’ll probably end up watching that.


Just ordered lunch, I’m having the Shrimp and steak for meal one, and the Chick Masala for meal two.  My hopes are not high, but I’ll let ya’ know.


I just got late breaking notice that the schedule has changed in Beijing, but I also got notice that my friend Sebastien is DJing at a club on Tuesday night. That should be great, and I’m definitely looking forward to that.


So, here I am, on the very first part of my trip to Asia, and first stop, Beijing China! 


Ok, the trip took longer than I anticipated. 2 movies, untold # of attempts at sleep, but eventually, I made it into Beijing.  Getting luggage and through customs was very easy. Not so easy was getting my new “BlackBerry” worldphone to work, but we’ll save that rant for another time.


A quick, 60 quay cab ride to the hotel, Kepminsky, and I was checked in my room almost instantly. By 3pm.  Well, I hadn’t slept in a while, and truth be told, I was tired, but I decided to call Seb.  I met him on a street which turned out to be right around the corner from a salsa club


My first meal in Beijing was a Hot Pepper Steak sandwich.  Daring, I know.  It was quite good though, and gave me a little more energy. I caught up with Seb who had recently moved here from Hong Kong to be a resident DJ at the local night club. Crazy eh?  Yes!


I also hear some troubling news about the congress, news I’ll be confirming soon. Apparently, just a few days ago, the sponsor pulled out, and the whole congress is in jeopardy. Seb says something like “typical china”, but I’m amazed. How could this happen?


My spirits are bolstered though, when we walk by a huge video wall on a RANDOM shopping mall, and lo and behold, in the middle of a crowded street, somewhere in the middle of Beijing, this video wall is playing a loop about . . . you guessed it? The Salsa Congress! Wow. It even had a crowd of streetwatchers staring at it! 


Evidently, what we’re watching is no longer the congress video, but a video that the old sponsor CCTV will use to run their OWN event, on the same day as the congress. What? It didn’t make sense to me either.Competing competitions held by the old event sponsor on the same day?  What?


The entire congress is in disarray, supposedly, but I’ll have to wait to look at the website to see what’shappened.


Anyway, Seb invited me to see practice at Mambo Jack’s studio, but I was so burnt, I decided to just walk around. I went out to the Malls around the area for a bit, but then decided to stick my head into Salsa Caribe, the first salsa club I’d ever been to in Beijing, and on a Monday night no less.


I arrive at around 8-8:30, and there was a class (although sparse). There were several more men than women, although it did even out over the course of the night, and perhaps even swung the other way at times (as I’d been told). Anyway, eventually, a woman came up and asked me to dance (stood by me for awhile, then leaned over and asked if I knew how to salsa, In English).  Turned out she was a dancer from Shanghai, first time at the club, and didn’t know anyone either.  She was leaving the next day, and not staying for the Congress (whether that’s a good or bad sign, I’ll let ya’ know in a few days).

She was a good dancer, and fun. We danced several dances, and then I slowly danced with a few other people. 24+ hours with little sleep, and here I am dancing away on my first night.  SalsaCrazy, the name’s there for a reason. ;)   Anyway, the dancing was quite good.  Far surpassing my experiences in Hong Kong, and this on a Monday night. I’m not sure whether this is because of the worldwide technical upswing of the dance as a whole, or just people dancing in a different location. I eventually met a woman here from Prague, who was here with her partner, a teacher from Paris, whom was stellar.  Then Seb came in, brought a few more dancers, and we hung out. Danced until 1, easily caught a cab home, and was asleep by 2 (perhaps a bit later).  I was absolutely, drenched, and danced more that night, than I had in the last 2 months combined.


Since that was a Monday, that might bode very well for tonight. Today, I have 2 plans. Sightsee, and massage. This should be easily do-able, but I wish I was with someone to help me get it sorted out. I guess the, fairly unhelpful so far, Concierge will have to be my first stop.


My thoughts on Beijing so far? What’s up with the smog!  I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like a thick layer of dust/smog that covers the city almost completely.  I haven’t seen any sky since I’ve been here. Perhaps it’s just the weather, as it’s too early to tell, but it’s amazing that you can’t see the sky. It’s like a futuristic Armageddon story.


Traffic was at a standstill from the airport, but all my energy was on my cel phone, trying to get it to work anyway.  Looking out the window, you were surrounded by fog and smoke?.  It’s a thick haze.  It simply can’t be pollution. I’m holding out that it’s just bad weather.  The traffic was also bad when I took a cab to visit Seb. 


Up by 8, and to Breakfast, huge spread, included in room.  Now at breakfast writing this.


Clubs, and business here, would be very difficult. It’s hard to say that on the first day my hopes of any real business in China are crushed, but I can’t really come up with a plan on how to do it. With no copyright protection, and no charge for any clubs (yes, they are all free to enter), how can people make a business?


The way salsa teachers work here is through lessons, dance troupes, privates, choreography, etc . . . good money probably, but not easily licensable, or made into a business run over seas.  More thinking on that later . . .


Now, to the question really on your mind, are there Starbucks in Beijing? Yes, the answer is yes.  Quite a few I’ve seen so far. Next question to answer; is it the same bad coffee? Stay tuned.


Ah, iced tea in the bar of the hotel. I can’t motivate to go outside today.  It’s raining and hot out there, and nice and comfy in here.  On the lap top, sipping excellent iced tea (if not a bit pricey at 65RMB, yikes).


Went to the supermarket, got some water, and some cereal, if the restaraunts don’t work out (I won’t die of hunger). ;)


Wow, before I knew it I’ve been sitting in the hotel bar drinking green tea all afternoon!  What a day.  Well, the rain has stopped, and I can more or less see the sky (thus answering my question of whether or not that was possible), and I’m ready to go out. Or perhaps, I’m just ready to get a massage, somewhere, somehow.  Time to refer to the book. More soon!


After the tea, I went searching for my camera, and as the fates would have it, it was gone. Why was it gone? I’m guessing because I never brought it, and it sits now upon my desk at home. Little good it does me there! I need a camera for work, so it’s a necessity. I can’t survive without one.  I must . . . Quest for the Digital Camera.  Yes, so begun the epic, funny, dangerous, and never ending quest for the digital camera in Beijing.  To make a long story short . . .


6 Cab Rides, 3 Stores, 47 sales people, two declined credit cards, and over 300 looks of complete misunderstanding, resulted in me getting a camera for roughly 75 percent of what it would cost in the US. Electronics is not like clothing in China. Most of the stores would not negotiate, especially on a high end camera (IXUS 950, it’s the Elph in the US). Anyway, one funny story . . .


At one point, I was discussing the camera with one person, and more and more salespeople kept on walking up and standing around. At one point, there were NINE sales people, and ME. I was like, the center of attention for the entire store. They would actually mime out the camera features to me (since not ONE single person spoke a word of English). I was shopping in the real stores, so for the most part, it kinda felt like they had never seen anyone from the US (couldn’t be true, plenty of us here), but their reaction to having me in the store was interesting.


Anyway, camera in hand, I was ready for the pre-pre congress pary, at Suzie Wongs, the nicest club (some would say) in all of Beijing (really a bar).   I told the concierge where I wanted to go, he wrote it in chines, the cab driver nodded his understand, drove me directly, and unerringly, to the wrong place (assuring me it was right). Upon exiting the cab, two women approach offering me a massage. Definitely wrong club. One more cab ride later, I’m at Suzie Wongs.


It’s 9pm, and the class is about to start, led by Fritz, a teacher whom I met the night before.  Fun, club style class, covering salsa, cha-cha and bachata. Totally packed, and it was only going to get more so (and it did). To the point of not being able to dance (more so because of the lack of respect dancers had for each other’s space, than to lack of space in the admittedly small club). Very similar to HK, the dancers don’t seem to respect dance space, and dance way too large. Perhaps simply a congress phenomenon, of everyone wanting to be seen, at one point it looked like bumper cars (although not nearly as bad as at the HK congress). J


I say it out until 11:30, and then danced a complete hour straight.  At 12:30, for some reason, I had a drink (ah yes, it was running into the UTAH crowd…Yes, UTAH crowd, whom used to live in SF), and we started drinking (and drinking, and drinking), and at 1, no more salsa. But the music continued with euro and house. Fun stuff. Stayed, drunk and danced until 4, meeting people from all over the world (even Australia, France, and the Netheralands). Strangely enough, the only Beijing people we met were not very friendly, and stuck entirely to themselves.


Anyway, very fun, very drunk night. The morning after, I decided to get a massage. Yes, a massage. I was hung over, so … in room through the hotel was something.  So . . . 1 hour later, it was horrible.  Worst massage ever. Throroughly unsatisfying . . . I fell asleep after the first 10 minutes.


 Anyway, I was determined, and with %50 off voucher in hand, I went in search of ANOTHER massage. This time, a “cheap” massage. This took me to Kerry Center (a shopping mall hotel complex), where I bought some nice lunch. When I was leaving the lunch place, I stopped by a coffee shop to get a cup of coffee, and as I was fumbling for my money the girl said, this one is one me! Wow, a free cup of coffee?  I didn’t think there was anything free in Beijing? I half expected her to say, after I took the cup, “and now we’re married”, but, didn’t happen. Genuine nice person! Yay.


So, coffee in hand, when in search of Etower across the street. I entered the Etower (that was so thrououghly surrounded by construction I couldn’t find my way in) about 20 hot, hot mintues later and I found heaven (or at least a brief respite from the heat outside). A 2 hour massage, that was divine, in a private room (where you have your own shower and stuff). Very nice, clean, and great service (called Spa 99).  I’ll be back every day I’m here.


After Spa99, back to Kerry Center, and after that, back to the hotel for iced tea, and to type some of this up (which I all lost before saving).  Thus, retyping it now.


After the crazy massage, I met up with a salsa friend for dinner, and we went to a place called the “Red Rose”, out of lonely planet.  Um, we got there, and it said “Muslim Dinner”. Not red rose. Ok. Muslim? What kind of food is that exactly? Anyway, I was ready to bail (totally ready to run), but we did it anyway. It was awesome. Got 3 dishes (pork, beef and vegetable – and yes, those were the names of the dishes). Freakin’ great. It was asian style, with a hint of … Moroccan? Anyway, crazy thing is, the lights turn off, and a bellydancer comes out, and then a Gpysy kings style band (that rocked), and all sorts of shows just feet away from where we were eating. Scary place, but sometimes, those are the best, and this was definitely one of those times.  Some of the meat was to die for, and the whole meal was like 80quay (20-30$)?


So, after the meal, my friend went home to change, but I decided to try and walk to the club! Um, crazy mistake. It was SO hot. I mean, really, really hot. I ran across a square with people ballroom dancing (yes, at night) outside, in the amazing heat, like 100 people. Very surreal!  I got lost, eventually got a cab, and then he got lost. Had to call Sebastien and get a girl in the club I was going to (Latinos) to talk to the cab driver. Yes, that worked, and I made it there.


So, found the club, which I think most people would have a very hard time doing, and walked inside. 2 workshops going on, both with say, 20 people or so, and both, incredibly high level (especially the one on top with Sekou Mcmiller from Chicago?, that was like Jazz).


Met Seb, kicked back, got a ton of water, and no matter how much I drank, nearly $50 worth, I can’t get enough. That massage has totally worked my body. I can’t dance, even though I do like the music.  It’s crowded, but not unbearably so. Albert shows up to MC 3 dance performances. I stake out a table by the DJ booth, get drinks to put all over it, and chill most of the night just listening to the music. 


As the congress gets closer, the dancing gets crazier and crazier. Some of it good, some of it not so good. Floor remains dangerous, and it appears no one really teaches dance etiquette or floor craft over here.  I remain one of the only people on the floor who dances more than a bar or so in closed position. Nearly everone else . . . straight to the patterns.  Several stellar dancers, and Junior and Emily show up too.

Up early, by 9, and yes, there is a sun, and its’ shining today, and the sky is almost blue!  That’s the good news. The bad news is . . . today is the day I chose for the forbidden city, and try as I might to get an early start, I did not arrive until 10:30, and the line was horrendous. In fact, the crowds are horrendous.  I mean like, crazy!  I’m not a crowd person. I hate crowds and lines, and the forbidden city has them both, like crazy. But for the good of learning some history, and touring one of the most known spots on earth, I braved the 10,000 degree heat, the long lines, the lack of an umbrella (bring one if you can, but if you don’t, you can get one ONCE inside the city), and near crushing crowds, and toured the forbidden city for a good two hours (that felt like 10).


In a word, it was cool. The history is rich, the electronic guide is not that good, but you can stop and hear occasional English guides. Would I do it again? Perhaps when it was cooler, but in the heart of summer, uh, no, no thank you. While it gave me a great feeling of accomplishment ot get outside and do something, that was really, really tough.


And that brings me back here, sipping my iced tea, and ready to…perhaps, go to Etower and get a foot massage (not a body massage until tomorrow).


Recovered from heat stroke rest of the day . . . ;)


Then, went to Tango (a huge club) for the dance competition. All 4 hours of it! It was simply put, amazing, and the competitors are stellar.  Really, really, some amazing stuff in there.  Salsa dance, however fortunate or unfortunate, depending on your opinion, is turning into latin ballroom faster than I imagined.


Stayed until 2, danced a few times, and called it a night.


Up early next day to go to hotel because we have to register for the great wall trip on Saturday! Argh.  Decided to take the Tianemman Sq. trip because the busses were leaving. Interesting, sterile, scary, square.


Home early, while rest of tirp went to summer palace. Gotta work a bit before tonight!"


End of excerpt…


Did ya' like it? Wanna hear more?  Or did you stop reading an hour ago?


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