Milonga in Beijing

Qantas and Dragonair did a perfectly fine job of moving me from Bangkok to Beijing via Hong Kong. Taxis and tube played their part too and 14 hours after setting off from my hostel I met my couchsurfing hosts for the next few days.

Beijing airport had a slightly cold, clinical, unfriendly feel to it. My hosts on the other hand are very friendly and helpful. My first surfing experience through the couchsurfing website is off to a great start and looks like it will be very successful indeed. Despite the late hour of my arrival we ate dinner and chatted for a couple of hours. I’m staying with a couple. Phillip’s not a dancer but Dawn is. And she was up for trying a milonga.

Next morning Dawn accompanied me to the railway station and helped me buy a ticket for Xi’an. Without her help I doubt I’d have managed it. There is no concession to foreigners here. Everything is in Mandarin. Very few people I’ve encountered speak any English. And presumably not any French, Spanish, German etc. either. Anyway, I’ll be heading for Xi’an a couple of days later than I would have liked and in a soft rather than hard sleeper but at least I’ll be heading there.

Getting around Beijing is easy enough on the subway. The buses are probably not so easy because of the language issue. Walking is possible but it’s a large city so not always practical.

After the railway station I hit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is a vast space enclosed by symbolic gates and crowd control barriers. Towards the southern end of the square is the Mao Zedung memorial hall. Close to the centre is the Monument to the Peoples’ Heroes and at the northern end the National Flag. Across the road to the north is the Gate of Heavenly Peace; the entrance to the Forbidden City. East and West of the square are huge concrete buildings housing the National Museum of China and the Great Hall of People. The square was not very busy and only a very small percentage of the visitors were foreigners. For over five centuries the Forbidden City was the preserve of emperors, concubines and courtiers. Riff raff were not allowed. Maybe that explains why the huge spaces felt austere and unwelcoming. Or maybe there just weren’t enough people there to make the now uninhabited city feel vibrant and alive.

After a day of traipsing around and riding the subway a milonga was just what I needed to perk me up. ATERtango run a milonga every Tuesday night at 8:30pm. Dawn is primarily a swing dancer but there is no swing dancing in Beijing. She was game for some Argentine tango though and accompanied me to the milonga. We arrived towards the end of a class. There were about 15 people there, with girls outnumbering the guys about two to one. A few more people arrived after the class finished which improved the balance. I was very rusty – only one milonga and no classes in almost six months has not improved my dancing – but I also had novelty value as the only obvious foreigner in the room. The people were friendly, the music was traditional and in tandas, and I had a good time. Dawn enjoyed it too.

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