Posts Tagged ‘milonga’

Milonga in Beijing

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

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.

Randoms in Bangkok

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

It’s my last day in “Asia” and it’s raining in Bangkok – hard. The weather is changing in Koh Tao too. The wind is up, the water temperature is down. Monsoon shouldn’t arrive until November but it’s not as nice as it was two months ago. Seems like a good time to move on. Actually it seemed like a good time to move on about two seconds after arriving here last night, getting mobbed by taxi drivers and hotel touts before even getting off the bus.

Why are the Bangkok taxi drivers so useless? Around Sukhumvit Soi 38 last night I stopped two and asked to go to Khao San Road (about 11 miles and 30-60 minutes). It was raining hard last night too. “Ooooh, too far” said one, “Long way” said the other. “And you get paid for it” replied I. “No, raining, too far”. Useless muppets. Third time lucky.

Why don’t they understand maps? And why if they don’t know where somewhere is do they say they do? An extension of that Asian face-saving refusing to admit you don’t know something mentality, I guess.

It’s an internet/admin day. I don’t know how often I’ll get internet access in China or how reliable it will be. I’ll be moving around a lot and often on overnight trains. I’m couchsurfing in Beijing but I’ll make sure I have a plan B. I was supposed to be sleeping on a friend’s couch last night and that didn’t work out as planned! At least Bangkok is slightly familiar now; Beijing will be a complete unknown. I’m looking forward to it.

One of my couchsurfing hosts in Beijing is a dancer, although not a tanguera. There’s a possibility of a milonga on Tuesday night. Hurrah!

If you’re considering buying an Android smart phone don’t buy a Star A9000. The dual-SIM feature works well. Everything else about the phone is crap. Probably the result of an underpowered processor. Mine is in bits after flying across the room and hitting the wall at high speed. More collateral damage/expense associated with dive master training. Well, the alarm had just failed to go off on the first day I was supposed to be leading customers. Luckily I still got to the boat (just) in time. Not having a mobile phone is a pain. I’ll see what they’ve got in the duty free shops at Bangkok and Hong Kong airports tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll skip the dual-SIM capability this time. Does anyone have any recommendations for a good Android phone?

Milonga in Vietnam

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Back in Hanoi after Ha Long bay I had to decide where to go next. Plan A was rejoin Hannah in Bangkok on May 28th. I think we rushed Cambodia and I really liked what I saw of it so plan B was go back there for a while. Plan C was bump up the country count and go to Malaysia for a while. Plans B and C both include going back to Thailand for a couple of weeks to get in a diving course and some beach time in the islands before the next leg on my round the world ticket.

I spent a couple of days in Hanoi seeing the city and deciding that Plan B was the one to go for. There are direct flights from Hanoi to Siem Reap but they’re very expensive. Flights to Phnom Penh are indirect via Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh and are a bit less expensive. Another two days on buses was the cheapest way to get to Cambodia. For this time rich, money constrained traveller the best price/performance compromise was to fly to Ho Chi Minh and take a bus back to Phnom Penh. Factoring in the taxi fares and a night in a hostel in Ho Chi Minh the journey cost about US$100.

I tried to get a Chinese visa in Hanoi. According to the embassy website it is possible to get a same day visa but when I arrived at the embassy on Wednesday morning they said the earliest I could collect it would be Thursday. Oh, and I needed to provide additional documentation, not listed on the website or on the application form. So I went off and collected the additional paperwork they wanted and got back to the embassy at a couple of minutes past 11am to find it closed. The sign on on the door says it’s open Monday-Friday from 8am-11:30am for applications and from 4:30pm-5:00pm for collection only. Grrrr.

On Thursday I flew to Ho Chi Minh with Jetstar. The flight was delayed seven hours, which I didn’t discover until I tried to check in at Hanoi airport. Luckily they managed to transfer me onto an earlier flight which was also delayed. So I got to Ho Chi Minh pretty close to the advertised time of my original flight. Second time around Ho Chi Minh seemed slightly less chaotic. Google told me about a possible milonga on Friday night. That would be worth an extra night in town. An email to Tony, the organiser, confirmed it was on.  Ta.Tango organise a weekly class and milonga on Friday nights at Press Cafe – 14 Alexandre De Rhodes, District 1 – walking distance from my hotel. I spent some time in the afternoon trying to find a shoe shop with something more appropriate for dancing than flip flops. My search was unsuccessful. By the time I had showered and eaten dinner it was too late to get there for the class.  When I arrived at the venue the milonga was just starting and I found a mixture of about twenty locals and foreigners, regulars and visitors. Numbers were fairly well balanced. The music was traditional, arranged in tandas with cortinas. Refreshments were provided and everyone was really friendly. My trainers were too sticky on the floor so I danced in my socks. I felt rather rusty having not danced tango since early March but didn’t do too badly. The evening passed far too quickly and I was sad to say goodbye to everyone at the end of the milonga. If I’m in Ho Chi Minh again I’ll be sure to visit again. If you’re passing through the city and want to tango you should too.

Next morning I was up early for the bus to Phnom Penh.