An American Dancing Fool In China

SEMESTER AT SEA, Part 3: Right in the heart of free enterprise, right next to billion dollar companies that own sweat shops all across Asia, we danced the electric slide with giggling Chinese girls. And it was in these clubs that I learned to love communism.

CULTURE, 05/24/02: CULTURAL EXCHANGE China took Hong Kong back from British control a few years ago. I visited shortly after the exchange. I'd never been to a communist country before, but Hong Kong was definitely not what I expected. I should know better then to make assumptions about a place I had never been. Yet, I'm a red-blooded American, goddamnit, I'm suppose to hate communism and Hong Kong. But I loved Hong Kong.

I expected factories. I expected the straight faces of working stiffs. I expected huge pictures of Mao. But what I got was the Asian version of Manhattan, a relatively small island with more skyscrapers than Arizona and New Mexico have combined. It was a bustling metropolis with a mixing pot of every race and creed in the book.

One of my friends, an economics major, told me that technically Hong Kong isn't communist. He said that there's way too much money in Hong Kong and even the Chinese, with their strong principles, wouldn't dare give up that money and make it communist. So one would think once I got there, that I would just forget about communism and revel in the epitome of free enterprise. That was not the case. I was there when they were celebrating fifty years of communism in China.

There were banners up all over promoting the celebration. I can't read Cantonese but people told me that's what the banners said. So, there they were. Banners hanging from skyscrapers. Banners next to the Coca-Cola signs that wallpaper the city. Banners over the McDonalds'. Banners over the street markets. Banners over the ATMs. All things that are not in the Communist Manifesto. That is, I imagine they're not in there, I'm waiting for it to come out on the books-on-tape series. There were even banners over their dance clubs. Their dance clubs that stayed open all night and peddled cheap booze like a drunken Irish vendor.

And it was in these dance clubs that I learned to love communism. We partied all night, dancing and drinking and celebrating 50 years of communism. Right in the heart of free enterprise, right next to billion dollar companies that own sweat shops all across Southeast Asia, we danced the electric slide with giggling Chinese girls.

Communism or no communism, Beijing or Hong Kong, it seems that most Chinese people come from the same conservative stock. My American friends and I would walk into these dance clubs that looked the same as any dance club in the United States. There was a bar complete with bottles of booze, bartenders, and cocktail waitresses. There were speakers with loud techno music blaring and a DJ was in his booth, bobbing his head up and down with this headphones on. There was a dance floor with colored lights spinning around it. There were people. But there was no people out on the dance floor.

A few Long Island Ice Teas in us, my friend Russ and me, shrugged at each other and just went out and started dancing. Neither of us are good dancers. We were those kids in high school still trying to learn the running man five years too late. I really don't have the slightest idea how to dance. I was just moving whatever body part I felt like moving at that time and hoping that it would somehow coordinate to the music.

Despite out poor dancing skills, people from the bar started to gather around and watch. And not watch like people watch the town drunk, not pointing and laughing, but watching with genuine interest.

So we pulled a couple girls out on the floor with us. There was some resistance at first, but before you knew it, they were dancing too. And, wow, were they bad. They just flailed body parts around like they were in the middle of a mosh pit. But we didn't care, we just gave them some room and kept dancing.

Pretty soon more women joined in. Then the guys joined came out. At first I thought they might be pissed at us for stealing their dates, but no, they just wanted to dance. Chinese businessmen brought out extra Heinekens and gave them to us and we toasted. I had bought a velvet leopard-print hat earlier that day from a street vendor. I had been using it as a prop most the night, rubbing it around on my head and spinning it on my finger. The guys who brought us the drinks pointed to it and I let them borrow it. You would have thought I had given them a foreign artifact the way they looked at it and smiled. Little did they realize that they could buy one down the street for about two dollars.

Now the dance floor was full and Russ and I were the center. We did the running man, they did the running man. Russ shuffled to the left, they shuffled to the left. I did the 'lawn mower' and the 'windmill', they did the 'lawn mower' and the 'windmill'. I freaked like Jay-Z, they freaked back. One time I looked over at Russ and he had a girl on each side of him. He was the fortune in the fortune cookie.

This went on all night. They couldn't speak English and we couldn't speak Cantonese, but that was all right because we spoke the international language of bad dancing. So you can say what you want to about communism and you can talk all about how much fun you had at Mardi Gras or at a Fourth of July party. But you haven't experience anything like celebrating 50 years of Chinese Communism in Hong Kong. I'll be about seventy when they celebrate 100 years. I just hope at seventy, I can still do the electric slide.


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  3. An American Dancing Fool In China
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