Swing, Northern Lights, and Rainbows

I’ve had two great experiences here in Edmonton so far, to do with the sky. The first was when I was walking back to my car after being out at a Blues club with the some of the Swing dancers here. It was some time after midnight and I was heading home. I thought I saw some northern lights in the sky, very faint, like wispy white clouds in the dark sky. So I left my car and went to the nearby park which has an awesome swing set, and I swung for a couple of hours under the lights. As expected, they got brighter and more active. Very beautiful, and an excellent reminder of why I live (or used to live) in such an amazing place.

The second was last night. There’s a fair going on here called Klondike Days, and a Swing band was playing at the outdoor stage that night. So eight of us dancers went and crashed the show, dancing off to the side of the stage. It was cool, but a bit difficult to dance to everything the band was playing. There was some threat of rain, but we only got spit on at the start of the show. But as I was dancing, I noticed a very bright rainbow hiding in the clouds, in full view of the stage. The audience missed it since the rainbow was behind them, but I’m guessing that the band and I were the only ones who saw it. So I got to dance Swing under a rainbow. Now that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Back in Canada, eh!

After a long flight on Sunday, the I-arrived-before-I-left flight from Beijing to Vancouver, I arrived pretty tired back in Canada. I tried sleeping on the plane but it was quite futile. When I want to sleep, they serve me food, and when they want me to sleep, I’m awake and looking around. Oh well. The long flight, its cost, and the jet lag  are the reasons I don’t do this more than once a year.
It was fun being in Vancouver for two hours. I wasn’t looking forward to the customs and immigration experience, but it went by without any problem. I even got to see the cute little customs beagle at work.
It was pretty easy to tell that I had arrived back in Canada. It wasn’t very long before I noticed people were apologizing and being extra polite. One lady in the customs line stepped backward and hit my foot slightly, so she apologized. A man stopped suddenly in front of me while we were walking and he apologized too. I held a door for a third person and he thanked me. Kinda fun.
I guess I paid enough attention to the people on the Beijing flight that I recognized a few of them later at the gate to board the flight to Edmonton. So I sat down and introduced myself to a young girl there. She’s currently a Chemistry PhD student at the University of Alberta. She had been visiting her family in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province for her two-week summer vacation. We compared notes about our opposite overseas experiences. I told her about my plans for the coming month and invited her to check out the Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival that will take place this August. The Fringe is one of my favourite things about summer in Edmonton.
But the excitement that I’m really looking forward to on this trip is the Swing Dancing in Edmonton and Calgary. Here in Edmonton, there are Lindy Hop classes every Wednesday night for the summer. They’ll have a social event—a charity dance—on August 7. Then I hope to catch a dance in Calgary on August 14.  There’s even a dance workshop taking place in Vancouver around August 27 that I heard about. Maybe I’ll have to push back my return trip to Beijing far enough to go. Why not? I’m young, and dancing is my life these days.


Dance, Dance, Dance

Boy, I’ve been having fun dancing. Two guests from the States, Amanda and Eric, came to Beijing to join our Swing Beijing! group. Eric is leaving to go home tomorrow. Amanda will be around for another week and then move on to Shanghai. It’s been great having them. Adam, our teacher, also came back from a week-long furlough at his home in San Francisco. So all three of them brought some new styles and new moves that they were able to show us this week.

We had a Saturday night party, an emergency session of sorts, at our Thursday location at the Move! studio. It seemed like reunion night. Don came back to join us after being gone all winter / spring. I got to see and dance with Linda whom I haven’t seen for so long. She’s one of the people who joined our group for about two months way back when we started last July. Eric and Amanda were there. Adam came back that night, too, bearing gifts. It felt like Christmas! I had ordered some earphones and had them shipped to Adam’s house, so he brought them that night. He also brought me a 4-CD box set of traditional bluegrass music. A total surprise. Thanks, Adam! Other people got their new swing shoes that Adam brought back to Beijing with him. But beyond all the gift giving and excitement, there was lots of dancing. And lots of follows for me to dance with. At one point, I turned to a friend and said, “So many follows, and so few Darrens.” Sigh. I was in Swing heaven. Same thing tonight at our Monday class. I danced and danced and danced. We ended the night with real New York cheesecake in celebration of Eric’s birthday. Mmmmm. Cheesecake.

Update: You can read Amanda’s report of her trip here.


I’ve had a wide variety of experiences over the last few days, so today’s entry will just be a random walk through where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing.

Casting my vote

I voted today. Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, announced an election last month scheduled for June 28. Since I’m in China at the moment, I get to vote by mail. So I faxed in a photocopy of my passport picture and signature pages, plus an application form. The ballot came in the mail last week. It’s an interesting system, really.

The ballot itself is just a piece of special paper with the following sentence (in English and French): “I vote for…” and then you fill in the candidate’s name. It was up to me to find out who is running in my riding and to fill in the full name of my choice. Once the name is filled in, the ballot goes inside an “inner envelope” which has no markings on it. Then the inner envelope goes inside an “outer envelope” which has my name, my riding, a bar code, and my signature. The signature must be there and must match the one I used to apply for the ballot.

The system insures that I don’t vote twice, that someone doesn’t use my ballot instead of me, and it preserves my anonymity. It works like this. When the mail-in votes are counted, the outer envelope information is checked against the registry. Then it is put with the other ballots from my riding. The outer envelopes are opened and the inner envelopes are all mixed together. This way, the ballot is no longer traceable to me. Then, the inner envelopes are opened and the ballots removed and counted.

I say I voted today because I went to the Embassy here in Beijing and turned in my set of nested envelopes. They will ship mine and everyone else’s ballots to Ottawa tomorrow. I doubt that my candidate will win, but that is not necessarily how I choose my candidate. In fact, all votes, even those for candidates that lose, are important because the number of votes that a given political party gets in this election will determine their status and funding from the government for the next election. Most people don’t realize that, figuring that their one vote doesn’t count for much. They are wrong.

Okay, enough preaching. But it was fun to vote from abroad.

No sleep

I didn’t sleep last night. Except for maybe 20 minutes of sleep when I first crawled into bed after midnight, I stayed awake the whole night. I eventually turned on the light at 03h30 or so and started to watch South Park on my computer. One of the problems with my insomnia here in Beijing is that sunrise right now is at 04h46 and it starts to get light at 04h13. (Hey! I just realized that it’s the Solstice today. I can’t believe I wasn’t paying attention.) Once it starts to get light, I find it almost impossible to initiate sleep. If I’ve already been sleeping, it’s no problem, but if I haven’t fallen asleep before 04h00, I’m screwed. I did laundry at 07h30, and then I started to fade waiting for it to finish the spin cycle. I made it to the end, hung up my shirts, and then went to bed at 08h00. I had no trouble sleeping then. I woke up four hours later in time for lunch. I’ll probably be tired again by supper time, but I should be able to readjust and fall asleep normally tonight. At least I hope so. As for the cause of this insomnia, I don’t really know. My suffering from Restless Legs Syndrome has a lot to do with it. I need to write about this topic sometime later cause I won’t attempt to fit it in here.

The latest Swing news

The weekend was pretty good. I got to go out with my Swing Dance friends (pretty much my primary social group now) on Friday and Saturday night. Since Zuma mysteriously disintegrated, we have no place to have our Swing parties on Saturday nights. This is a huge disappointment. Zuma wasn’t perfect, but it was a venue that we were quite happy with. The only thing really missing was a live band, but that takes more than just having a venue. Now we have neither.

This is a problem for this week especially. We have a guest dancer from California joining us tonight (don’t know how long he’ll be here) and another guest dancer, Amanda, from Texas coming this week as well. Amanda is working on her Masters research in cultural studies, and Swing Dancing in China is her topic. At least this is what I understand it to be. I’ll learn more when I meet her on Thursday. She’ll spend over a week with us and then move on to join our fellow “hats and cats” in Shanghai.

Update: You can read Amanda’s report of her trip here.

A private honour

I visited Qiao Ying in her teahouse yesterday. Aside from some guests, we were the only ones there, so we got to spend some quiet time together. It was good to feel her spirit again and leave behind the world of negative thought that I inhabit so much. As we were saying goodbye, Qiao Ying told me that her teahouse was “my place”. She wasn’t just saying, “make yourself at home”, but she really meant that I belonged in her teahouse and that it belonged in me. I could welcome no greater honour than this.

A needed vacation

I guess I could announce it here. I’m going back to Edmonton for a one-month vacation next month. I’ll leave for home on July 18. In fact, Michael, my German best friend, is also going home for his family visit at this time. Some projected highlights for my trip:

  • Blueberry Bluegrass Festival
  • Chris’ 30th birthday
  • Seeing my family: mom, sister, brother-in-law, and nieces
  • Being bathed in nature’s freshness
  • Swing Dancing
  • Hanging out with some local astrologers
  • Whatever else the Universe has in store…

On the cover of the Rolling Stone

Well, it’s not quite Rolling Stone magazine, and certainly not the cover, but it’s still pretty cool. My swing dance group, Swing Beijing! and I are featured in a one-page article in Cosmopolitan magazine here in China. Page 130 of the June 2004 issue. I wonder if it’s available in Canada, perhaps in Vancouver or Toronto.

Follow this link or click on the cover to see a scan of the article. I’ll be bringing a copy home to Canada when I visit to show my friends and family.

Swing is a relatively new thing here in China. The media is getting a little tired of Salsa and other Latin dances, which are now quite popular after about four years of hard promotion by the original Salsa dancers. So Swing is appealing as a new thing, and we are quite glad of the publicity. We hope to grow the popularity of Swing so that there are more people to dance with and more events to dance at.

Swing Beijing! has been going well now that spring has arrived. We had a really good turnout at our Saturday night Swing party at Zuma. Perhaps 25–30 people, and many of our missing regulars decided to return. So we all had a great time dancing our hearts out to the great music. As heat and humidity continue to climb, we’re getting more of a workout, oftentimes with our faces drenched in sweat after a fast song. I love it!

We are considering holding a live-music event at the end of June, and an even larger event with a guest band from America sometime in the Fall. Things are looking good for Swing in Beijing.


I’m sitting outside on the patio of my girlfriend’s teahouse. I’m waiting for her to come back. Her father is flying to Paris from Fujian via Beijing today and so he’s landed and making his way to join us for supper. I’m looking forward to meeting him. He’s a famous tea art man from Fujian. But at this moment I’m just sitting here by myself, drinking Jasmine tea, watching the girls go by, longing to see Qiao Ying again. Since I live in the North and since I’m swinging all the time, we only get to see each other a couple of times a week. It’s only Wednesday evening and we haven’t seen each other since Sunday. Sigh!

Party On, and other thoughts

Party On

Well, I’m having too much fun. I’ve been really busy these days. A little bit of work, a bit of play, and a whole hell of a lot of socializing. I was at a birthday party/get-together for my friend Allena last night. There must be live music at The Big Easy (a Cajun-style restaurant/bar in Beijing) every night because there was a live band there last night and we got up and danced Lindy Hop to a few numbers. They were playing blues, of course, but it worked well.

Right before that party, I was hosting two fellow Canadians who had just arrived in Beijing. Last week, at the Annual Canadian Charity Ball, I met and talked with the guest speaker, Canadian Astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason. We talked about the possibilities of space science research collaboration between Canada and China and getting Canadian payloads on Chinese recoverable satellites and manned missions. So he passed my name on to two of his colleagues (the two I met last night, Marcus and Catherine) so that they could hook up with me on their visit to Beijing. So this week, they’re visiting various institutes belonging to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (my employer). We had a great time last night, as they were very excited about being in China and experiencing everything they could in their week-long visit. I took them to a Guizhou-style restaurant, introduced them to whatever I could about the food, the beer, the culture. And I filled them in on things to do, things to avoid, and how to tell the difference between a 1.6 RMB and a 1.2 RMB taxi. Just so you know, the cheaper of the two taxis is smaller, especially the back seat, they don’t always have suspension, and they quite often carry a strong smell of gasoline in the interior. But hey, they’re cheaper, right? You will run the risk of a driver with bad B.O. and completely unbearable halitosis in either type of taxi. Welcome to China.

Why I haven’t written lately

I also have been avoiding computing tasks, including writing this blog. You see, I developed some extreme pain in the joints in my hand recently, and it seems to be related to typing at the computer. It was mostly aggravated by a recent assignment which involved editing on the computer for an entire week. I normally do my editing work on paper with a red and a black pen. That, and the weather changed extremely recently, with lots of low pressure and humidity. So I’ve been trying to rest my hands.

But that’s just a small excuse. I’ve also had lots of ideas of things to write about but I haven’t explored any of them, so none of them fully developed. My friend Jodi, a professional writer, suggested that I write out these ideas anyway so that I don’t lose them. Cause, yeah, she’s right. I’ve already lost them. My nighttime dreams overwhelm my daytime thoughts so much, and that’s another blockage to being able to think (and write) clearly.

SomaFM revisited

SomaFM kicks ass. I’m still listening. You’ll remember that I wrote about SomaFM in a previous entry. I’ve been listening a few times a week (for about an hour at a time) so I decided that I should send them a donation. So last month, I sent them $25 USD via PayPal. I think it’s well worth it. You should too. Or at least start listening first.

I’ve explored some of their other channels only a little bit, but by far I listen to “Boot Liquor” the most. American Roots music, lots of songs about drinking, some really funny shit sometimes, and a few token bluegrass songs. Keeps me happy. When I first started listening, Boot Liquor was offered as a 96-kbit MP3 feed, but now it’s 128-kbit MP3 and that’s pretty much CD quality. Sometimes the feed is choppy, so I switch to the 32-kbit mono feed, and it works well. Plus my sound card came with some DSP software that can enhance the mono to a pseudo-stereo image, and that makes it better.

Teaching Swing last night

I taught Swing at Zuma last night. Adam had a special event to be at, so he asked me to take the Saturday night party. I was nervous for days leading up to it. I’m a good teacher one-on-one, but I have had trouble in the past whenever I try to teach dance to larger groups of people. I need to figure out how to keep the class focused while still trying to help out those who are struggling.

Well, I didn’t actually get any practice teaching with a large group last night because only one couple showed up. Despite the small numbers, we had fun together, learned lots, and they stayed to 23h30. So that made the night a success. It was their second time to learn Swing, and they were showing much improvement by the end of the night.

I also fixed the problem of the terrible quality we were getting out of the sound system. Following the pattern of the previous setup, Adam would plug his laptop (with all the tunes on it) into the mic input on the mixer/amplifier. So in getting ready for last night, I discovered that this was the case, and with a little searching, I found the amplifier indeed had line inputs. So then, switching to the appropriate pipes sure made a difference. The music wasn’t muddy or overdriven anymore. It just sounded right. Now we’re ready for more people to come and Swing with us. But where are they?

Flipped Out!

Adam flipped me at Swing class last night. Twice. It was a lot of fun. After the official class was over, Adam started to teach the group some air moves, presumably because someone asked. River gets to be subjected to most of the moves he knows, but sometimes she wants to see what it looks like. So that’s when I volunteered to be flipped. I stood in front of him, bent over, as if I were about to pass a football between my legs to Adam standing behind me. But instead of a football, I passed my two hands. All he did was just pull my hands upward and my body unrolled, my feet left the floor, I flipped over, and my feet hit the floor in front of me. Swoosh.

I think I’ll have to volunteer for more in the future.

Great fun in Edmonton

Well, I’ve been having great fun here in Edmonton. I’ve got two more weeks left, then I go back to Beijing.

Here’s my first adventure. Within days of first arriving here, I developed a severe toothache in my bottom right molar. It would come and go in severity, but sometimes it would even cause a pretty bad headache and I wouldn’t be able to sleep well because of it. I noticed swelling down inside the mouth near the root line, so I really didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t think it was a cavity gone really bad. So within a few days I was able to see the dentist for my annual checkup and cleaning, and he investigated for me. It took an extra X-ray, but he was able to confirm that I had a tiny bone fragment in my gums making its way out. It came from the dental surgery I had way back in high school. Apparently it takes that long for stuff to work its way out of the body. With a bit of freezing (thankfully!), he was able to get a hold of it and pull it out. Within hours, my tooth settled back to normal and I haven’t had any pain from it since. The dentist said it would probably have taken the fragment six months or so to come out on its own. Ouch! So I’m very thankful that it happened now when I could have it looked at in Canada. Thanks, God!

After my Saskatchewan trip, I gave my friend Carl a call. He was my original introduction to swing dancing when I was studying for my master’s degree. To my great happiness, he told me that his club was still running and that they had lessons on Mondays and Wednesdays, plus there would be a social at the beginning of October. Great! The club is called Swing-Out Edmonton, if you want to have a look. I consequently joined the beginner and intermediate classes on the next Monday. We learned a dance step called the Balboa in the intermediate class, plus we worked on a step called the Grapevine. The beginner class is Lindy Hop, and it was more round of a style than I am used to. The follows don’t go back and forth in a line like we’ve learned in Beijing. I adapted somewhat. My follows didn’t seem too confused, and there were no casualties.

Last night was the social. I brought my Mom so I could teach her swing and also show her how I could dance. We had fun. The dance took place in the Orange Hall in Old Strathcona. About 40 people came. Before it started, Carl was busy getting the sound equipment ready, and since he’s an Electrical Engineer, I assumed he would be able to figure it out, and because of the male pride thing, I assumed he would be able to figure it out, and because of the male pride thing, I stayed away. But later I noticed he was having trouble (it was a different setup than they normally have) so I jumped in and quickly discovered that I was the sound equipment expert for the night. All I had to do was move a few of the inputs into the proper channels and then show him what the various controls do. I didn’t have to play DJ. I knew my Mom would want to leave early, and since I’m sporting a cold still, I don’t have my usual stamina, so we left at 11 p.m. I could have danced longer, of course, but it was better for me to go home and sleep. Neither of us are sore this morning, so that’s great! A fun night of good music and good dancing. I love it!