In Which the Salsa Girl is Once Again LaoWai

I really did intend to write the blog yesterday, I even wrote the outline, but then a tension headache decided to rear its ugly head and so here we are blogging on Monday. And heaven only knows if it will even get finished tonight because I’ve had a long day and it’s not done yet. I’ve still got a talk to attend. But let’s take it back to last Monday and start from the start.


Okay, actually, fair warning, Monday was really not noteworthy, the rest of the week? For sure! But Monday was just another busy day at the office followed by a lazy evening at home. It’s amazing how those two tend to coincide, you might almost think there’s a causal relationship there…

So moving past Monday, I fumbled my way into Tuesday where, on account of having to attend a talk at work several hours after I usually cease to be at work, I ended up out in the pouring rain hunting food. I already give far too much of my money to coffee shops so I decided to try to find something else, but by god was that rain coming down. Predictably, I did not get far, just far enough to spot a Five Guys and decide that, on this cold rainy night, I might be in need of a burger.

I ordered a “little burger” and “little fries” and a one size fits all milkshake. I received a normal-sized burger, a normal-sized milkshake, and enough fries to fill the take away bag about 3 inches deep. If you’re ever wondering why there’s an obesity epidemic, may I remind you that this was the smallest available size.

Fuelled up on delicious greasy calories, I headed back into the office to see Governor Martin O’Malley speak on data driven governance. There is just no one like a politician to deliver a talk. He had jokes and stories and such excellent gravitas, it almost made it possible to ignore the few idiosyncrasies of the audio system, which periodically made themselves known.

On Wednesday, I left the office and left academia behind for a few hours while I settled into the very highest row of seats for an orgy of pop music and glitter: Kinky Boots. It does make a few attempts to be deep and meaningful, but ultimately it’s shiny, happy froth and that was precisely what I was after. At intermission, the 20-something-year-olds speaking yiddish in the row ahead of me, broke into english just long enough to criticize the lack of storyline and it took all my self-control not to berate them for completely missing the point. There are flashy musical numbers and glamourous, sassy queens, it’s meant to be fun and frivolous—or at least that’s my take on it.


Thursday was another night of merry-making, but this time it was, believe it or not, at work! The office Christmas party is coming up soon and so we were all bribed with pizza and wine to come and make decorations. I’d’ve done it regardless.

I guess perhaps having a teacher for a mother, I was raised with more crafts than the average bear, or perhaps I’m still such a baby (by comparison) that I just remember them better, but soon I found myself leading the fold and cut snowflake brigade. I was in an ecstasy of paper, scissors, and nostalgia. It was nearly as soothing as folding origami, perhaps more so when the wine is taken into account.

And then, at seemingly long last, it was Friday, blessed Friday, day of dance and adventure, and not having to be out of the apartment by 7:30 the next morning.

Being a sucker for punishment however, I decided to schlep all the way out to the Bronx again, to Yamulee. It is such a basket of badgers out there. It seems like such a good idea when I head out, but then there’s an hour on the express train followed by a few hours of mostly very mediocre, even off time and occasionally painful, dances with those who would benefit greatly from a class or ten. Around the time I’m ready to pack in my bruised arms and ego and call it a night, the shows start. And the shows always get me. They are invariably good, and always sparkly, so I stick it out and soon I’m back into the next hour and a half of fighting for timing and my joints.

Now usually, around 2am I’m done. My body and my self-esteem are thoroughly wounded, and I’m painfully tired of standing at the side being an invisible nobody to all of the actual Yamulee dancers and so I get back on that train and fight the sleepies the whole way home. But last week someone took pity on me. One of the properly brilliant dancers asked me to dance around 1am, and then came back for a second dance a bit later. It was enough to cling to, so cling I did, watching more and more dancers filter out until there were few enough of us left that rendering me invisible became tedious and I ended my night with a handful of absolutely excellent dances, and better yet, none of those lovely talented fellows treated me to the disdain that I met when a few of the “good dancers” decided to test drive me on my first night out in the Bronx.

I think the answer is to take classes with them or join their teams so that I am a known entity, but it’s SO far to the Bronx and, much as I love the sassy lady conductors on the late night D train, I just don’t think I’ll be committing to that commute anytime soon.

Saturday morning featured the usual roster of laundry, cleaning, and other miscellaneous chores, after which I treated myself to Chinatown. I’ve drifted around the edges before but hadn’t properly headed in, so I girded my loins and set off to find a Chinese grocery.

To be fair I didn’t throw myself into Chinatown directly, first I stopped at the fringes for Pho. I’ve been craving Pho for weeks so when I found out that it’s about the cheapest full meal you can find in this city, I was determined to find some and conveniently enough there are about half a dozen likely candidates in the ten minute walk between me and Chinatown. So I settled into a cute little shop just this side of Chinatown and happily slurped down my soup. As I ate, I was reading a “classic Chinese novel” now, I knew that it was, in theory, erotic, but normally classical erotica is VERY mild and so I really didn’t expect to find myself suddenly having read my way into the middle of a VERY descriptive passage about all manner of Daoist, and not so Daoist permutations of the art. It was alarming to say the least!

Shortly thereafter, with a stomach full to the brim with tea and broth, I finally breached the gates of Chinatown, which is really a bit of an unfair description because, if this Chinatown has the traditional Chinatown Gates, I certainly didn’t find them. Instead I found myself on a sidewalk surrounded by memories. Memories of fruit hawkers and little old ladies dragging their shopping carts, of tangled dialects and quilted jackets, and then as is to apply the final stroke of polish, I heard it. Yes, that beautiful hauntingly matter-of-fact announcement: “lao wai.” I looked up, I looked around, and yes, I was the only “foreigner” on that block of sidewalk, but how wild is that? In New York City, I am still an old foreigner just as soon as I cross over into that little bit of China wedged into the middle of the city.

I tried a few food markets before I found one to suit. The first few were just a touch to China for a tired Canadian on a Saturday afternoon, but the third would do. I found my favourite little crisp green Chinese pears that I hadn’t seen since leaving Shanghai and splurged on a brilliantly bright dragon fruit before escorting myself off the premises. It took every ounce of self-control to not stop in at least half a dozen dry goods shops on my way back—once the China nostalgia is on, all I can think about are red dates—but I made it back to my apartment only a few dollars down and plenty of nostalgia up.

Come evening, my fruit and soup filled tummy and I set out to dance. I was so terribly torn, there were two good salsa nights and the best of the local swing nights, and by god I almost couldn’t choose. Fortunately, my laziness chose for me. You see, swing only requires light make-up, jeans, and some form of top… I expect you can infer where I ended up.

The swing people are so lovely and friendly. I mean, I have met a myriad of lovely salseros here too, but salsa just has that edge. Things are more formal and more charged, social status plays a far larger role and appearance is the better part of everything, and then there’s west coast swing. If New York is a city where you can come as you are, west is the Mr. Darcy to my Bridget Jones: it loves me just as I am. So I danced and I chatted, I was passed between partners and praised until I preened. It was a very satisfying evening and it was only just beginning.

Swing ends at 12:30, which leaves a person with an awful lot of night left, so I joined forces with a Singaporean cum New Yorker via Southern California, and we set off in search of sangria. In Chelsea, we struck out on sangria, and coffee, and a third possible bar before finally settling in at the bar in a cozy Irish joint, the oldest Irish bar in New York which was full of quite the cast of characters.

Placidly sipping my Smithwick’s, I was suddenly buffeted by a rather large body from behind, which is how we met Ryan from Williamsburg. Now any of you who know anything about New York’s geography are probably wondering why Ryan from Williamsburg was smashed out of his senses in a local pub in Chelsea. The answer: stand up comedy. Our intrepid new acquaintance had spend the early evening rallying friends for a comedy show featuring his friend from Jersey via the UK. But, for the first time in the history of comedy, the show ran fantastically to schedule and the Brooklyn boy and his posse missed the British inflected Jersey girl’s time on the stage. It was quite a pitiable story, but he seemed to be making the best of it.

So now we had a brand new companion who had drunk his boundaries away some shots ago and was happy to tell us everything. My original partner in crime was less thrilled by the passionate intrusion of our tall long haired friend, but I found him fascinating. He nearly lost himself in a 10 minute NOFX song, thrashing along to the punk, and, in that wonderful way that New Yorkers do, he was unabashedly himself. Someday I will learn the art, until then I shall admire it in others and take endless amusement from it’s expression in the inebriated.

Shortly after last call, the Singaporean swing dancer and I left our friend but only after promising to let him know what we thought of Pi, if we ever watched it. And that’s the story of how I came to stay out until 4:30am even though dance ended four hours earlier. It is also the explanation for my sleeping in past noon the following morning. When I finally did roll out of bed the next day, I definitely took the concept of “lazy Sunday” to heart. Sometime around 4pm, however, I took it into my head to go out; it seemed wrong to spend the whole day in bed with my book.

As is common on Sundays, the train took its sweet time reaching my stop but I didn’t mind. New York is a city full of talented people and my subway stop seems a magnet to many of them. There are dancers and singers, Friday night there was a keyboardist accompanied by a few of the local drunks, Saturday a pair of dancers with a boombox and an adoring crowd of girls singing along to the Journey songs they were playing, and Sunday? Sunday was an unassuming trio of middle aged me, with a snare, a guitar, and one hell of a voice. They were playing classic soul and it was fantastic—I could have stayed all night, but the city called and the train came and soon I was whisked off to 23rd Street.

I had intended to go sup on red velvet croissants at Union Fare, but upon seeing the slight industrial restaurant, low lit, and full of fashionable people, I decided that perhaps it was not a place to go by oneself. So I set off for hot chocolate at Max Brenner near Union Square. On the way, I slipped through the glittering booths of the Union Square Christmas market where I was soon accosted by a promotion hawker. Normally I walk stiffly by, but I’m so enjoying the vivacity of the locals that I’ve taken to at least listening to their pitch before I bid them adieu. In this case however, whether it was fate or coincidence, the universe seemed to be conspiring against me. Just early in the day I’d been trawling through Groupon looking for haircut deals and here I was being offered what sounded like a very good deal on a rather posh haircut. So I asked the hard questions, got satisfactory answers, and decided to risk it. We’ll see if I was swindled or not soon enough.


Once I made it through the square, I found my way to Max Brenner where the queue for a table was out the door, so my empty tummy and I marched on. Somehow nothing on Broadway quite struck my culinary fancy, which is not to say that nothing caught my fancy at all. In fact, just as I was nearing the finale of my journey at Broadway-Lafayette, I crossed paths with a shop that has been teasing me for weeks.

The window is crammed with glitter and rhinestones and the back wall is deliciously full of leather. So, since I had nothing better to do, in I went. The prices weren’t quite what I had in mind, so I held myself to a single purchase from the sale wall, but it ended up being in the finalization of the sale that I got my $10 worth and more. The cashier was an amicable kiwi fashion designer only to happy to fill the last 30 minutes of his shift with conversation about visas, and Chinese food, and all the joys and sorrows of moving to this wonderful wild city.

So with Chinese restaurant recommendations in hand, I did finally make my way back to the station where I hopped on the train next to the cutest little puppy and rode my way back home to the Lower East Side. Shortly after returning to my cozy little bit of the city I was struck by a ferocious tension headache which rendered me unable to do anything of much use, which incidentally is why you’re getting a Monday blog.

A bit tired, rather stressed, and madly in love with this city,
The Salsa Girl


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