(Continued from Epic Eastern Europe Dance-Offs and Two Taiwanese Unicorns)
My little brother Antonio and myself had survived a crazy overnight sleeper train ride from Odessa to L’viv, Ukraine, after a week spent partying through Krakow, Poland and Odessa, Ukraine. We had finished a rocking day of touring the quaint Old Town of L’viv, Ukraine and partying with Ukrainian throngs at one of L’viv’s HOTTEST clubs (Fashion Club) during Ladies Night, and we were pretty sure that we had seen the best that L’viv had to offer. But as we entered the seemingly-empty cellar of the hookah lounge/club called Raffinad People, we were about to be proven wrong. As Antonio and I once again grabbed our standard Jack and Diet Coke drinks from the bar, we were surprised to see that once again, this Ukrainian club had a totally-hyped up MC who was screaming in Ukrainian into a microphone trying to get the crowd amped up. In this case, the only crowd left at 3 am was comprised of not one but TWO Ukrainian bachelorette parties, with brides dressed in veils surrounded by their buzzed bridesmaids and girlfriends who were hooting and hollering.
Antonio and I looked at each other again, shut our wide-open jaws and nodded. We knew what we had to do one more time: Eastern Euro Dance-Off to impress the ladies. As we took over the dance floor and ripped through our standard awesome Asian-American dance moves (The Shopping Cart, The LawnMower, The Q-Tips and Making the Pasta from “Hitch,” The Gay Helicopter, The Sexual Cowboy, etc), we were acutely aware that all eyes were on us. More so because the Ukrainian MC was right in our face on the dance floor pointing at us, still screaming into the microphone something along the lines of “Holy shit, there are actually ASIANS in this motherf-ing club!!!!” I was dancing with one group of girls while Antonio danced with another, and we switched off. Then we had a dance-off with each other. Soon, the curiosity of the Ukrainian bachelorette parties could not be contained. One Ukrainian girl, who I was guessing was the head bridesmaid, shyly came over to us and said in thickly-accented English, “May we take picture with you?” Antonio and I were ready for this. One rule of thumb when traveling is that the more off the tourist-map a country is, the more Asians (especially those who speak American English) are treated like some combination of rock-star/extra-terrestrial.
We gladly took multiple photos with the girls in the bachelorette party, and after a bit more of posing for a bunch of flashing cameras, like we were on a red carpet, we settled into the table of one of the bridesmaids. Although Antonio and I quickly realized that most of these girls still didn’t quite speak English very well, the bridesmaid, Katerina, and her best friend/bridesmaid, Natasha, did speak decent English. We congratulated Katerina on her impending nuptials, and practice teaching each other how to count in both English and Russian. Basically, we had all the flirting conversations you can when you first meet people from a totally different country who barely speak your language. I gazed into Natasha’s cute brown eyes and asked her if she was single. Natasha had a quizzical look on her face, and asked Katerina something in Ukrainian, and when Katerina realized what I was asking she giggled, excitedly held my hand and said “No, NO…she has no boyfriend. PLEASE, take down her number!” Done and done. Five minutes later, I had my first phone number from a Ukrainian girl. It had only taken a week in this country, while being completely confused, in order to make it happen.
Unfortunately, Katerina and Natasha both had to go to university early in the morning, so we parted ways and as Antonio and I left the club, we slowly walked home and excitedly talked about the nights events. We were totally enjoying the Ukraine finally. L’viv seemed to be a tourist-friendly town, filled with awesome food, cafés, a cute Eastern European Old Town ambience, and completely enjoyable and accessible nightlife. More importantly, the women in this city seemed to understand more English, and MOST importantly, they were willing to use that English to talk to us. As we passed out in the beds of our cute AirBnB apartment, getting the rest we needed for our last day and night in L’viv, Antonio and I drifted off to sleep, with dreams of Eastern European dance-offs and screaming Ukrainian women in our heads.
We woke up for our last day in L’viv, late in the morning as usual, slowly showered and got ready, and strolled through the Old Town again, taking in some of the gorgeous churches we hadn’t seen before. L’viv, like most Eastern European towns, seemed to have a bounty of well-preserved churches of all types. And like the day before, a ton of them seemed to be backdrops for photo shoots and actual locations for weddings for a bunch of recently married Ukrainian couples. Some sort of major Ukrainian cultural festival and food fair was being set up around us, and there was even some sort of Ukrainian emo band that seemed to be blasting their music from a random large performance stage that had sprung up in the Old Town square overnight. As Antonio and I walked slowly around L’viv, through the cute cobble-stoned streets filled with everything from bipolar Ukrainian mimes performing “comedy” to fragrant Ukrainian meat-on-a-stick stands, we both realized our recently departed wingman Matt would have loved this place. Even though the streets weren’t teeming with Ukrainian hotties, like Odessa had been. I tried to send a text or two throughout that last day to Natasha to try to make plans and meet up, but like a lot of numbers that I get in America, this one would go nowhere. I sadly never heard from Natasha again.
After yet another surprisingly good Italian lunch, and some coffee during a quick rainstorm shower, Antonio went back home for our obligatory late-afternoon/early-evening cat-nap. For anyone who goes to travel to late-partying countries like Eastern Europe, Spain, or Scandinavia, I definitely suggest you try to schedule in some nap-time from about 5 pm – 8 pm or so. It really helps you acclimate and get over the jet-lag, gives you added energy for what will definitely be a late night out partying, and it’s really not too much of a rush on your schedule, since most people eat dinner late at around 9 pm and don’t get to the club until around 11 pm or midnight. Antonio and I quickly got showered and dressed, and then we somehow managed to hop onto a Ukrainian tram headed in the right direction of the last HOTTEST club we were going to check out: Metro, which was outside of Old Town L’viv and a decent distance away. After getting off a little too early, we walked a few blocks and decided to eat dinner nearby Metro at a restaurant lounge just next door, called Propaganda. Although the menu was completely in Russian, as were most restaurants in Ukraine, the patient waitress helped us sound through the menu in our infant-level Cyrillic/Russian-reading skills, and Antonio and I were able to order a semi-decent last dinner of meat and fish in L’viv.
Although a fun, hipster-ish crowd was starting to fill into Propaganda as we were finishing dinner, Antonio and I made the call to ditch Propaganda and head to Metro. After all, both In Your Pocket guide books and our multiple sources/contacts had highly suggested that we had to check out Metro at some point, and today was our last night. Around 11 pm, we paid our check and headed next door to Metro, and as we paid our entrance (once again, NO Face Control!) and passed the fairly friendly bouncers, we were wondering what we would find inside Metro. Once the wave of sound and flashing strobe-lights hit us, and the dancing mass of humanity swelled in front of us, we knew: Metro wasn’t just one of L’viv’s HOTTEST clubs, it was probably its largest and most versatile club. There was a large central dance floor, with a stage complete with (surprise, surprise) a screaming Ukrainian MC and a couple of sexy go-go dancers dressed up as airline stewardesses for some reason. This floor was playing a mix of EDM, house, with some infrequent Top 40 sprinkled in. As Antonio and I strolled around trying to find the coat check and a less-crowded bar, we quickly realized that Metro was much bigger than we had realized.
Below the main floor, there was a sprawling and cavernous mess of side rooms, filled with dance floors playing hip-hop, trance, coat-check rooms, bathrooms, and hookah lounges. And almost all of them were slowly getting filled to the brim. Antonio and I quickly checked in our coats, and headed to the hip-hop dance floor, which we were really happy to find. After all, one week of partying in Eastern Europe had kind of made us sick of non-stop EDM, which we had heard basically in every club. Metro had a legit DJ, who knew his old-school hip-hop, and as everything from Naughty by Nature to Bel Biv Devoe blasted through the speakers, Antonio and I realized that we were also some of the only people in the country of Ukraine who actually knew HOW to dance to hip-hop. With swaying rhythmic hips and ass-shaking moves that would put a twerking-Miley Cyrus in her place, Antonio and I proceeded to rip shit up. Some other young Ukrainian guys and girls tried to dance a bit (the girls had a LOT more rhythm than the guys), but during the night the only guy who could come close to our dancing awesomeness was one random black guy, who also totally knew how to work it. It doesn’t matter what country you are in inside Europe, if you are the ONLY guys on the dance floor working it/ripping shit up next to the one black guy in the club, your coolness factor instantly sky-rockets. Honestly.
After awhile, the hip-hop dance floor started to get more full of Ukrainians who seemed to be busting out dance moves suspiciously similar to ours. I had seen a gorgeous pair of girls, one of whom looked like Ukrainian Liv Tyler, but she towered above me and my shyness got the better of me. I saw her later in the night getting totally schmoozed by the black guy who we had been dancing with earlier. Curses…foiled again, by the only other cool guy in the club! Antonio and I tried our hand at dancing a little bit on the main EDM dance floor, but after nearly becoming accidental collateral in a HUGE brawl that broke out on the dance floor (where the two fighting Ukrainian guys were quickly beaten down by the huge bouncers, annihilated, and otherwise carried out of the club to a fate probably worse than death), Antonio and I decided to call it a night. Add that to the fact that I had tried to hit on and make conversation with the hottest girl in the club, a cute petite Scandinavian-looking brunette Ukrainian and her blonde best friend, and had instantly gotten the hand-in-the-face “Aint Got No Time For You/Don’t Talk to Me” move. Apparently, she had NOT seem my awesome dance moves earlier and was not impressed. At least I tried. ☺
As Antonio got our coats, and slowly walked home to our apartment, since the trams weren’t running anymore and we were sure we would have no idea how to explain where our apartment was to a taxi-cab, we ran into our only episode of Face Control in the city of L’viv. But this one was a fairly scary one involving some Ukrainian street cops. Antonio and I were strolling along the main street, about to cross over to the Old Town and head to our apartment, when we noticed two young Ukrainian policemen suspiciously eyeing us. I realized that Antonio and I had been talking to each other in English, and I quickly told Antonio, “Dude, stop speaking English…Stay quiet for a sec…” I just knew by looking at the Ukrainian cops that we were going to get harassed soon, and I was hoping to just stroll on by. No such luck. As I tried to discreetly pass the pair of Ukrainian cops, the scrawnier one, said suspiciously “Where do you go now?” As we shrugged our shoulders and pointed towards Old Town, the second cop said “Where is ID?” and Antonio and I got a really, really bad feeling.
We knew that this was a common ruse. Ukrainian cops were well-known for shaking down foreigners, requesting passports and making some sort of false trumped-up charge, and then not backing down unless they got bribed. Add that to the fact that only my brother was carrying around his actual passport, and I knew that we were screwed if these cops pressed their luck with us. After a few moments of questioning that seemed like an eternity, Antonio and I became more anxious. We did more shrugging and pointing to our empty pockets and pretending not to speak English, when luckily a young passing Ukrainian woman asked the cops for directions, and the scowling Ukrainian cops waved us along and started talking to her. Antonio and I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief, scattered quickly away from the cops, and for completely different reasons we uttered a prayer and thanked the heavens for Ukrainian women on the streets. I had been THIS close to trying to bust out my Mandarin Chinese and pretend to be from China, to try to get out of any bribe or ticket, but to this day I’m not sure how well that would have worked. I could have been ticketed or had a high bribe forced, and some part of me believes I could have even ended up in a Ukrainian jail cell that night.
We passed out in our apartment for a few hours of sleep, woke up early to pack and shower, locked up the place, and managed to haggle down a Ukrainian taxi-cab to a fairly normal price of about 70 Hr (<$10) to the airport in L’viv for our flight to the capital of Kiev. Even bargaining in this Ukrainian town of L’viv was a more tourist-friendly experience! As we settled in for the quick cab ride to the L’viv airport, Antonio and I sat there in the back of the cab, mulling over the last few days. L’viv had been an awesome experience, and we were totally fortunate to have seen it and partied there, something that most Westerners will never get a chance to do. Barring a ridiculous overnight-sleeper train experience with drunken Ukrainians and a nearly-costly shakedown by some shady Ukrainian street cops, we had experienced everything that we had wanted from a great Eastern European experience. Awesome parties lasting all night with no face control, quaint Eastern European buildings, friendly Ukrainian women everywhere, excellent food that was fairly priced, tons of totally scenic pictures and great memories…what more was there to ask for?
Antonio and I got to the airport, paid the kind taxi-cab driver, and checked into our flight and got our boarding passes. We both were silently wondering how different our last destination in Ukraine would be. Kiev was the capital of Ukraine, and a sprawling metropolis, but also had some of the most infamous Face Control stories of all-time outside of Moscow, Russia. And Antonio only had one night there before his flight back to the U.S., while I only had two nights there. That wasn’t going to be much time to find adventure, or so I thought. As we got off the escalator on the 2nd floor of the L’viv Airport, Antonio realized that he had to go to the bathroom before going through security and took the escalator back down to the first floor. I was watching Antonio from the 2nd floor balcony, strolling across the wide-open and nearly-empty 1st floor, when I saw him suddenly stop in mid-stroll. Antonio realized that all the tired Ukrainian passengers sitting in their chairs against the large windows of the airport were once again staring at this strange young Asian American walking in front of them.
I could almost see the twinkle in Antonio’s eyes as he did a crazy pirouette, struck an iconic Michael Jackson pose and then did a full-on slow 20 meter Moonwalk that would have made the King of Pop proud, in front of the crowd of highly amused Ukrainians. Even from the 2nd floor balcony I could tell: Antonio was still a total Taiwanese Unicorn, and so was I, and so would almost any Asian-American tourist who came after us. It was a good day to be a Unicorn. As Antonio finished his long Moonwalk, I noticed an African businessman (once again, the only black guy in the airport) laugh and clap his approval at Antonio’s bad-ass dance skills. When Antonio returned from the bathroom, I told him about the African businessman’s reaction, and we chuckled. Who would have known that two random black guys in the Ukraine would have made us the most popular guys in both a Ukrainian dance club AND an airport within the same day? We boarded our flight, and as our plane screamed off the tarmac towards more Ukrainian adventures unknown, I gazed out the window and wondered what would come next. I had no idea that waiting in Kiev was the gorgeous Ukrainian supermodel, who would forever give me a last great unforgettable memory in this mysterious former Soviet republic.