September 2013. We had reached the very last stop in our Eastern Eurotrip extravaganza: Kiev, Ukraine. Over the last 10 days, my best college buddy Matt, my little brother Antonio, and myself had run around cities in Eastern Europe, Poland, and the former Soviet republic of Ukraine that most people had never ever heard of. From the gorgeous Old Town, thumping clubs, and epic salt mines of Krakow, Poland to the tree-lined (and Slavic hottie-lined) streets of Odessa, Ukraine to the quaint cobblestoned alleys and Ladies Night dance-off chaos of Lviv, Ukraine, the three of us had seen the sort of sights and partied in the sort of clubs that most people will never experience in their lifetimes. But our whirlwind Eastern European adventure was coming to a close. Matt had already said his sad goodbyes and hopped on a flight to his business trip in Amsterdam, and it was up to Antonio and I to finish Ukraine off with a bang. And once again, Antonio and I were both really hoping that the bang would involve women.
As Antonio and I got on the cramped airport shuttle, which would take us to the main train and metro station in the center of Kiev, we both shook the water out of hair like wet dogs. Although we had been extremely lucky with great weather in Poland and most of Ukraine, we had finally hit the kind of crappy and soggy weather that Eastern Europe is sometimes known for. In the quick 30 second run from the Kiev airport exit to the airport shuttle, we had managed to get totally soaked because of course neither of us had remembered to bring any sort of umbrellas. Antonio and I dried ourselves off in the airport shuttle, and took a quick nap as the shuttle brought us to the main train station, teeming with more soggy Ukrainian people running inside and outside.
We entered the main train station and gazed up in awe. Kiev’s main train station wasn’t exactly Grand Central Terminal in New York City, but it was a grand miniature Eastern European version of it. With sprawling ceilings, arches, marble columns, and what seemed like thousands of people making their way up and down escalators, Antonio and I quickly realized that we were definitely not in small-town Eastern Europe anymore. It definitely felt like a major capital city here. Antonio and I stumbled around a little bit through the train station, trying to find the metro station entrance that would take us to our rental apartment, and after getting lost a bit trying to read all the signs, which were occasionally in English instead of just Cyrillic, we figured out the metro station entrance was actually back OUTSIDE the train station. We made one more soggy run to the metro station, and as I used my international unlocked iPhone 3GS to call the apartment owner and tell him we were still on our way, Antonio and I bought our subway tokens from the bored metro attendant sitting behind a glass window and descended down and endless-looking escalator into the bowels of Kiev.
Antonio and I felt like we had gone back to the Cold War days, with thousands of darkly-clothed and bundled-up Ukrainians streaming around us on the escalators, mostly keeping to themselves. It was definitely different than the musician and art-filled tunnels of New York City subways, which I was most used to. There were harsh lights everywhere, and pale subway attendants who look like they hadn’t been outdoors in days, trying to stay awake in their small booths. The only thing that made us feel like things were different were the giggling Ukrainian teenage girls who waved at us on the escalator and the occasional curious double-takes a lot of Ukrainians gave us when they realized, “Holy crap, there are some random Asian guys in this subway station, what the hell are they doing here?” But we didn’t get too many of those looks. Again, Kiev was a major Eastern European capital and as Antonio and I wandered around Kiev the next two days, we noticed many random Asians (mainly FROM Asia) walking around. We were quickly losing our special unique unicorn statuses.
The metro map was pretty easy to read, and we strolled onto the train and scanned the crowd. It wasn’t as hottie filled as we would have hoped, like Odessa had been, but most of the younger girls on the train would blow away the girls on any subway in every city in America. And definitely, Kiev seemed to be the unofficial MILF capital of the world. It seemed like everywhere we walked in Kiev the next few days there were tons of Ukrainian moms who had absolutely no problem losing their post-pregnancy weight. I don’t even think Ukrainian/European women work out a ton more, but they probably are a LOT better about food portion control than most Americans. We got out of the train station, strolled quickly to our apartment through the drizzling rain, checked into our totally spacious and modern apartment with the friendly Ukrainian woman, who explained in heavily accented English how to check out and work everything in the apartment. The 1-BR apartment was gorgeous, and probably the nicest place we had stayed in during Eastern Europe, and a good deal for $80/night. On top of that, we laughed when we realized it was located just above a Ukrainian modeling agency. I had no idea that was a sign of great things to come.
Antonio and I showered up, got into our nicest clothes that were still actually clean, and headed out to a last bro-mance night in the Ukraine. Even though we were a little tired from all our travels, it was Antonio’s very last night in Europe with me, and the two of us were determined to have one more epic night. We made our way down the street to a totally gorgeous and excellent, yet moderately priced, Italian restaurant called Under Wonder, filled with rich-looking Ukrainian hipsters and business men and their multiple Ukrainian model girlfriends, and had a nice last dinner of tender lamb-filled ravioli and red wine. Antonio and I toasted our success in Europe. Sure we hadn’t gotten laid or made out with anyone, but we had seen some amazing sights, seen some gorgeous women, done some major partying, and the worst thing that happened so far was some Face Control at the clubs, airports, streets, etc. We were definitely content how things had gone, deep in Eastern Europe.
As we left dinner and walked into the major entertainment complex that housed Kiev’s HOTTEST club, Metro, we once again noticed a couple of funny things. First of all, the entertainment complex was filled with not just tons of clubs and lounges, but once again had tons of strip clubs sprinkled in between all the clubs. Once again, it appeared that Ukrainians loved to mix up their partying and clubbing with paying to see naked women. Antonio and I strolled through the glass doors of Metro, trying to act casual and like we belonged. Which was basically impossible because, you know, we were Asian and stuck out like Shaquille O’Neal in a Confederate midget convention in Alabama. The large Ukrainian club bouncers asked us something in Russian as we strolled by, and my brother and I said “Disco!”, twerked our hips at the bouncers, and convincingly strolled to coat-check. “Whew! We’re in!” I thought, but as the sweet coat-check girl took our coats, I wasn’t so sure; out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the Ukrainian bouncers speaking into their mikes while looking at us. Antonio and I strolled into the elevator that would take us to the 3rd floor club entrance, fingers crossed that we could get in. The doors of the elevators opened, and then we knew our night was over before it had begun. Right in front of us, a bunch of drunk Australian guys from a stag party, an American guy trying to speak decent Russian, and even a begging and pleading Ukrainian bride in a full-wedding dress with her whole wedding party were all TOTALLY getting Face Controlled right in front of us by the Metro cashier, bouncers, and door people. We. Were. Totally. Fucked.
Try as we might, Antonio and I couldn’t convince them that we should be able to get in. The young Ukrainian girl holding a clipboard said, “I’m sorry. Is private party tonight! Maybe come back after 3 am, can maybe come in then,” which we knew was a bull-shit line that we had heard everywhere in Poland and Ukraine whenever someone wanted to totally throw down Face Control. The only alternative they gave us was, of course, their wallet-emptying strip club, and for not the first time that night, Antonio and I looked at each other and thought the same thing: “Fuck this Face Control shit!” We left the club, feeling lame for not being able to get in, and as tons of cute Ukrainian girls, and the few local Ukrainian guys who were connected/in the know, streamed passed us to the supposed “private part,” the only thing that kept us from feeling like we had been racially-profiled was the fact that even the Ukrainian bride and her whole party couldn’t get in either! To this day, I’m totally confused why they wouldn’t let a decent looking Ukrainian girl and all her friends in on her very special day. It totally boggles my mind.
Antonio tried to get into club after club in the Ukrainian entertainment complex, and time and time again we were told the same bull-shit “private party” line, or my other favorite Face Control line: “So sorry, entrance is only for members with VIP cards now…please come back at 3 am maybe!” One time we thought we were lucky when we saw a black bouncer, and I rolled up to him hoping to schmooze him with the “Dude, help a brotha out, one American to another!” but of course he turned out to be African and I had no pull. Face…CONTROLLED! The bouncers were pleasant enough about it, but once again, it was basically a total bull-shit anti-foreigner rule. I mean there’s no way you could get any sort of VIP card unless you came into the club once at least, but you couldn’t get into the club without a VIP card. It was total Catch-22. And of course no tourist or foreigner would ever actually have a VIP card for any club. Antonio and I were getting Face Controlled all over the place so much our cheeks were turning a bright shade of red. We saw tons of other tourists and foreigners getting Face Controlled everywhere we tried also, which helped ease the pain a little bit. Eventually we gave up and settled for eating some late-night sushi and wine at Kiev’s HOTTEST lounge (Safe) which we were actually able to get into for some reason. Antonio muttered again, “Fuck this Face Control shit!” as we ate and drank and wound down the night, but he got in a better mood as we sat there and recounted all our fun adventures.
We went back home, Antonio quickly packed, and we went to bed. He woke me up in the morning, and after giving him a warm and long hug goodbye, we promised to continue the epic brother adventures sometime soon in some far-away distant mysterious land like Morocco, Nepal, or even Los Angeles. Antonio strolled out of the apartment to the metro, and just like that, after two epic weeks in Eastern Europe he was gone. The Eurotrip A-Team was down to just one member. It was up to me to carry on the craziness, and try to do it WITHOUT getting and Face Control. After a few more hours of sleep, I got up and did my whirlwind stroll around the massive city of Kiev. Somehow I managed not to get lost, thanks to my awesome sense of direction, map reading skills, and basic command of the Cyrillic alphabet/Russian language. I saw grand Eastern European apartment buildings and malls, gorgeously massive Greek Orthodox churches, quaint parks with massive Stalin-esque statues (every statue in Ukraine seemed to look like Stalin to me, I’m sure that sounds racist), and imposing Soviet era government buildings. It was still drizzling, but luckily I had picked up an umbrella. After eating a yummy lunch of duck in a random traditional Belgian restaurant, of all things, I continued on to see the gorgeous Kiev Opera House, which unfortunately was closed then, strolled slowly back home through the urban sprawl of Kiev and stopped at a nearly empty place called Muka to eat some kinda bizarre Ukrainian pizza, recommended by Trip Advisor for some reason, and then went home to get ready for my last night in Eastern Europe.
I was totally determined not to get Face Controlled on this last night. Luckily, I had done some research and read some message groups, on CouchSurfing and other websites, and knew that the only place on a Sunday night that was a guarantee for foreigners, but was also filled with locals, was a nearby salsa club called Caribbean Club. Even though I had NO idea how to salsa dance, and could only swing dance, any Ukrainian club (besides a strip club) was better than no Ukrainian club in my mind. I made the quick metro ride and short stroll over to Caribbean Club, and casually strolled passed the clearly-amused Ukrainian bouncers, who were probably thinking “Holy crap, is that and Asian guy coming in alone? (YES!) And can he actually salsa? (NO!). I almost couldn’t believe it: I had NOT been Face Controlled. I paid the nominal 100 Hr cover, and strolled in and my jaw hit the floor.
Everywhere, as far as the eye could see, were tons of attractive young Ukrainian women who were all either shimmying and swaying their hips to the beat of salsa music, while their enormously talented Ukrainian and foreign male partners were throwing them around. The girls were everywhere: At the bar, tables, booths, and ALL of them were eagerly awaiting to be asked to dance. And all I could do was sit there at the bar with my Jack and diets, look at all the action around me, and throw my shit-eating grin at the girls around me. At one point, I almost got lucky when a slim curly-haired brunette named Veronika started talking to me. Just like me, she was at the bar off to the side, sort of staring at the action around her. She was 24, a student at a nearby university, and apparently came every now and then to Caribbean Club to get a different nightlife scene. I asked her if she was any good at salsa, and she stared at me with wide-brown eyes, and in her thickly-accented English she said “I’m a little okay! Do you want to dance with me?”
Right then and there I decided something extreme. I had absolutely no idea how to salsa at all. But the way I figured, I had a cute girl in front of me who wanted to do it, I knew some basic swing dance moves and thought I could probably fake my way through it, and besides after 3 Jack and diets in my system I totally felt like I was Superman and could do whatever I wanted. With my arm around Veronika, I headed to the dance floor, faced her squarely and took her hands, heaved a deep breath, and started to launch into my fake salsa-swing-twerking hybrid dance. But suddenly, the slow salsa beat of the current song stopped, and the DJ threw on some ridiculously fast song that sounded like the salsa version of “Flight of the Bumblebees.” There was absolutely no way I was going to be able to fake my way through this fast a song. I looked around me at the tons of Ukrainian couples shimmying and throwing each other like a scene from Moulin Rouge, looked at my hips, looked back at them, and then told Veronika, “Holy crap, my hips can’t move like THAT!” Veronika gave me a look of dismay, said her goodbye, and then went off into the dance floor to look for someone who’s hips COULD move like that, while I sat there like the biggest idiot in the world.
I moved back to the bar, with my tail between my legs, and a few minutes later I saw Veronika with some slick middle-aged Ukrainian Don Juan-looking type, and they were totally ripping stuff up on the dance floor. Veronika had been modest; she not only knew how to salsa, but she literally could have been an instructor. I mean, Veronika’s hips were literally moving in like 5 dimensions, and she looked really happy to be doing it. The older Ukrainian guy dancing with her looked my way, nodded at me and gave me a “Yeeeeeeeah, buddy!!! You like how I’m working it with your girl?” look, and swung her into the crowd. After days of being Passport Controlled by police and Face Controlled by club bouncers in the Ukraine, the unthinkable was happening: I was totally getting Dance Controlled by Ukrainian guys. This had never EVER happened before in any country I’d ever been to. I was utterly humiliated. I could almost feel the pity in the eyes of all the Ukrainians, which danced by me and seemed to yell out one word over and over: “SERVED!!! SERVED!!! SERVED!!! SERVED!!!”
Luckily, I had one last shining moment of redemption that night. As the frenetic salsa set wound down, and the soaked Ukrainian couples finished their orgiastic salsa dance routines, the DJ eased into a nice slower thumping reggaeton song, with a nice hip-hop feel to it. Apparently, Caribbean Club played all sorts of Caribbean type music, not just salsa. The dance floor quickly cleared and in shock I realized something: Even though they seemed to rock at salsa, Ukrainians had ABSOLUTELY no idea how to dance to hip-hop. But I did! Just like I had seen in Metro Club, in L’viv, Ukraine, all of the Ukrainians sort of waited at the edge of the dance floor, looking confused. This was it…my moment to shine. I confidently strolled straight to the middle of the dance floor and, just like (BLANK) had told us all to do, I proceeded to totally work it. Thrusting my pelvis at the open-mouthed Ukrainian crowd, I suggestively ground the floor (and the hips of my imaginary partner) and displayed some crazy footwork that would have impressed Michael Jackson. The Sexual Cowboy, The Gay Helicopter, The Shopping Cart…I threw every dance move I knew at the crowd. As the crowd of girls gazed at me open-mouthed, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that once again, just like in L’viv, the only other person on the dance floor during the reggaeton/hip-hop set was another random black guy, who was busy in his own little world going nuts on the dance floor. Dripping with sweat, buzzed out of my mind, we both danced with our imaginary partners, while the confused group of Ukrainian salsa dancers looked on.
And with that one last meaningless, defiant act of partying in Kiev, I ended my last club night in the strange country of Ukraine. I grabbed my coat from the coat-check girl, and was totally aware of the employees chuckling to themselves as this random Taiwanese-American guy stumbled out into the cold night of Kiev. Once again, I had come away completely empty handed as far as girls was concerned, but I had at least finally penetrated Ukrainian Face Control and partied at more than a few places. As I stumped back onto the Kiev metro back to my apartment, I was content if my trip even ended right there, since I had made so many strange, bizarre memories with both Antonio and Matt. But I had NO idea that my very last few hours in Kiev before I flew out of the country would lead me to two final unforgettable experiences: getting almost completely robbed of all my belongings, and meeting the stunning and gorgeous Ukrainian model, Katerina, who I would forever associate with the Ukraine.
(TO BE CONTINUED…)