My Titanic Daliance With Ricky Martin & Bo Xilai!

It’s amazing how The Titanic keeps coming up!

In the news I mean.

First there was Director James Cameron‘s death-defying plunge into the icy depths of the Mariana Trench; then the media craze over the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, all just in time for an epic new 3-D version of the movie.

For a ship that sank 100 years ago, that’s quite a splash!

Released in the fall of 1997, The Titanic also had a huge success in China.

Leo & Kate in The Titanic

The following Spring, I received a call from a somewhat desperate Chinese official asking if I could I help get the film’s stars –  Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet –  to China that September to sing songs from the movie.

It was a crazy request, but a decade after Tiananmen Square, China was eager to re-engage with the west. Even after I patiently explained that Leo and Kate were movie stars, not singers, and that the Titanic was not a musical, the caller refused to be deterred.

“Couldn’t they just lip-synch?” he asked. Money, he assured me, was no object.

I knew without asking that a star of Mr. DiCaprio’s stature was never going to sing, lip-synch or otherwise. But I thought he might want a chance to see China. So, crazy or not, I asked; but Mr. DiCaprio was locked into rehearsals for Celebrity and The Man In the Iron Mask.

“Could you suggest someone else?” the contact asked.

Ricky Martin

I started scouring pop charts for emerging stars in Asian markets, watching videos, looking for someone big enough to sell out a stadium but new enough to be available on short notice.

We discussed one artist after another but no one interested them until a young singer named Ricky Martin, who was burning up the Spanish-language charts.

He’d just had a big splash performing a breakout hit – ‘The Cup of Life’ at the World Soccer Cup in France – for a worldwide TV audience. Kids in China were crazy about soccer and they had all seen Ricky’s performance at the World Cup. They loved the idea.


By this time it was late August, and I was with my partner, Tom, up at Sakinaw Lake. I had no fax, no online access and a cellphone that only worked if I walked back up into the woods behind the property.

Nonetheless, working with Hollywood agents, a UK rock producer, Ricky’s close-knit team in Puerto Rico, Lloyds of London, a fax machine at the tiny general store in Garden Bay and my new best friends in China, the deal was finally signed less than two weeks before the show!

Tom and I flew ahead to make sure everything was ready. On arrival in Bejing, we were met at the door of the plane and whisked straight out to a waiting cavalcade of cars. Tom was hustled into one car and I another.

I had no idea if we were being honored or arrested. There were six cars in all, two police cars up front and one behind, all with lights flashing and sirens blaring. They cleared traffic for us all the way to our hotel and thankfully we were delivered to the Mandarin, not the slammer. A day later we were up in the northeast corner of China in Dalian.

Ricky arrived with an entourage of twelve – two London agents, the rock producer, dancers, and Ricky’s close-knit, trusted team from his days as a teen hearth-throb in Menudo. His motorcade was spectacular, like an American President had arrived! They shut down the entire freeway for him.

Ricky is a genuine, kind person, a little shy and his team from Puerto Rico is protective, but they’re good guys and we enjoyed the chance to get to know them through a pretty intense week.

And to answer the obvious question, yes, Ricky did spend a lot of time in my hotel suite, almost an entire day once … recording shoutouts for every radio station in China, endlessly crooning: “Hi, this is Ricky Martin, coming to you on CTR1 …” etc.

Bo Xilai singing patriotic songs

How does Bo Xilai – figure of international intrigue, son of a revolutionary hero, and, just a few weeks ago, heir-apparent to Deng Xiaopeng – fit in?

In the late 90s, before he had risen to international prominence, Mr. Xilai was Mayor of Dalian, and he invited Tom and I to lunch the day after we arrived to thank me for helping them out of a jam – they had no show without Ricky. It was a small group in a private room and I sat next to him.

He was gracious, affable and attentive as a host, highly intelligent and had a good sense of humor. Occasionally he would turn to me, as can be the custom in some cultures, and burp while we were chatting, smiling widely to indicate his great enjoyment of the meal and comfort in my presence.

And I in turn did my best to indicate equal enthusiasm. It wasn’t eructational etiquette that flummoxed me that meal. I was in excruciating pain because a filling had fallen out while we were eating!

City of Dalian, official Sister City to Vancouver, BC

I didn’t want to disrupt the lunch, so I waited until we were finished before quietly mentioning my problem. Within the hour I was in a nearby dental clinic where a very gentle older dentist replaced my filling with one that lasted for years.

The group that got me involved very well connected, as I learned over three days as we drove from city to city for meetings. A pattern was quickly established. The Mayor of each city would be waiting for us at the city gates as we arrived. Everyone would get out of their cars, greetings and introductions were exchanged on the side of the freeway, we’d all pile back in and drive the rest of the way into the city for our meetings.

Meeting with Governor of Hebei Province

There were elaborate banquets, formal lunches, demonstrations, exhibitions, press conferences and signing ceremonies. I met Ministers, Governors, Mayors, bank heads and one dignitary after the next.

It was all a bit over the top, but I played my part and gave speeches and many toasts about peaceful relations, international cooperation, the need for cultural exchange and the fraternal brotherhood of mankind.

Signing ceremony

My hosts were so kind and solicitous that if I mentioned an interest in acrobatics, we’d be off that day to an elite gymnastics academy. A polite expression of interest in Chinese opera became a command performance the same afternoon.

Acrobatics Academy

One Sunday afternoon I asked about the recently discovered Terra Cotta Warriors. Within an hour, the Director had opened the museum and was giving us a private tour.

With Museum Director (L), my good friend Forest Ciao & Tom (R)

Back in Dalian, on the night after the dress rehearsal, I was invited to a special dinner with a Minister of Culture, so I dressed to the nines. But when I showed up in the lobby they all laughed, made me take off my jacket and tie, and explained this was a night out with the boys – no ties, no jackets, no formality, just their close group of friends.

Billboard for Tenth Dalian International Fashion Festival

We drank a lot of beer that night and had a lot of laughs, more than one at my expense! They took great delight in ordering things I’d never eaten before and watching my reaction as the Minister carefully placed choice items on my plate. But I held my own and felt privileged to be included.

Parade in Dalian before Opening Ceremonies

Ricky was headliner for an extraordinarily lavish opening ceremony of an International Fashion Festival put on each year by the city of Dalian.

Opening Ceremonies in Dalian Stadium

It was a massive production in a 60,000 seat stadium with 8,000 dancers, a choir of 1,000, orchestras, marching bands, paratroopers zipping down from the sky in formation, lasers, the works! They even had a U.S. Secretary of State among many other international dignitaries.

Opening ceremonies

Then Ricky appeared with his dancers, the crowd roared, he crooned The Cup of Life and Maria, gyrated those sinuously loose latin hips, the entire place went nuts and it was all over!

And that is the story of my Titanic Dalian-ce with Ricky Martin and Bo Xilai!

12 thoughts on “My Titanic Daliance With Ricky Martin & Bo Xilai!

  1. CSIS may want to have a word with you. 😉

    On a serious note—to say that that was an experience would be a serious under-use of the term.

    Now, the Bo Xilai part is very interesting to me. And may I say how lucky you and Tom were not to be served any food by his wife! Mr. Bo, as you know, has not been seen in public since March.

    The whole situation, involving his wife, the Brit, and Mr Wang, the Police Chief (that sounds like a movie, doesn’t it?!), grows more jaw-droppingly chilling and bizarre as the days go by. It may show that China still has a long way to go in terms of dealing with and stamping out graft, money smuggling, nepotism, favoritism and a whole host of other problems usually associated with a totalitarian regime. Or, it could all be an elaborate ruse by the Chinese politburo to keep Mr. Bo at bay. Which would mean activity usually associated with a totalitarian regime.

    Apropos, with the enourmous opportunities and wealth creation taking place today in China, I heartily recommend ‘The Fat Years’ by Koonchung Chan, for a look at where China may be headed. Marxist capitalism is the new term.

    Apropos of nothing, but with regard to Ricky Martin…sigh. He’s so dreamy. You guys are so lucky.

  2. Hi Judy! Loved the note about not being served by the wife! 🙂

    The whole Bo saga is a fascinating tale! Almost as fun to watch from the sidelines as the trials of Mr. Murdoch … And inside they don’t even know the real story. There’s this great debate on as to whether they’re resisting him because he represents liberalizing forces or whether they think he’s the opposite – another demagogue. But it’s one of the juiciest stories going and yes, when are they making the movie??? 🙂

  3. I really enjoyed hearing all the stories right after your trip and enjoyed them even more this time. That trip was a “once in a lifetime” memory. I still display the souvenirs you and TJ brought back. Thanks for the memories Sean.

    • Thanks Dolores – definitely one for the books … or book! 🙂
      Mom always said that the purpose of life was to create good memories. The best of my life have all beeb with Tom! Maybe we can chat Sunday? xo sean

  4. Terrific experience, story, and it’s telling, Sean. The photos were a great compliment, and I thoroughly enjoyed how you connected the seemingly distant dots. I confess to being caught up with the idea and images of Ricky Martin being in your – it became imaginary mine – hotel suite. Then I was forcefully brought back to YOUR story when I came across “eructational etiquette that flummoxed”. Now there’s a mouth-full of elocution! A delightful read.

    • Thanks Nash! This was a hard one to pull together but fun in writing. News reports now seem to indicate that Mr. Bo was more affiliated with hardliners and that suggests his downfall helps those trying to liberalize the party there. I hope they’re right!

  5. I really don’t know what Bo reptesenrs after reading this article. It tells me nothing about his ideas about economics whether he is for domestic development or for continuing the emphasis on exports and FDI. I also don’t know what his ideas are about protecting the sovereignty of Chinese territories now being invaded and occupied by foreign aggressors such as Philippines, Vietnam, India, Japan, etc. Is he ready to use force to take back China’s lost territories or will he just continue the setting aside disputes and promote mutual development disgrace? What does it mean anyway that he wants to revive the red culture? I’ve no problem if he wanted a new great leap forward if it is based on domestic development. And a cultural revolution based on getting rid of the compradors to reestablish the dignity and nobility of the Chinese people and Chinese culture then I will support it. But if the cultural revolution is only to reestablish communist despotism and doctrinaire purity then I’m against it. An effective politician is not meaningful in itself. He must also have the right ideas. Otherwise he could do serious harm by taking China rapidly in the wrong direction.

    • Hi Oscar, thank you for such an insightful and intelligent post. I understand your concerns completely. I hope all of the territorial disputes you refer to can be settled peacefully through diplomatic means in a way that’s fair to all parties including China. And I hope the kind of leader you envisage that is honest and far-seeing is found to help China reach more economic stability and closer integration with the rest of the world.

  6. People like Bo Xilai with real leadership abiiitles are need sorely in China though Western countries would have mixed feelings seeing as China is such a huge country with the potential to grow even stronger and more powerful. China’s next phase in development need leaders like him to take it to the next level particularly economically and politically. But real leaders coming forth must be not just able but honest as well. That, in a nutshell encapsulates it all.

    • Thanks Anderson for your note. I hope China finds that enlightened leader capable of bringing all of the factions together – it must be a monumental, nearly impossible task. But for all our sakes I hope they are successful!

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