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Mixing it up

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-12-31 08:48:46

"We started the samba group for anybody who wanted to come-and then we did a parade at the 798 season-opening festival. By the end, there were 3,000 people following, all dancing," he says with a big grin.

But it was in food and beverages that Lee made his biggest mark-and it hasn't made him everybody's buddy. One fellow bar owner calls him elitist. Some netizens carp about the cost of his hand-crafted drinks. A Beijing city magazine snipes at "the (allegedly) snooty staff".

Lee makes no apologies.

"I take what I do seriously. Perhaps too seriously. My staff, former and current, will tell you that I am very strict and that my training methods are unusual. I have very high standards and not everyone can handle it. But many of them are the best working in China today," says Lee, noting that bartending is the second-fastest-growing profession in China.

"But not all of them develop the palate, and that's not something I can help.

"I came to China with two suitcases. Opened five places (closed some). Edited two magazines, curated five international art and music festivals, started two grassroots arts organizations, maybe some other stuff in between," Lee says. "Starred in one bad film and played with Cui Jian, the godfather of Chinese rock, with SambAsia at Gongti (Workers Stadium) for 5,000 fans.

"It's as if my American Dream was made in China," he says. "After 10 years in China, I realized how American I am, in the sense that the cornerstone of everything is that everything can be better and I can make it better. That's the experience."

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