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Happy Memories of Asia
Reading predictions elsewhere about the doubtful future for Bangkok’s go-go bars took me back to my first visit to that amazing city. I doubt if any gay visitor to Thailand in the mid-1980s was anything but gobsmacked by the amazing variety on offer in the go-go bars. Here were some of the loveliest boys on the planet having fun, many throwing killer smiles at you in the hope you’d be so smitten you would immediately off them.
Well, to be honest, not all the boys smiled. Twilight was a sleaze-type joint run by a pair of severe-looking mamasans with a short retainer running around adding in extra chairs as more and more punters came in. There never seemed to be more than a couple of dozen on weekdays but it would be packed to the rafters on Fridays and Saturdays. The boys here danced in underwear until around 9:30 pm when, with a bark from one of the mamasans, the next group of four due on the tiny stage would take off their pants, quickly try to encourage some life out of their manhoods before it was their turn for a five-minute stint. Thereafter they would be replaced by another group while the earlier group, still totally naked, would wander through the audience and stand around one of the pillars gazing into nothingness.
I loved Twilight and visited almost every night. But I sometimes felt sorry for the boys. It was clear they did not enjoy being in the buff and would do their best to cover their nakedness with their hands. Across the road in the Barbiery go-go bar it was completely different. The dozens of young boys dancing and presenting exciting and sexy shows for our pleasure all seemed to be having a load of fun. This was hugely infectious. It was no surprise as boys were offed so quickly that not many remained as the evenings came to a close.
Enjoying Bangkok’s delights to the full, I almost fell in love half a dozen times. These young guys with their smooth brown bodies were so beautiful, so willing to do whatever I wished, were happy to stay overnight with more to come in the morning before they would quietly leave with their tips, usually just before I managed to make it to breakfast as the service was closing. What joy!
I had decided on this first trip to add in a second city. Flying from Europe, Cathay Pacific had a great fare linking both Bangkok and Hong Kong. So Hong Kong it was. I was excited about visiting this last colonial outpost set on the edge of a China finally opening up to the outside world. I was aware that Hong Kong had little of what Bangkok had to offer a gay man, apart from a couple of bars which I had been told were closely watched by the police. But that was OK by me since Hong Kong was for sightseeing.
I wanted to cram as much as I could into my four days – the harbour, the old funicular tramway up to the Peak, the ladder streets near Central district, the ancient trams running across the top of the island and the ferries which plied across the harbour for a pittance, some Chinese temples, the old colonial architecture set against Hong Kong’s new skyscrapers, and of course a sunset champagne cruise around the island aboard one of the icons of old Hong Kong, a junk.
Throughout my visit the weather was hot and fiercely humid, even more so than Bangkok had seemed to be. I was used to the beaches of Spain and Greece in the height of summer, but none had anything like Hong Kong’s 95%-plus humidity. I thanked the Lord for the many shopping malls whose air conditioning provided me with oases of relief!
With nightlife restricted, I noticed there was a concert on Saturday evening, one with a programme I rather fancied. So I found where to buy a ticket and that evening made my way to City Hall, not far from the cross-harbour ferry terminal. The smallish concert hall was quite full and the orchestra played quite well. But not well enough for my liking. So instead of waiting for the second half, I got myself a drink from the bar. Then I wandered outside to gaze over to Kowloon, leaning on the railing by the waterfront, watching a myriad of different ships, junks and little boats criss-crossing the busy waterway, aware of planes up to my left as they made their progress over Kowloon before the notoriously steep right-hand turn and – boom! – they would be on the runway.
It was a clear, balmy summer’s evening. I loved the view, even if it had none of the drama of that from the Kowloon side, truly one of the most spectacular harbour views in the world.
And then I saw him. Out of the corner of my eye, to my right I noticed a tallish, slim guy, I assumed Chinese, also leaning on the railing watching the night view. It was not long before he looked at me, a look that was a little overlong for a mere casual glance. Hmm! I thought. He looks cute. My gaydar was working overtime. But this being Hong Kong, I had heard all about possible entrapment and I was concerned about casual hook-ups.
Then I threw caution to the gentle breeze. I slowly inched towards him. He did the same. Eventually, I was beside him. He looked quite lovely.
“Excuse me, do you speak English?”
He turned towards me and I saw that lovely face
“Yes. I was at school in England for a few years.”
Still concerned about entrapment, I decided the best ploy would be to invite him first for dinner or a drink. He had already dined and so we headed for the nearby Hilton Hotel bar where, it just so happened, I was staying! I learned he was a musician, a singer and guitar player and performed with a small band. Nothing special he told me, but we have a small following in the pubs and clubs. No concert on a Saturday night? Usually yes, but this one had been cancelled as it had been due in the nearby Dateline gay bar which had had a police visit only the previous evening. So he was free, he told me, with what I assumed to be a hint of a suggestion.
I’ll cut the rest of the story short. He came to my room and for the first time in my life I enjoyed an evening of lovemaking with a passionate young Chinese. Make that two evenings for we also spent the next night together. How I loved it! And how I started to love him! This was more genuine, more loving than my encounters in Bangkok. But then those had been with boys making a living. This was with a lonely young gay man, still afraid to be known as gay in homophobic Hong Kong and especially the effect on his young career if ever he was outed.
On Monday we parted, he to rehearsal, me to complete my sightseeing and get ready for the long flight back to Britain. As I killed time that day, part of me wished I had come to Hong Kong first and spent more of my time here. Silly thought! How could I possibly have known I would find such a cute young man so eager to meet up with a foreigner and happy beyond measure to spend time with him.
With the glittering lights of Hong Kong Island disappearing fast from my plane window, I smiled. My two weeks had all been a wonderful adventure, filled with so much excitement and interest for a gay tourist. I resolved I would return one day.
It took the better part of 18 years before I fulfilled that resolution. Friends told me the Bangkok scene would be less exciting thanks to a much greater degree of government control over nightlife. But Hong Kong, having repealed the hated British colonial anti-sodomy law in 1991, had become much more open. This time I hit Hong Kong first, enjoying the delights of the labyrinthine bar and dance club Works, filled with mostly wonderfully handsome young Chinese and their western admirers and where you could hardly move on a Saturday night. Saunas had begun to mushroom with the tiny CE off Lyndhurst Terrace attracting older westerners and young Chinese, and another much larger establishment on Lockhart Road whose name now escapes me. This was very different from the Hong Kong I had known all those years ago. But it was a great deal of fun!
And then I saw him! No, not another ‘him’! The same ‘him’! My companion of 18 years earlier. On this visit I was staying in the cheaper and strangely named Bishop Lei House in Mid-Levels. I had decided to walk down the hill to get some easy exercise. Near the bottom of Wyndham Street close to its junction with Queens Road Central, we just happened to pass each other. Both of us stopped, looked around, smiled and said almost in unison, “It’s been a long time!”
After a short chat on the street, he suggested moving to a small nearby café. Although we had both aged somewhat, I still saw in his face the young man who had so entranced me all those years ago. We filled each other in on what we had been doing since we had last met. He, it turned out, had become a big star in the Hong Kong pop world. He was also considering ‘coming out’, although he would not make it public yet. He was happy he now had a long-time partner.
“We must keep in touch,” he generously suggested. He had no name card and so wrote his address and email on a paper napkin. “I’ll be in touch,” I said, adding “Hopefully we can meet up for dinner whenever I can next afford to come this far.”
I knew it was not to be. I had no idea if I could ever afford to return to this bustling, fascinating, increasingly polluted and by now expensive city. Besides, once you have seen the sights of Hong Kong and sampled some of its utterly delicious food, there is not much left for the visitor, unless as a stepping-stone into the equally fascinating world of China.
On the flight to Bangkok, I took out that napkin. I looked again at his handwriting. I smiled at the memories. After a few moments of reflection, I folded it and put it neatly on the lunch tray. Soon a flight attendant had whisked it away.
After my week in Bangkok. I never did get back to Hong Kong. All I know from the internet is that my brief friend remains a pop singer of some repute giving concerts all over Asia. I am happy that we met when he was a struggling club artist. There was a hunger and a longing in him then that had been replaced by quiet, almost knowing confidence in that Wyndham Street coffee shop. He doesn’t need it, but I will always wish him the best of good fortune.
Why Has It Become So Dense?
You are excited. You’re planning your annual holiday trip to Asia anticipating all the fun you will find in the bars and from the apps. Your only decision? Where to go and how to get there.
Well, not quite, unfortunately for there are a lot of pitfalls long before you get to your exotic destinations! The most obvious one is your travel arrangements.
Let’s assume that you want to fly first (no dears, not first class – first sectors!) from Edinburgh to Singapore at the back of the plane in steerage. After a few days shopping, lying by a pool to get over jet-lag, cruising the often great eye candy along Orchard Road or even spending some more energetic time in a gay sauna and elbow-bending in a gay bar, it’s time to move on.
You decide on the regular bus service up to Kuala Lumpur, far easier and only a fraction longer than taking a flight. Those hot Malay and Chinese guys are all over the apps these days. So you won’t even need to wander far from your hotel!
You then continue on to Thailand for the main part of your trip – much more (!) rest, recreation and your fill of nightlife. Nearly exhausted, you move to Taipei. Perhaps, if it’s the end of October, you want to take in the annual Gay Pride Parade which last year attracted around 125,000 marchers, mostly from around Taiwan and other parts of Asia, and almost all slim-fit and wonderfully cute!
Not a complicated itinerary by any means. And in theory it should not be difficult to plan, but you want to ensure every penny is well spent. You will find plenty of competition on the long international flights, although for your routing you have to factor in at least one plane change. This is a good time to take a look at Qatar Airlines. For many months this tiny Gulf state has been the target of economic and political sanctions by several neighbouring countries, including Saudi Arabia with whom it shares its land borders. These countries have banned Qatar from their air space. Flying east, that’s not a problem for the airline, as it will fly over the Gulf. Fly in any other direction, though, and detours become essential. The airline’s costs and load factors have clearly been affected. For travellers this has been a boon as there have been special fare sales at least once a month. The biggest discounts have been in their excellent business class. In one recent sale, the cost of that Edinburgh to Singapore ticket dropped by around 40%!
In the bad old days, finding one-way tickets was a real pain. They tended to be far more expensive than half the cost of a return. Now many carriers happily offer one-way tickets. So that “open-jaw” as it’s called in the business (arriving at one destination and departing from a different one) is now much easier.
Once you have locked in the intercontinental flights, you know there are budget carriers from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok and Bangkok to Taipei. So that only leaves hotels. If you have no friends who can give advice, you probably know roughly where you’ll want to stay. Definitely near a subway, probably close to one of the gays areas, and certainly within the budget you can afford. If you are still not confident, you’ve heard about TripAdvisor where travellers give their own impressions of the hotels they stay in (for more information on TripAdvisor, please check back to our earlier article here). That will give you some sort of guide. An evening searching the Internet should then have provided you with most of the information you need. Right?
Well, that again is the theory. Sadly, in practice, unless you are pretty well clued-in on the intricacies of the search engines you consult, you will definitely end up wasting a great deal of your precious time and perhaps even some of your hard-earned cash.
In the dim and distant past, a meeting with your High Street travel consultant would be the extent of your worries. You would eventually be given a suggested itinerary with flights and hotels, along with an option or two. As the travel business has increasingly migrated to the internet, though, your options have multiplied manyfold. It’s not just the number and routing of flights or the cost of rooms in different hotels. You quickly realise that if you postpone your trip by just a day or two, that long outward flight can be significantly cheaper. Great! Well, not so great! Because you then find the return intercontinental flight now is a bit more expensive, and you’ll have to search more hotels in Taipei as the one you had set your heart on is full for the new dates!
In other words, the world of intercontinental travel on the internet has become a minefield.
Let’s start with hotels. We’ve all heard about Expedia. Should we start there? Maybe since you’re in the UK you can look at what you know is a newish biggie search engine – trivago – or even the smaller venere. Checking each of those sites you are surprised that there is little difference in the prices being offered. So you try Orbitz. Shit! A bit cheaper but it doesn’t offer breakfast in the quoted rate! How about hotels.com? Now this is more interesting because it offers one free night for every ten nights you book. Can you make this work? Well, only if you pay a higher basic nightly rate. After all, someone has to pay for those free rooms you might end up with. The end result is that after a couple of hours, you are so frustrated because you have absolutely no idea which site to use – or if there might be cheaper ones you have missed.
All this is perfectly understandable. Yet there is another more pertinent reason behind your frustration. Unless you are a regular traveller, you are probably unaware that every search engine I have listed so far is part of one giant company, Expedia. The one not part of Expedia is TripAdvisor, but only because Expedia hived it off as a separate company in 2011.
There are of course other ways to book hotels. One is to call direct and find out if they can offer a cheaper rate. Not the ideal solution as you will have to make several international calls, perhaps being passed from department to department.
If you happen to be a more regular traveller and a member of the loyalty groups of one of the large International chains, almost certainly you will find the cheapest rate for the hotels on the group’s own sites, and you might even get a freebie or two, including complimentary internet or guaranteed upgrades.
If your travel is more or less limited to one long annual vacation, then you’ll have to find another way. My first piece of advice is: take what you read on TripAdvisor with a hefty dose of salt. It is well known throughout the travel business that some hotels get better star ratings as a result of fake reviews. And it’s not just an occasional review. Some get their staff, the staff in their PR companies and their suppliers to contribute 2- or 3-line reviews that are total nonsense. I’m not saying TripAdvisor is a dead loss. It can provide interesting information. Best, though, to leave aside the best and the worst reviews and concentrate on those by reviewers who have contributed at least 30 to 40 other reviews and which provide much more detail than “Fantastic hotel!”
Some travellers give much more credence to the reviews on each individual search engine, if only because these can only be provided by those who actually stayed in the hotels. Even so, I don’t agree. The real problem is that all travellers have different backgrounds, different travel experiences and different expectations. A young hitchhiker splashing out on a decent hotel for the last night of a trip will almost certainly provide a much more favourable review than a seasoned business traveller forced by his company to downgrade his accommodations. That salt comes in handy again!
Some years ago, I gave up using individual search engines in favour of an independent site, Hotels Combined. The beauty of this is that it gets rid of the need to check each search engine individually. Throughout Asia it will offer a dozen or more search engine prices, most for all the types of room each hotel has available. Occasionally it offers a hotel’s own prices where these are lower than those offered by the search engines. Try it! At the very least it saves you a ton of time.
We are all too well aware that Singapore’s official attitude to the LGBT community is lukewarm at best. The city-state may be home to some of the world’s most attractive gay men and women but its government only tolerates them at best. The hated Section 377A remains on the statute books meaning those found engaging in homosexual activities can in theory be prosecuted and sent to jail.
The present government has stated several times it will no longer act on Section 377A. So no more entrapment activities by cute policemen when you are cruising on the beach. But it has added it will not do anything to change the law as Hong Kong did in 1991.
Nowhere is its pettiness concerning gay activities more visible that in its reaction to the annual Pink Dot events. At first it banned gay marches, so Singapore was unable to hold a Pride March that could perhaps have rivalled the one in Taipei which last year attracted nearly 125,000 from all around Taiwan and other parts of the region. As a tourism boost for the city, it must prove a mini-goldmine.
Instead, starting in 2009 Singapore made a small gesture to the LGBT community by permitting them to hold a rally in the small Hong Lim Park. No doubt the government assumed the whole event would be nothing more than a damp squib. Wrong! It was an extremely popular gathering with many parents joining their gay children and bringing even smaller children with them.
Over the years, Pink Dot increased in size and popularity. Major international corporations, which Singapore makes intensive efforts to attract to the city, made donations to help Pink Dot develop. By 2016 it had attracted 18 sponsors of which 13 were international companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Barclays and J P Morgan. Then 18 months ago in an act of what can only be termed “spite”, the Ministry of Home Affairs enacted regulations which all but ensured that overseas companies could no longer be associated with Pink Dot. From thenceforth, non-Singapore citizens would also no longer be permitted to take part. Police were located at every entrance to the Park to check ID cards and enforce the rule. This might have killed the event. It did not. The organisers went door-to-door around Singapore companies and ended up with 120 local companies providing more than S$240,000, exceeding their target by a massive 60%.
VIDEO: Gay Rainbow and the Passion of those attending in 2017 Event
By 2015 Pink Dot attracted a record 26,000 attendance, so great that the Park had reached capacity. To show the world that Singapore citizens take pride in the LGBT community, the organisers arranged an overhead photo. This appeared in most of the worldwide media. It must have given the government the shivers! Sadly it probably had something to do with the more recent restrictions. Despite these, 20,000 still turned up last year. No doubt more will do so this year to help celebrate the event’s 10th anniversary.
Ironically the 2018 date coincides with the annual Racial Harmony Day, an event in which schools reflect on Singapore’s racial and cultural heritage. AsiaGuys.NET wonders when the government will finally accept that the city’s LGBT community is a key part of that heritage. Until then, we urge gay travellers to Singapore to bear in mind its anti-gay rhetoric and laws.
AGN Gay News and Updates
April 13th marks the start of the Songkran Festival in Thailand, the Buddhist New Year. It’s one of the most fun Festivals anywhere with vast amounts of water being splashed and thrown at others and white talcum powder pasted on cheeks. The tradition started with the gentle sprinkling of a little water over relatives, neighbours and close friends, thereby washing away the bad luck of the previous 12 months. Now, though, sprinkling has morphed into throwing gallons with everyone being a target.
If you are in Bangkok, one of the best areas to let your hair down and celebrate used to be at the top of Silom near Rama IV Road. Gay revellers also packed Soi 4, home to many gay venues including the long-established Telephone and Balcony bars. This year, though, the government has included both in a list of no-splashing areas. If you are to be in Bangkok, check with your hotel or the bars where you can play with water in the streets.
In most parts of the country the Festival lasts three days, with the water splashing taking place on Days 1 and 2. Pattaya is rather different. There the Festival lasts longer and one of the zaniest splashing days is on the Wan Nai Festival on April 19. Boyztown will certainly be packed and a a riot of fun.
Overseas revellers taking part will want to be sure any valuables you carry with you are safely packed into well-sealed plastic bags. This includes any money you need – and of course, this being Thailand, your passport which it is mandatory to carry with you at all times in this country.
Neighbouring countries which celebrate the start of the Buddhist New Year include Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.