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.
Recent Bangkok Gay Club – GoThaiBeFree
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’m Here for you Honey – tumblr.com
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.
Bangkok Boys are Waiting – tumblr.com
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.
The HSBC HQ dwarfing the Colonial Era Supreme Court
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.
Today Only an Official Tourist Junk plies the Harbour
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!
A Musical Theme in one of Hong Kong’s Swanky Shopping Malls
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.
A 1998 Photo of one of the Last Cathay Pacific Flights into Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak Airport after completing that Scary 90-Degree Turn – Frederic J Brown / Getty Images
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.
Night View of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon
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.
Hong Kong Gay Hook-Ups often had to take place here – tumblr.com
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.
Can you imagine 3 Cuter Young Hong Kong Guys? Actors Danny Chan, Leslie Cheung and Paul Chung in the 1981 Hong Kong Movie “On Trial”. Danny and Leslie were Closet Gays at the time. All Died Tragically Young. Danny of a Drug Overdose aged 35. Paul and Leslie committed Suicide aged 30 and 47 respectively – pinterest.com
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.
Hong Kong’s Hugely Popular mid-1980s Canto-Pop Kings: Leslie Cheung, Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok and Jackie Cheung. Apart from Jackie Cheung, all were assumed to be Gay. Leslie eventually Came Out but the other two Married much later in their Careers – Click to see full sized image
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.
Anthony Wong and Denise Lau. Two Hong Kong stars who found Coming Out in the New Millennium far easier – Time Our
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!
Old Hong Kong Street outside CE Sauna
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.”
Hope you had fun in Hong Kong – tumblr.com
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.
Demon Guardians at Wat Phra Kaew
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.